Jambo #5

Zanzibar, Zanzibar, Zanzibar is really far
you can’t get there in a car
Zanzibar is really far
Zanzibar, Zanzibar, in Zanzibar they don’t have tar
you can’t get there in a car
Zanzibar is really far
Prior to arriving in Zanzibar last Saturday, the only thing I knew about Zanzibar were these song lyrics from this weird song that my 8th grade science teacher, Mr.Gendreau, used to play for us. Not exactly useful information. . .

A traditional eastern African fishing boat called a dhow.

But since being on the island I have learned quite a lot. Zanzibar, for those of you that aren’t familiar with it, is an island off the coast of Tanzania in Eastern Africa. It has been a part of Tanzania since 1963 when the people living here gained their independence from the Omani sultanate that had been ruling here since the 1800s, and joined with the mainland, which at the time was called Tanganyika. An interesting fact, the word Tanzania actually comes from the combination of (Tan)ganyika + (Zan)zibar + Azan(ia) (which is the Greek word referring to Eastern Africa). Before the Omani sultanate, Zanzibar had been used as a port of trade by both the British and the Portuguese who brought spices here from the east and grew them on the warm, fertile land. This cultural melee is easily seen in the island’s current residents. People living here are of African, Middle Eastern, Indian, and European descent. However, 95% of Zanzibarians are Muslim and there are over 50 mosques on the island, which has a population of about 1.3 million. Here, the Arab greeting “salam u alaykum” is just as likely to be heard as the Swahili “Jambo.” So just when I thought that I was leaving Morocco, it seems as if it’s following me just a little bit. Zanzibarians also frequently say “hakuna matata”–that’s right, like The Lion King (which uses several Swahili words–for example, the monkey named Rafiki is the Swahili word for friend). I still haven’t quite gotten used to that and think about the Lion King just about every time I hear it.

Just like in Morocco, every day we go out here, we get approached by several people offering us tours of the island, local art, or drugs. We know they’re just trying to make a living, but it gets a little annoying after awhile.
After spending our first two days in Stonetown, the biggest city on the island, we took a local bus called a DalaDala north to a city called Nungwi on the northern tip of the island. Nungwi is an interesting place because the village is like any other you might find in Africa–no running water, children running around with no shoes, and dirt roads. But just beyond the village is a stretch of the most beautiful beach, lined by fancy resort hotels (like the Hilton Doubletree). It reminded me of photos I had seen of Tahiti–white sand beaches, the most crystal blue water you’ve ever seen, and beach huts with thatched grass roofs. A paradise right next to a squalid village. We stayed two nights at a cheap beach bungalow and during the day time arranged for a trip out on a traditional dhow (an African fishing boat) which included a seafood lunch and snorkeling in a marine conservation area. It would have been quite nice if I hadn’t gotten seasick. . . oh well. But it was a truly beautiful place.

Gorgeous white sand beaches.

Gorgeous white sand beaches.

The only hard part about it, as I mentioned before, was that people would constantly come up to you and try to sell you things. “Jambo! Would you like to go snorkeling?,” “Jambo (#2)! Would you like to buy a wood carving with your name on it?,” “Jambo! (#3) would you like to buy some mango or pineapple?” There was even one moment when we were swimming and a guy was shouting at us from the beach about going scuba diving. We kept telling him that we weren’t interested, that we’d talk to him later, but that didn’t seem to work. He literally stood there for 10 minutes trying to get us to come out of the water and talk to him. Not exactly the relaxing swim I was hoping for. . .

But as I said before, Zanzibar is a truly unique place and one not to be missed if you’re coming to Tanzania or Eastern Africa. The unique mix of cultures creates an atmosphere you can’t find anywhere else in the world.

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