Stone Town, Zanzibar, Tanzania
06.02.2005 - 07.02.2005
The day starts at 5am when the loudspeakers on the minaret crackle to life. The mostly Islamic island of Zanzibar is being called to prayer. Myself, in the religious minority, listens for a few minutes to the song on the loudspeaker, and turn over and go back to sleep.
I re-wake at 7am. I push aside the mosquito net and have a cool shower. Already the day is hot, and the sun has barely broken the horizon. I grab a quick breakfast on the roof of the Garden Inn, and head off to check out Stone Town.
I walk down Kaunda road with the sun shining on me, and the sweat starts to roll down my face. Zanzibar was settled in the 10th century by Persians, and was part of the Sultanate of Oman for many years in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Arabs know how to build their towns to beat the heat. I turn off the two-car wide Kaunda Road and into one of the many alleys in Stone Town. The alleys are narrow, often able to only fit two or three people abreast, and the houses are multiple stories. Because of this, the alleys are always in the shade, and much cooler than being out in the sun.
The alleys are not straight, and soon I am helpless lost in Stone Town. But it’s alright to be lost. The place is so different than home. People pass me on foot, bicycles and occasionally motor scooters, but cars can’t fit in these alleys. The streets are lined with small shops, selling everything from Internet service to household goods to tourist souvenirs to furniture, built right on the spot.
I have wandered out into one of the wider streets where cars can drive. They are no straighter than the alleys though, with lots of blind corners, often reducing down to one lane as the corner turns. As cars approach the blind corner, they honk their horn and proceed around the corner. I am not sure what this accomplishes, though, because if two cars approach from different directions, they both honk, ignore the others honk and proceed into the corner. Soon they are stopped headlights to headlights. I am not sure what the protocol for this is, but somehow, after a few moments, one of the cars reverses. I have yet to figure out how they decide who should backup.
I am in Forodhani square, along the waterfront. The harbour is filled with dhows, the traditional sailing vessels still used by the fishermen here. On the nearby beach, children swim in the water among the boats. I am reminded of a Duran Duran video – Save a prayer for the morning after.
The sun is getting high in the sky, and the temperature is rising. I retreat back into the cool alleyways and find my way to the Anglican Church by following the spire when I can see it.
The Anglican Church is built on the site of the old Slave Market. Slaves, marched across Africa from their homelands, spent 3 days in a small basement room, crammed 50 to 70 people in a very small space. They spent time on a raised platform, using a trench down the middle for their human wastes. The only liquid to drink was from the same trench where they urinated and defecated.
After 3 days, those still alive would be pulled out of the room, chained to a tree and whipped while people bid on them. Those that cried would get lower prices. Slaves would be shipped from Zanzibar to locations around the globe, from America to India and the Middle East.
I head into the open air market, but the crowds and the heat are getting to me, so I head back to the hotel for an afternoon nap.
After a couple hours of napping, I wake up and head to Mercury’s for a beer and to watch the sunset. Mercury’s is named after Freddy Mercury, the lead singer of the rock band Queen who was born here in Zanzibar. It appears that the Mercury in the thermometer isn’t the only type of Mercury that was raised here in Zanzibar. Just as the Arab traders of old exploited and profited off the spices and slaves that passed through this port, the tourist traps of today exploit and profit off the name of dead celebrity.
After the sun has set, Forodhani comes alive with street vendors, cooking up seafood on outdoor grills. I order skewers of Tuna, Oysters, Prawns, Lobster and Calamari. It costs me $7, and is much more than I can possibly finish. The next night, I will have to remember to be better about portion control.
I wander back to my hotel. The great thing about the Garden Inn is that it is on one of the few wide, main roads in Stone Town, and thus easy to find in the dark after a few beers. For the narrow alleys that are cool during the day are positively dark black at night. Trying to find my way through those to a hotel in the back alleys at night, and I would probably end up lost forever.
I pull down the mosquito net and slip under the cover. At last the mercury is falling, but it doesn’t fall far. The fan is on full-blast, the windows are open and I am still sweating. But soon I am asleep, dreaming of narrow alleys, white sand beaches and Duran Duran videos.