Karibu Nyumbani

Karibu Nyumbani

Welcome home, in Jambiani

July 2, 2012

When you wake up at 6 am to watch the sunrise, you don’t expect to be alone, but at least quiet. Here at that time the village was wide awake. At the beach there were women picking shells, a guy that to save money slept on the sunbed where I usually get my tan during the day, while in the street the first dalla-dalla to Stone Town drove by honking and a seller of I don’t know what played his trumpette to inform of his arrival,

“Karibu Nyumbani”, Welcome home, said Leonard when last night I came back from my beach patrolling. I’m in Jambiani, on the South-Eastern coast of Zanzibar. In fact after the first three hours in which I thought that three days here would have been super boring, I regretted I didn’t arrive earlier. It’s the first time I visit a country where I fall in love with every place. I couldn’t decide where to live. I like Stone Town for its lively atmosphere, the cafes, the good and varied food at reasonable prices, the lovely people; I love Jambiani because it’s so quiet and the people are lovely too.

The Kimte, the hotel where I’m staying, is like a large family. They are all siblings, not of blood, but they all live together happy and relaxed. They have breakfast with a pot and don’t stop until it’s time to go to bed. And they spoil me: one offers me a fresh fruit juice, another a slice of sweet pineapple, the other a bunch of potpourri that he did himself that smells delicious. There’s a boy with big smart eyes, Karim. Cappuccino, they call him, his father is a black man with dreads and his mother is from Sicily. He’s also spoiled from all the uncles and aunties he has here. And there’s a cute dog with a huge head that when you stretch your hand to cuddle him, he puts his paw on it. Sweet! This morning while I was on the hammock waiting for my breakfast, Bighead started barking against a shell. I had found one I liked that I wanted to take home, but the crab that was inside took it away from me (now I know you shouldn’t take shells from the beach).

To come here from Kendwa I had to take a dalla-dalla to Stone Town and another one from there, for a total of 4 hours, for a distance of about 50 kilmeters (30 miles). At one point on the dalla-dalla someone put a baby girl on my lap, about 2 weeks old. I thought I had to keep her while her mum got on the dalla-dalla, but no one asked her back. So I sat for one hour with this cute little dumpling on my lap, without knowing if the mother was actually on the bus; I was already thinking on how I could hide her to cross the borders. Yes, the mother was there (or sister, I don’t know) and took her back at one point. Here children always go on laps of strangers when they are on buses, but I didn’t think they would put one on a mzungo‘s lap! And what if she fell with all those shakes?

Jambiani is a village stretching for about 5 kilometers along a road by the ocean. You can swim only with high tide, a couple of hours per day. A few kilometers from the beach there’s a natural reef. With the low tide you can walk there, among seaweeds and mussel plantations. It looks like a lunar landscape with the low tide, there are many small craters full of water.

I watched the match against Germany on the beach, with a couple from Germany. At every goal by Balotelli Tanzanians got super excited. Because he’s a brother. But they also had fun when the German goalkeeper started to be “cheesy” running to the middle of the field. They were laughing a lot. And it was very cold. I wore a sweatshirt and had to sit next to the fire, with the smoke making my eyes cry. It’s June, super hot in Italy, and I go to Zanzibar to be cold? They really like fires in the beach here. It’s their favorite show, as most don’t have a tv at home. In Kendwa they also lit a bonfire every night, and there were always locals around it, while westerners were at the pub getting drunk (or sleeping, if they had little money, like me).

Last night Leonard asked me to go with him to a place. While we were walking I found out it was his home we were going to, where he had to take some honey for the cocktails. His house is weird. It looks like an egg with two poiting ends, white walls and a straw roof. Inside there are two small rooms and a bathroom. To cook he lits a fire outside. The house is basic, like all the others I’ve seen, with only the essential furniture. Two beds and a small closet. The clothes are in a bag. A pair of shoes and flip flops are out of the door, that he locks with a padlock. He doesn’t need much. He left me there while he went to arrange goats and chickens and to fart. He gave me some Jasmine flowers that he keeps in the garden; he uses them to freshen up the house. I wonder when was the last time he took some inside, because I could only smell mold.

Last night there were about ten people around the bonfire. A couple were playing the bongo while someone was singing a song with words created on the spot, and the others replied in chorus. There was Jacob, a maasai about 20 years old, that told me about his lion Mwobu, that he raised for 16 years feeding him only milk. He called him Mwobu that means “I cut and opened the stomach and took you out”, which is what he did. He took him from his mother’s womb after killing her because she ate his cows.

I’m gonna miss Zanzibar and Tanzania.

Beach boys in Kendwa

Beach boys in Kendwa

June 26, 2012

A relaxing holiday in Zanzibar

It took me a few days, but at last I’m getting used to this place. I spend my time reading, sleeping and sometimes eating, can I ask for more?

It was a bit of a shock at the beginning. I ended up in this resort full of white people that spend their days sunbathing, drinking cocktails and playing beach volley (the Kendwa Rock; it’s actually cool, you don’t often have the chance to stay in a cool beach resort at only 14 dollars in a dorm). At first I wanted to flee. It felt like I was in any European beach, if it wasn’t for the green waters of the ocean. The place is lovely, but this is not exactly how I like to spend my holidays abroad; I like to move and meet locals, eat with them.

Walking towards Nungwi, the nearby town, the beach is lined with hotels and Italian holiday villages. It’s so far from the Tanzania I was used to! I’ve actually been here for 5 days, and could stay longer, because

  1. breakfast is great
  2. I’m tired of carrying backpacks.

The annoying part is that I can’t find any local restaurant. Only places for tourists, a bit expensive (4-5 euro per dish). There are a couple of local restaurants, but the menu is beans and krapfen or krapfen and beans, lighten up by the feeble light of an oil lamp; I went there a few times, but I miss Stone Town soups.

To avoid spending too much money for food I’m eating as much as I can for breakfast, as it is included in the dorm price, but it doesn’t help, because at one I’m hungry again. So this morning I tried to have breakfast a bit later, maybe I can resist until 3, when they start serving fried chips that are cheaper and can calm my hunger; in the evening I will have to spend the usual 4 euro for dinner.

The resort is lovely, there are nice sunbeds where you can lay in the sun and burn your butts (luckly it’s often cloudy; during the only 30 minutes that the sun was out I got sunburnt), and there are few people bothering you. The “Beach boys“, guys that sell boat tours, snorkelling, t-shirts, scarves, huge shells and tattoos, can’t enter the resort borders, signed with a line of palm trees. But they can call your attention by talking to you, waiting for hours holding their goods until someone finds the strength to lift their pink butts from the sunbed, and of course they come to you as soon as you cross the border.

The ocean is beautiful but I don’t bath very often because there are many jellyfish that scare me, even though they say they don’t hurt. In the evening you can stay at the beach here or go to the “Raggea Bar”, just outside the resort, the non-touristic place with most clients here in Kendwa, probably because it’s the only one. I went there a couple of times to eat chips, and there’s always somebody drinking and smoking, at any time of the day.

Here too there are people offering to take me to my next destination, with the promise of an unforgettable holiday and to experience the true Zanzibar with local people. I listen because I’m polite and I keep silent, I don’t know how to answer anymore.

One of the kids that work at the reception told me that he’s very disappointed because last night I didn’t go back to him. He had to talk to me.

“About what?”.

“About my NGO. I have this project about teaching kids at kindergarten and I needed your opinion.”

I don’t know what kind of opinion I could give him about teaching to kids, and why my opinion would be more useful than those of his real friends, but now I have lost his trust and there’s nothing more I can do.

Kendwa beach zanzibar

6.15pm. The sun is setting on the ocean in front of Kendwa. Everybody rushes to the beach to take a picture. But no picture can reproduce the magic of this moment, the calm and energy at the same time. I’m drinking a Sex on the Beach while I enjoy the last rays of sun (the only indulgence I allow myself), but I don’t think it’s the drink that gives me the shivers.

Today it was sunny almost the whole time, for the first time in 6 days, but I don’t think I got much darker. A guy is playing a bongo with his back leaning on a pole and his eyes looking at the red ball that is now the sun. What is he thinking? Do I really want to leave tomorrow? To go somewhere that has no sunset on the ocean but only sunrises? I got used to wake up at 7am, but it’s already too late for sunrise.

kendwa sunset zanzibar

6.43pm. I don’t know what is wrong with me but I can’t socialize with other Mzungo. They are playing beach volley and I would really like to join them, but I can’t get closer. I usually find the excuse that they’re even players in the teams, but this time they are not; and still I can’t approach them.

Maybe tomorrow morning I’ll be able to leave? This morning I had my rucksack packed but when I came to the beach to have breakfast I couldn’t leave. I’m worried I might miss the sunset, as I’m going to the Eastern coast, but if it is so, I can still go back earlier to Stone Town, where I know the places to eat well at good prices.

It’s also the music that keeps me here. From the beach club there is always nice music, in particular during the day, Buddha Bar style, while in the evening it’s more dance. Like now, when my butts are on the chair, but the rest of my body is moving. It’s a song I’ve heard in Italy too, I don’t know who the artist is, someone like Rihanna, but in Italy I never had this reaction.

Music plays all day long, a part from today, because there was a black out that continues. They have a generator for black outs, but apparently they don’t use it during the day, when there is enough light.

kendwa beach at sunset

Two Italian girls are trying to order their dinner from a table next to mine.

Tonight a boy is waiting for me at the Raggae Bar, another one at the reception, two here at the beach. To avoid disappointing one of them I think I’ll go to bed early.

It’s 7.28pm. I should go to the restaurants or there will be no beans left for me.

Mwanda. He’s just introduced himself while I was plugging in my notebook. He lives 2 kilometers South from here, in a hut along the beach, and he’s happy it’s soon full moon because the solar panel that he uses to make electricity isn’t very helpful and he doesn’t have much light in the home. This reminds me that Saturday there will be the “Full Moon party” right here. People will come from all over Zanzibar for the occasion. Even more than usual, Mwanda tells me, because it’s the last party before Ramadan. I must go before that. To live he raises hens and goats, while some women grow seaweeds on the beach in front of his home. He lived in Germany, but after 7 years he missed Zanzibar, which is not surprising. The see is too cold there. He has also offered to take me to the Eastern coast, even though I had just told him this is exactly the reason why I don’t smile much to people here.

I’ve already seen two shooting stars. I’m on the beach, in a place where internet connection is slightly better; but the notebook battery is very low. And mosquitos are biting me no-stop. I had grilled calamari for dinner, with rice and chips. Really good. Before saying goodbye, because he realised I was very busy, he suggested I use lemongrass to keep mosquitos away.

Ok, good night.

Postcard from Stone Town

June 21, 2012

If you have no news from me, do not worry. It won’t be because I was kidnapped by pirates, but because I decided to burn my passport and live here like a ghost for ever and ever.

After I went to Kendwa and Jambiani I came back to Stone Town for a couple of days to say goodbye, before going back to Dar es Salaam to take my flight to Italy.

beach in stone town zanzibar
The beach in Stone Town in front of the Traveller’s Café, where I went almost every day
dhow zanzibar

This is a dhow, a typical boat of Zanzibar, with the triangular sail.

Three days in Stone Town

Three days in Stone Town

June 18, 2012

This morning I woke up at 5am in my hotel in Stone Town hearing screams. It wasn’t hyenas this time. It was even scarier. A drug dealer was trying to get money from a client that didn’t want to pay. I don’t know what happened at the end, but I guess the English guy was able to escape. Risking to be beaten for 10 pounds?

Jackson. I met him in the street today. It was touching talking to him. He was born here, but his ancestors are from Congo, former slaves. He’s one of the 2% of Christian Tanzanians. He doesn’t think it’s a problem, as long as you don’t go out looking for trouble. He’s against the separation of Zanzibar from Tanzanyika, because it would mean weakness, for both countries. He’s Christian, but he believes there is only one god for everyone, Love. While we are talking we hear some screams coming from Jaw’s Corner, where people meet every afternoon to play domino, after the 4pm prayer. They are discussing about independence and the role of the islamic movement, he explains. Later when I walk past there, my friend Ali confirms that they are all a bit too excited. It’s better if I go back later. Ok, I’ll go to the Slave Market.

Visit to the Slave Market in Stone Town

As guide I have Joseph, a law student. Nice, kind, Christian, and he tells me a lot of stories. Because he saw me taking notes, he started to tell me the story about slavery in Zanzibar. The Portuguese started the slaves trade in the 15th Century, from Eastern Africa they brought labor to Brasil and the Caribbeans. At the end of the 17th Century the Portuguese were replaced by Arabs from Oman, who took over their trade. The destinations also changed: they were now sent to Madagascar, to work on sugarcane fields, the Seychelles, stayed in Zanzibar on spice plantations, or were sent as concubine to Oman and India. The slaves were kept in rooms large about 15 sqm. They could host 50 men or 70 women and children. Chained, they received water and food once a day. The rooms, with tiny windows, had mud floor and a sewer in the middle as toilet, that was cleaned once a day by the high tide. Many died of hunger, asphyxiation and disease before they were sold. They were chained to a jojoba tree where they were lashed one at a time. The loudest one screamed, the cheaper he was. On June 6, 1873 the English government forced the Arabs to stop the slaves trade. The market building was closed down. But the trade kept on going, secretly, and in place of Stone Town slaves were kept in caves in the North-Eastern coast of Zanzibar, until 1907. A missionary bought the building of the former slave market and built a church on it. Inside it there’s one of the oldest pipe organs in Africa, dating 1880, brought here from England. At the entrance of the church there are two pillars, standing upside down. The bishop that was supervising the works at the church had to go away for some time, and when he was back he found the pillars in the wrong position. Tanzanians didn’t know how to put them, as they had never seen them before.

4.10pm I’m at Traveller’s Café. Coffee is a bit expensive, 2.500 Tsh and it’s a Nescafé, but the location is adorable. There’s a stretch of beach in front of me, where kids play football. I went back to Ali earlier. He explained to me that they prefer to separate from Mainland because all the taxes they pay go to Dar Es Salaam and they don’t get anything back (I’ve heard similar talks in Italy). School and health systems are terrible, and they were better off before unification. I never know how to reply, because I don’t know what is true and what is popular belief, if truly the capital doesn’t invest in the island. What I know is that in the South of Tanzania they are living worse than here. Talking about the burning churches, Ali thinks it was the government who gave fire to them, to put muslims in a bad light. They have nothing against Christians. They grew up together, eat together, play domino, have been living together for centuries; in Zanzibar was built the first church of Eastern Africa and the cathedral is very close to a mosque. Ali was born in Zanzibar, his father in Pemba and the mother in Tanga, I think, along the coast of the Mainland. But his grandparents were from Muscat. He was married but his wife cheated on him and he couldn’t forgive her. Now she’s married to a Dutch and lives in Europe.

Maybe I could also bath with my clothes on like these kids, who cares? The problem is that it would take me a long time to get dry. At a nearby table there’s a Dutch man that is also on holiday. He has been for the last 8 years. He can’t leave. I love the mix of races of Zanzibar. Everyone has ancesters that come from different places of the globe. They are good looking. And they speak a good English. Which doesn’t help me in learning Swahili, unfortunately, but it’s nice to be able to communicate.

7h45pm and I’m back to the Gardens and was caught by Oki Doki, who wants to come the the Northern coast with me. Because he wants my holiday to be better than I expected. I can’t get rid of him. Rafiki rafiki he calls me, friend. Right. We go to get a drink at Sunrise, we are late for the Italy match, and after the first half time I go back to my hotel. There were some Europeans watching the match too, but they were supporting Spain.

sunset in stone town

Prison Island, also known for its turtles, in Stone Town

June 19

I don’t know what time it is. Asubuhi, anyway, morning.

Prison Island. It was never a prison actually. The monsoons on the Indian Ocean from December to March brought a lot of boats to the coast of Zanzibar full of goods, Indians, Arabs and diseases. For this reason they decided to use this island as a quarantine place for the ill.

Now on the island there’s an expensive hotel and a centre to safeguard giant turtles. The oldest is 150 years old. 150 years spending every single day eating and sleeping. I don’t know if I would enjoy it.

We do some snorkelling nearby. There are beautiful corals and fish. And jelly fish. That scare me a lot. I don’t resist too long in the water. A short break on the beach to dry up and then we go back to Stone Town.

I have lunch at my favorite place where I can have chapati and a lovely soup made with tomato, onion and pieces of meat. Then coffee at Jaw’s Corner (the old man sells coffee at 0.05 euro, but he sells so many that at the end of the day he has some money to buy food. And coffee is good, it’s made with a moka). There’s a Barber Shop at Jaw’s Corner, where Ali hides his bottle of whiskey that he drinks in between domino matches, hidden from his muslim friends’ view. Barber Shop is quite busy, everyone goes there for a cut, they don’t have electricty at home, so while they are having their hair and beard cut they can recharge their phones (the shop has chargers for any type of phone).

8pm. I’m at Sunrise with Ali this time. I like him, he’s fun and kind and he tells interesting stories. We are here with his friends, having an aperitif with gin & tonic before dinner, if they remember to eat. A belgian man, that has been living here for 12 years, is married to a local woman and has 4 children; they opened one of the most popular places in Stone Town, but now his main occupation is consulting (I haven’t understood what type of consultancy though). There’s Joy, so called because when he drinks he starts singing and dancing. Creamy, I don’t know what he does. They are all about 50 years old, wealthy, according to the money they are spending in alcool. Here comes another one, younger, looking for advice because his wife wants to divorce him but he doesn’t want to, he’s too close to her, and even if she cheats on him, he spent most of his time with her and wouldn’t be able to live without her. For him she converted to Islam. There is only the third divorce left, the last one. Yes, he seem sure now, he’s gonig to sign tomorrow. Ali receives a call. A family from the Mainland has just landed in Stone Town and is looking for a house to rent for one month. Three people are now trying to find a place for the family. A fourth man keeps talking about his wife, a bit to himself, a bit talking to me. She doesn’t love him anymore, but he doesn’t care, he wants to live in the same house. As long as she is discreet. Another guy comes, an artist, looking for free pot. The Belgian guy is happy of his marriage, he tells me, but when his wife sees him going home every night drunk and stoned, is she happy?

June 20

I’m still in Stone Town. I can’t leave. Tomorrow, hopefully. I’m at the beach in front of the Traveller’s Café. Edi is teaching me some Swahili. Well, too much actually. Probably I won’t remember one single word of the thousands he is trying to teach me. In exchange I teach him some Italian, that he already speaks a bit. Oki Doki told me that Italians are good tourists. Many come here, usually on a group tour, on a day trip from one of the resorts by the beach, and they spend some money in souvenirs. So people in Stone Town like them and welcome them. And for this reason many people speak a bit of Italian. The other day a guy spoke with a strong Calabrian accent that made me laugh. I’m sorry for the people that come to Zanzibar and only stay at the beach resorts. They miss a lot.

3.30pm Jaw’s Corner. The tournament is in half an hour. But coffee is ready. I’ve been waiting for one hour. In the meantime the guy from the Barber Shop transferred some music to a usb drive and invited me to drink something and offered to go North with me. He’s 26, married, and introduced me to his son. The face of the Indian guy when he plays domino! And how he gets upset when his mate does something wrong! They remind me of the elderly at the community centres in Italy.

6.20pm I’m again at the beach at Traveller’s Café. I came to see my friend (can’t remember his name) playing football. I’ve been here for five days and everybody knows me. I think I would enjoy living here. Some kids came to the beach to train doing leaps.

First days in Stone Town

First days in Stone Town

June 17, 2012

I miss three things in particular:

  1. cooking. As soon as I get home I accept bookings
  2. going to the beach in Sottomarina with my friends and in the evening stop in Chioggia for a pizza
  3. wear something different. I’ve been wearing the same tshirts for the last month.

It’s 3.38 pm and I’m in my room, in Stone Town. I needed a break. I thought Zanzibar would have been more expensive than the other parts of Tanzania, but more or less the cost of living as a tourist is the same. To sleep I paid 20USD the first night, but then with the threat of changing hotel, the manager reduced it to 12USD. Good. It’s in my budget. Last night I spent 5,000 Tsh to try the grilled octopus at Forodhani Gardens, where all tourists go for dinner at least once when they are here, but it was hard. I’ll go back to my rice at 1,000 Tsh tonight. The only expensive thing is coffee, if I want the freshly ground it’s 3,000 Tsh (1,5 euro).

Stone Town is a labyrinth. It reminds me of the medina in Fez. If there’s no one taking you, the first time it’s impossible to find the hotel you’re looking for. The fifth time too actually. Luckily there is always someone available to take you. The town is beautiful. The buildings are a mix of styles, arabic, indian, african and european. In the centuries so many people and cultures stopped here, in particular merchants, slaves and sailors from the Indian Ocean (Indians and Arabs). From here David Livingstone left for his explorations of Africa and here was born Faroukh Bulsara, before he became Freddy Mercury, but nobody knows in which exact building. I like this mix. People are also a mix: there are the pitch black, black with arabic traits and Indians. And like in all of Tanzania, Christians and Muslims live together. A couple of weeks ago someone lit fire on 4 churches, here in Stone Town. Some Muslims want a free and Islamic Zanzibar. But I don’t think a country like this would attract many tourists. And of course tourism is a great source of income for the island. The Italian embassy in Dar Es Salaam sent me a message advising to avoid some areas of Stone Town (that I don’t even know where they are, probably out of the centre). Now it’s quiet anyway, police is keeping everything under control.

The only annoying part of walking in town is that everyone comes to you to sell tours, the spice tour, to Prison Island (where live the giant turtles), to see dolphins, or on a boat ride at sunset. I don’t want to do any of these. I am happy walking around the tiny alleys, playing football with a plastic bottle and a 5 year old kid, watching men playing domino that to make signs they beat the pieces on the table so loud they scare me, share my 5 cents oranges with children, drink coffee in the street from the same cup used one second before by another client, after a quick rinse in the usual basin (it’s nice to have coffee available everywhere, after a month where it was hard to find!).

This morning I had breakfast with two Korean girls. They told me they have been traveling for one month. Good, in Tanzania only? Yes yes, replies one of them. “Wow, two atypical Koreans”, I thought. But no, her friend corrected her “no no, one month in Africa! We were in South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia and after Tanzania we are going to Kenya”. Ok, I thought it was weird (btw, I love Koreans, they are fun and very nice people to talk to, just a different way of traveling than my own).

8.57 pm. I’ve just come back to my hotel. I spent the last two hours at the gardens with a rastaman. At first I found him nice and funny, but when he invited me to see dolphins or the giant turtles at “local prices” (prices that locals would pay, his friends, not tourists) when they were actuallly the same prices I’ve seen so far, I understood that he only wanted what everyone here expects from mzungo, money. Plus he thought I’m dumb, apparently. As if in two days in Zanzibar I didn’t know how much a spice tour can cost. When he told me that I will soon find out that people here are much more kind and welcoming than people in Tanganyika (this is how Continental Tanzania was called until 1964, when Tanganyika and Zanzibar united in one republic), it annoyed be a bit. Because it is true that in Dar Es Salaam and Arusha I wouldn’t have gone out alone in the night, while here I’m not scared, but he can’t say the people I met so far weren’t kind and spontaneous. He thinks they won’t be the same country for much longer, because everyone wants a separation. Here in Zanzibar maybe. He was born Muslim, but now he’s rastafan or whatever it’s called (and I don’t know what type of religion it is; he does it because tourists know he’s a peaceful man and they ask him pot). He told me how here was built the first church of Eastern Africa, I don’t remember in which year, as to testify how they are open minded, even though they are Muslim for 98%. I wanted to ask his opinion about the four churches burnt down a few weeks ago, but I din’t have the chance. Mmmm… I din’t like hime. He says I can feel home. Well, I felt more home in Lindi or Kilwa. Here, in particular the gardens area, it seems all a tourist fishing.

Later I walked in the tiny alleys where I drank a cup of warm milk with an old man and life was light and serene again.