White Sand Beach, Zanzibar
All the rest of these blogs will be written from the US, since I’m back now! I still hope that I can give you a good sense of what it was like even though I’m not on the continent of Africa anymore.
Zanzibar was a pretty special trip. A group of us Africa-based Doris Duke fellows went there to celebrate American Thanksgiving, since we were all a long way from home for a holiday that’s typically spent with family. The conference in Durban, South Africa was definitely a good start, but this trip helped solidify the strong community that we all enjoyed immensely this year.
The island itself is pretty special. It is a basically a tropical paradise with the multicultural influence typical of the “Swahili coast,” including Arab, Indian, Persian, European, and local African. Zanzibar was an independent territory during its time as a British protectorate, and was an independent country until it was merged with the mainland country of Tanganyika to form modern day Tanzania; a name formed by combining the 2 formerly sovereign states that compose it. Despite the joining of these 2 countries Zanzibar still maintains a semi-autonomous government, including its own president.
The capital of the island, Stone Town, was the first place we explored. When we landed, and finished navigating the apparent chaos of buying a visa in a line with hundreds of Italians, we planned to spend a day in the old urban center of the island. It was a very unique city and a strong contrast from the dry, sandy, and new Gaborone where I was based. There was a little bit of chaos with the motorbikes, high population density, potholes from all the rain, and narrow streets that reminded me of those in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem. We had some fairly intense struggles of wandering around the narrow and crowded streets to find a totally unmarked Airbnb, but eventually some of our friends figured it out through some very impressive persistence and assistance from kind strangers.
While wandering we saw some cool things. Many little boats are moored just off shore for fishing or tourism adventures. A guy who called himself “Mr. President” gave us a good deal for a sunset boat cruise. If you couldn’t already tell by the name, he’s a bit of a jokester who also very kindly offered to rent us a “room” in the branches of a very nice tree near the coast.
Boat Cruise with Mr. President
We stumbled upon a music center where locals can become members and use any instruments and music theory books whenever they want- it’s an impressive place to foster already existent talent and passion for musical art in the community. Swahili was also a new language for me so I quickly learned “jambo” is hello, and “mambo” is also a typical greeting with “poa” as the appropriate response. Means something like “how are you,” “I’m fine” but I don’t think it literally translates quite like that. It’s a very fun language and much easier than Setswana, even though they’re both Bantu languages. I’d have loved to see the spice fields there, since that’s a large export of Zanzibar, but the next morning we had to head to Matemwe on the other side of the island for dive lessons.
SCUBA diving is such an other-worldly experience. Unfortunately I don’t have any footage of this experience, but will try to describe. The first day, we are based in the pool and need to demonstrate basic competency with all the required tools. I think the most memorable moment for me was my first time taking a full gulp of air while completely submerged underwater. You really have to overcome your natural intuitions to do that. I having to transfer your oxygen and goggles off and on under water was memorable too. Day 2 and 3 we got into the beautiful blue, clear ocean next to the island. We then had to do all the same skills in the open ocean, and spending time down there alone is a very cool experience. Eventually got to swim a bit around freely. It was amazing to let the current push you and pass by coral, rocks, fish, eels, etc. We even saw a mantis shrimp, which has the fastest punch of any animal in the world.
Boats of Matemwe
The rest of the time we were lounging around on the beach, since we were staying in a house with multiple rooms that was rented out on Airbnb for much less than it’d cost in the US or Europe. We could watch the tide coming in and out on the white sand. Toss a Frisbee around. Eat great seafood for cheap. The boats used by fisherman are kept tied on the beaches. It was very relaxing and a great place to grow friendships. One of the best memories was walking the beach at midnight with the stars all around, and tide out. The white sand was still bright under the moon and starlight, and it's still rustic enough that a group of cows passed us going the other direction in no particular hurry. It’s such a different side of Tanzania than what you’ve already seen with Kilimanjaro, and one of the reasons I think it’s such a special and amazing country.