Sunday, December 12, 2010

Rerouted to Zanzibar...

Stonetown, Zanzibar

Relieved to get away from the oppressive heat and pollution of Dar es Salaam we went to the ferry terminal an hour early to wait in the air conditioning. There we were greeted with free lunch, wireless Internet, and a beautiful new ferry with beanbag chairs on the upper deck. After the dirt, busses, and all around slumming it of the past few days we felt quite privileged to have these luxuries.

We set off across the Indian Ocean warm salt-water breeze and the air began to smell like air instead of car exhaust and diesel fumes. We arrived to Stone town as it was bathed in the afternoon glow of the sun. As we docked you could hear the laughter of children as they splashed in the ocean and rinsed off the heat of the day. Right when we stepped off the ferry you could just feel the all around good vibes of Zanzibar. Something about islands that just mellow people out.

We found a taxi that took us through the narrow winding streets past crumbling buildings that are an exotic mix of Arabic, Indian, European, and African style. With all the character of each country fluidly colliding with each other. It is the most beautiful combination of color, shape, textures, people, religions, and lifestyles living in what appears to be seamless harmony. The Rastafarians hanging out with their Muslim brothers and sisters and the Muslim girls impeccably draped in colored scarves next to the modern girls who wear short shorts and tank tops. Christians celebrating Ramadan and Muslims celebrating Christmas. They live and celebrate side-by-side appreciating each others cultures and embracing it. I have really never been somewhere like this… It is a beautiful mix of so many cultures and traditions. Too bad more of the world cannot be this way loving and embracing of others traditions and beliefs.

When we arrived at our hotel I took again for the 9th day in a row the best shower of my life! We headed out to check out the town. It was Saturday night and down at the main garden along the ocean was bustling with people and about 40 vendors selling local delights. Zanzibar pizza home made soup, fresh fruit, and sugarcane juice squeezed in front of your eyes. But most impressive were the enormous tables of BBQ kabobs (of every meat and fish imaginable), Naan, yams, and banana. We ate our way around the park and stuffed ourselves for $5 USD. As we sat along the waterfront we met several people.

The thing about Tanzania is the people are so friendly you cannot walk more than a few steps without someone calling out “Jambo” (How are you) and no matter who you must slow down and reply and acknowledge there greeting. It means you talk to a lot of people in one day even if you are in a hurry or you don’t really feel like talking. But the people are so friendly and welcoming. Well ok some of the men probably just like talking to two western girls. But mostly everyone is extremely helpful and welcoming.

We have also come to realize that the “Rastas” are always a safe bet as far as people to become friends with. They believe love conquers all, they are mellow, they seem to have our back and look out for us (not that we need it here), and they make the most interesting conversations. So what do you know we met some Rastas that told us there was a “Bongo Flavor” (a style of hip hop concert) going on in the old fort. So Jamie and I headed over to the Old Fort…literally the inside of an old fort now converted to a large outdoor venue and bar. It was super fun and immediately we had an inside perspective as to nightlife in Zanzibar. Girls covered head to toe in stylish wraps and headscarves watching as scantily clad girls (even by California standards sang on stage…yet another beautiful contradiction. We listened and watched as the men danced, but as soon as I was solicited for a “love affair” we decided it was time to take off.

The next morning we wandered the winding streets with only pedestrians, petal bikes, and motorbikes. You can never get too lost because eventually a road will lead to the sea and you can find your way home. Whenever you ask for directions people raise their hand in the air (and point it in front of them even if you are headed in the opposite direction) and say oh is it 5 minutes walking and make a series of left, right, and straight forward pointing motions supposedly leading the way to your destination. We say “Ashanti San” and head the first three ways they initially pointed and then ask again. It is a community effort to get us where we are going, but always an adventure. We ended up in many old hotels with amazing woodwork. They are all mazes with beautiful shapes and staircases. It seems nothing is symmetrical and a bit haphazard, but it ends up creating a beautiful building that eventually leads to an extraordinary rooftop overlooking Stonetown. In the afternoon we heard music and joyful shouts by our hotel and wondered into the doorway community center. Outside were a group of young Muslim men dressed in their white robes caps. They excitedly told us their brother was getting married today. They said you are most welcome. Come inside and feel like it is your home. We were escorted inside to a room full of boisterous discussion, singing, and dancing. Beautiful Muslim women draped in their most colorful and finest headscarfs and rich flowing material. At least 100 were sitting on mats on the floor talking and eating while a group of young men and women were in the front singing and dancing what was apparently a traditional routine. At first we got a few stares, but then people began introducing themselves saying, “You are most welcome. What is your name? Please eat and feel like this is your home. We are happy you are here.” As we sat in the back of the room and talked to people and made faces as curious children we were handed bottles of water, gum, flavored popsicles, and kabobs. We stayed for an hour and still never saw the bride. The men left to go pray and the women stayed at the party. All I could think was wow if only this is the image of Islam more people could see. While I reject the predominate stereotype of Islam portrayed in the American media, I suddenly realized I do have an impression of Muslim believers that is dead wrong. In the back of my mind I have bought into a belief structure that Muslims are serious, oppressed, have no fun, and do not like me because I am American. And really, nothing could have been further from the truth. I only wished at that moment I could record the wedding to broadcast on Fox News or CNN and say wait America watch this. These people are joyful, embracing, accepting, and living their lives in peace. If only everyone reading this could have been there to experience it with us.

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