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.