December 28, 2012 by Keisha || The Girl Next Door is Black
Part II of my trip to Zanzibar. Read part I here.
Day Three: Snorkel, Play Tupperware and Save Your Judgy Face for Somebody Who Cares
Snorkeling in Pangani was so much fun I wanted to go again in Zanzibar. Bright and early I met the other snorkelers and divers at the pick up point. The coordinator I’d met the previous day while filling out the paperwork promising not to sue if they killed me accidentally, rushed up to me excitedly, “Dada (Miss), what time were you born?” Am I getting an astrological reading now? “I don’t remember, I think in the morning. Why?” “I was born on the same day, in the same month, in the same year! I was thinking, ‘what time was she born?’” “Well,” I answered, “I was born in New York and you were born in Kenya, so there’s a time difference…” Still, a nice coincidence.
This snorkeling experience was quite a bit different from Pangani. More people on the dhow: 20-25 vs. eight. This snorkel trip would be guided, while the other wasn’t. The hyper crew had us all introduce ourselves by name and origin. The group of six from my hotel were onboard, along with two white South African girls. The remainder of the group was European from Germany, the Netherlands, England, Scotland and Poland. I was the lone person who lived in America. I was also one of only two soloers and the only black person aside from the crew. Aside from the group of six, everyone was in a couple. Thankfully, there were no shocked, “YOU ARE BY YOURSELF?!” exclamations directed my way.
We stopped twice to snorkel and let the divers dive. I had to use a life jacket because though I can swim (as in perform proper strokes, even backstroke) I still cannot tread water. Having almost drowned twice, I just cannot relax enough to let the water help me float. One day…(Do not tell me “Oh, treading water is so easy!” If it were, I’d be doing it.) We saw similar fish as in Pangani, though the coral were “reach out and touch someone” big. I could swear one tried to grab my leg. The water was a lot choppier; our guide made sure we all stayed together so no one got lost or taken by coral with secret hands. And the water was cooooold.
The problem with guided snorkeling is you all have to enter and exit the water together. If you decide you want to stop, say if you’re chilled to the bone and wish you’d accepted a wetsuit when it was offered, you have to tell the guide and then everyone must return. I decided to grin and bear it even though I felt like my legs were going to fall off and it’d be “127 Hours: Indian Ocean” edition. I wasn’t going to ruin the trip for everyone else.
Finally back on the dhow and still freezing, I climbed up to the top-level to catnap in the sun. My nap was over before it began as shortly after I laid my head down I heard a male voice say to me: “Dada, do you like the trip?” My eyes were closed, so I pretended I didn’t hear him. “Dada, you are from America?” Alright, I’ll play, but I’m not sitting up. “Yes, I am from America.” “Ah, America. I like to visit there one day. Where is your simba?” Hmm, simba means lion, so is he talking about a man? “I don’t have one.” “I don’t believe it. You are too beautiful to be alone.” “Yep, I am here by myself.” “How old are you?” I told him. “Nooo. I think you are 23, 24. You are very beautiful. I am 42. I am looking for a special lady. Dada, I am going to play you a song.” He pulled out an empty Tupperware container leftover from lunch, turned it over, began drumming on it with his hands and sang, “Jambo, jambo bwana…” After three weeks in TZ, I’d heard that song so many times I could play it myself. He asked me to join him in playing. This dude was relentless. I could see the South African girls peeping over curiously. “Dada, I want to take you dancing. I think you probably dance like Shakira.” I guffawed. “Uh, maybe if I have some pombe (beer).” “I’ll take you dancing at the club where the local people go. We can have some drinks and dance. Cost no money.” It was one of those moments where you debate: should I take the chance that I may have an awesome experience to talk about for years to come? Or should I say no in case things go completely awry and I end up with macheted missing limbs, lying in a ditch for lions to ravage and hyenas to finish off? My gut told me that as nice as he seemed, going off with a man I just met in a foreign country, thousands of miles from home, where I can barely speak the language, was not smart.
“I’m sorry, I am going to stay home tonight.” “Dada, we will have fun.” “Noooo, I’m sorry.” “Dada, why do you break my heart? I think you are lying and have a simba at your hotel.” His tenacity and earnestness was admirable (and amusing). Tempting. He wasn’t bad to look at. He was Wesley Snipes choco with short dreads and obviously very fit from his day job. “Ha! I really don’t. I leave tomorrow and I want to go to bed early tonight.” “Ok, we will go dancing early. 10 o’clock.” “10! That is not early!” “The people do not start dancing until 11.” I shook my head no. “Dada, why do you reject me? What is wrong with me? I am going to sing another song. It is about a man with a broken heart.” He sang a sad sounding tune and looked at me forlornly as he sang. Was this really happening? I fought the urge to laugh. Everyone on the top deck was doing a poor job of secretly eavesdropping. Dejected and rejected, he left to attend to his captainly duties.
We were approaching the shore. High tide had rolled in and what was once beach was bathed in ocean water. The captain and his assistants navigated the dhow 100-feet from shore and anchored it. “Ok, ladies and gentleman, you will have to swim. We will pack your things.” Is this mofo for real? I could feel my heart rate increasing at this news. I can’t swim that! I can swim in a calm, contained swimming pool next to toddlers diving and synchronized swimming. Not a choppy-watered, freezing ocean. Embarrassingly I had to ask for help. Who was there to help me but the broken-hearted captain? Of course. Great, now I felt like I owed him. But, not enough to reconsider going dancing. Once we hit dry land, I thanked him profusely and said goodbye. He gave me a last sad puppy look.
“You can’t swim?” asked the American woman who lives in Tanzania. Here we go. The judgment of the swimmers: Look at us, we can swim, ooowee! Sigh. There are people who learned to swim when they were in the womb. These people cannot conceive of the idea that others cannot swim. When you tell them you can’t swim, or more correctly, that you can’t tread water, they give you the type of look you’d reserve for someone who tells you they don’t like cheese. I’ve encountered this stank look and this tiring conversation so much that I get defensive. Look, I was born and raised in an urban environment. My parents did not know how to swim, so it wasn’t a priority for them to find a pool to throw their kids in. By the time we moved to a suburban environment with swimming pools, I was so eager to grow my sea legs that I almost drowned…twice. It’s kind of a big deal thing to get over. You know, getting over the fear that you are going to die. That you are suffocating. That your short little life will end imminently. Cut me some slack. I decided to keep it simple: “I can swim, but I panic in ocean water.” She gave me the look. Stuff it woman. Two others asked me about it as we returned our gear. Dear God save me from this inquisition!
Later that afternoon, I headed to the bar at the hotel to have a pre-dinner drink and enjoy the ocean. Bakar was bartending. Je_ had mentioned him to me. They’d met and bonded earlier in the week. I introduced myself to him. “So, you are friends with Je_, yeah? He is my best friend!” I was amused. People seemed to get attached quickly in TZ. “Yes, he told me about you. You like hip-hop, right?” He smiled widely. “Yes, I like Tupac!” We made idle chitchat for a bit and then he asked my age. I told him. He looked surprised. “You have a good body.” I couldn’t be offended. He said it as matter-of-factly as one would say, “Water is wet.” “Your body looks 26 or 27.” “Are you married?” For the 50th time this trip, I answered, “No.” I worried this would lead to another “captain” situation. But, it didn’t. He looked pensive for a bit and then continued, “I would like an American girlfriend.” I asked why. “American women have independence. African women want you to have a job and then buy everything for them. They depend on you.” I laughed, “So do some American women. They like men with money and nice cars who will buy them things.” “Really?” he asked, surprised. “But, in America, you have a job. You can pay for yourself. Here: The woman wants you to buy her things that are simple, like bras.” Wow, bras? “And they ask you to help their family too.” I could see his point.
Nikki, the hotel manager and my dinner companion the night before, was preparing to leave early the next morning to head back to Ireland to visit her family. So she didn’t join me for dinner. I ate solo and continued reading my book. I ordered fish for dinner mostly so I could share it with Mwezi, the hotel kitty. Again, I went to bed early in preparation for the next day’s activities: a spice tour and a Stone Town visit before heading to the airport and back to Moshi.
Day 4: Spices and History
Nikki arranged my spice tour and tour of Stone Town and did an awesome job. A driver picked me up and drove me to a spice farm. I thought I’d be joining a group to tour the farm, but I had my own personal guide. Nice! I loved my guide; he was very knowledgeable and sweet.
The spice farm is community owned and they all share in the profits (including the dog I saw eating the fallen fruits). As we visited each plant or tree, his assistant would tear off a leaf or slice into bark so I could smell it and guess what spice is derived from it. I sucked at the game. The only thing I was able to guess was the scent of vanilla. I enjoyed getting to see the origin of the spices we use for cooking, medicines and to scent things like candles and perfumes. Also of interest was hearing how the locals use spices recreationally. As my guide told me, “Ginger is an aphrodisiac for men. It gives them power.” Later, “Nutmeg has many uses. You can make it into a tea to help with your nerves if you are like a singer. But, it’s also good for women as an aphrodisiac. If a man takes ginger and a woman takes nutmeg, it’s like a boom! You don’t know who will win.” He pantomimed an explosion with his hands. I giggled.
Toward the end of the tour I tried some of the tropical fruits grown on the island: mangoes, green oranges, orange oranges, jackfruit, papaya and a couple of different types of bananas. The guys serving up the fruits were listening to Drake. They spoke barely any English but they were jamming to “Forever.” The guy that cut my fruit flirted with me via my guide. I didn’t need him to translate though. I’d learned the words for “beautiful”, “married”, and “American”. I loved that the men I met in the country were so upfront about their interest. It was refreshing and flattering.
My driver waited for me (with my luggage) during the hour and a half I toured the farm. He then drove me into Stone Town where another guide was waiting to take me on a tour of the city. My driver let me know he’d return for me to take me to the airport in a few hours. This kind of personalized service would have cost me an arm and a leg in America. In TZ it was affordable and I felt like I was helping employ people who needed it.
The people of Zanzibar have an interesting ethnic makeup due to colonialism and trade with influences from all over Africa, Britain, India, Oman and Portugal among others. This diversity was especially noticeable in Stone Town, the hub of Zanzibar. You can also see the varied cultural influences in the architecture. There are the Arab inspired narrow streets and open air markets, the ornate, heavy wooden doors with rounded tops reminiscent of India and its own native influence with buildings made up of crushed limestone and coral, hence the name Stone Town. Ninety percent of the population is Muslim, 7% Christian and the remaining 3% of other religions include Hindu. Many of the women were dressed in traditional Muslim coverings and the looks I got for showing the bit of leg I did in my capris did not escape me. I found myself scandalized when I saw two female tourists wearing booty shorts and tank tops. Put on some clothing, you harlots!
Zanzibar being more of a tourist destination than Moshi, I noticed a distinct difference in how visitors are treated in both places. The locals would greet us with “jambo” which I’d learned soon after arriving in Tanzania, is a greeting used for tourists. Having been in Tanzania for three weeks, I was taken aback by the number of “jambos” directed my way. I’d look around me with confusion like, “You talkin’ to me? Oh no, no.” Then I’d greet them the local way and get impressed looks. Don’t “jambo” me!
My guide clearly took his job seriously as he rattled off historical facts in rapid succession. I love history, but I found myself getting mental fatigue. I can’t keep all of these Kings straight! We visited the site of an old slave market where a Christian church now stands. Left intact is the cellar where slaves were held until auction. The cellar was dark, windowless, tiny and at 5’1” I probably wouldn’t be able to stand upright without hunching over. The captives were chained up in this dungeon with no access to food, water or even a way to relieve themselves. Outside is a tree that stands as a marker for the old trading post. Near it is a monument to peace with messages in four different languages. There is also an art installation depicting five African slaves chained together by their necks awaiting sale at auction. The chains are from the originals used on the captives. Taking all of it in, I felt the same sobering, heavy feeling I got when I visited the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam. Sometimes I hate people.
Freddie Mercury, of Queen fame, was born in Zanzibar. My tour guide told me, “He is the king of rock ‘n’ roll.” I resisted the impulse to say, “ Isn’t that Elvis?” Silly American. The museum was disappointing. Aside from a plaque outside and some newspaper clippings, I’m not sure what made it a museum.I didn’t actually see anything about Freddie Mercury inside. It seemed like any other souvenir shop.
After we visited the open air markets, we headed back to our starting point where I overheard three youts speaking in English about their prowess with girls with some of the foulest language I’ve heard since Eddie Murphy’s Raw. I gave them a look that said, “I can hear you motherbleepers and I know the ladies don’t love you like that.”
I liked Stone Town, but I felt a few hours touring the city was enough. Perhaps at another time I might like to try some of the restaurants and maybe spoil myself and spend the night at one of the expensive rich-folk hotels, but in general, I enjoyed the quiet and ease of Nungwi more.
Right on time, my driver picked me up to take me to the airport. He had a male passenger with him. The passenger introduced himself to me, asked me a few questions and then said, “I just met you, but I will already miss you when you leave.” I knew I would also miss the men of Tanzania when I left.