Monday, 14 October 2013

Language on a Spice Island - pt 2

In the last post I shared our first thoughts on our initial encounter with Zanzibar and some of the local experiences. Being only a 2hr ferry ride away you would think the similarities in culture would be stronger than the differences but the people of Zanzibar are very different from the mainland, especially Dar, in so many ways.

The architecture also is strikingly different! Beautiful houses and other buildings are being restored to former glory, although some are just being razed to build new and modern hotels with no thought to the history and charm being lost in the pursuit of the mighty dollar. I must admit I prefer the restoration.

We stayed in a fairly ordinary looking guest house, nothing as grand as these buildings, but it's charm came from the people within.The guys on reception were wonderful, couldn't do enough to help, the chef tried hard everyday to change our breakfast as we were staying 'long term' at 2 weeks. We were made to feel part of the family, nothing was too much.            
Even the ladies who cleaned our rooms put special petals on our beds and were so friendly it was like saying 'goodbye' to friends when we came to leave. 
Our Breakfast Terrace

Roof top view to the sea

It was Ramadan for the first 2 weeks of our stay in Stone Town; the month long dawn till dusk fast which is obligatory for a adults. Never having been in a Muslim community before it was a fascinating time to be in Zanzibar. Stone Town was different to the rest of the island, with many more Arabs living here the mix was rich and diverse. Finding food to eat during daylight hours was difficult but at 6pm people would gather in local restaurants in anticipation of ending the fast. Dates were the food of choice to do this, and we were more than happy to partake as the fresh dates available were amazing!

We loved being able to join in with the Eid celebrations, we were able to find out lots from the university staff as well as the hotel staff about how special Eid is after Ramadan. The best way to describe the atmosphere is a bit like Christmas - everyone is dressed in their best clothes, happy, friendly, a real joyous occasion, children full of excitement at the new toys they have received. Obviously for us we felt the main reason for celebrating was missing. It was like a party without the guest of honour. 

A military parade to celebrate Eid passes right in front of our hotel.

An amazing military band announces the arrival of the President and Vice President of Zanzibar

We found that being in Zanzibar we were not only learning a vibrant language but we were becoming fully immersed in the culture. The Swahili language in Zanzibar is clearer, purer and easier to understand for the beginner than that of the main land. Ideal for us who are getting on a bit and struggle to hear when people mumble!

We took a walk to the fish market one day and saw an amazing display and huge variety of fish - many of which you would normally see swimming in an aquarium! It was a great opportunity to practise our swahili and for the kids to see an amazing sight as hundreds of fish were brought ashore and spread out at their feet for everyone to bid on!  This was away from the main 'tourist' area, although the occasional tourist accompanied by a guide did venture here. It was a real insight into everyday life and the 'old' Zanzibar we remembered from our honeymoon days nearly 20yrs ago.

Zanzibar still has some beautiful beaches
Although now you will find the best beaches crowded with water sports, restaurants, duka's selling local (and not so local) souvenirs, bars etc. It is harder to find that idyllic quiet unspoiled beach Zanzibar was once famous for.

The real beauty of Zanzibar however is in the people. They love the island they are connected to. They are kind and generous and have a real joy for life. Here are a few pictures of some of the people we came into contact with:
Jumping off the harbour wall at high tide - a local sport!
Bibi - Grandma - from the family we stayed with, making mandazi.
Bibi's granddaughter on her way to school

Captain of our boat over to Prison Island to see the Giant Tortoises.

First Mate

Mr Chocolate and friend who make the best Zanzibar pizza - anything you like in it as long as it has chocolate - great hit with the kids!
Our time in Zanzibar became even more special right on the last day - an extra blessing was given to us! Friends from the UK had been on safari on the mainland and were now resting before returning home at a resort on Zanzibar! Jack had received a FaceBook message saying his old school friend was on the island. They didn't know we were there also but knew we were in Tanzania (a rather large country).  We tried desperately to contact them but due to the usual unreliability of the internet, messages were simply not getting through. 
As we packed our bags to leave at reception on our last morning, I finally persuaded Stewart to call the hotels were knew in the area they were staying.  
We traced them to one of the hotels but there was no answer from their room phone. I then asked if the key was in reception as that would determine if they had left on an excursion (possibly). The key wasn't there. 
We then had a decision to make. We could hire a taxi to take us the hour drive across to the other side of the island on the chance we might see them, or just leave it and head home to Dar. 
Not being one to give up so easily we headed off in a taxi knowing we would only have about an hour if we found them. 
On arriving at the hotel we set out to look for them. The place was huge and we couldn't locate their rooms, Jack searched the beach with Harry, Stew and Robyn looking for room numbers whilst I took to writing a note at reception to let them know we had tried.
Time was slipping by - being unable to trace their rooms (or staff to tell us where they were),  we tried to call Jack and Harry to call off the search, we had 20mins before our taxi would return us to the Ferry to leave Zanzibar for the mainland. We needed to go. 
Just then Harry called us and asked where we were - Jack had found them!!
It didn't seem possible, we had spent 40mins looking and right when we held out no hope, Jack who was determined to find his friend, had done it.
Excitement all round as friends are reunited!

Jumping for joy!

"No chance Elliot - I was taught to jump by Maasai!!"

It was amazing, we were elated to see friends again - very surreal but a real boost to us. We didn't have long - just long enough for a quick soda and chat before dashing to the taxi to catch the last ferry to the mainland (which turned out to be by the skin of our teeth!). God was so good to us allowing us this precious time together!

Crowds building waiting to board the ferry.
Goodbye Spice Island in the sun - we'll be back!

No comments:

Post a Comment