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.