Observations: Zanzibar

The air is always humid and the only time of day when it’s comfortable walking outside is early in the morning. The ocean is always blue and the beaches are white with tiny white crabs running around everywhere as if looking for things to bounce into. The air is filled with movement all the time and the streets are always busy.

The other day P and I went for breakfast at one of the hotels by the beach in Paje, by the east coast on Zanzibar. We ordered yoghurt with müsli and fruit. It took the chef a long time to pour the yoghurt (we were the only costumers) and as it came there was only one bowl with yoghurt, some müsli and no fruit. We asked for the other one and the fruit, the waitress said she would ask the chef about it. A couple of minutes later she came back, with some fruit. No breakfast for my friend. At that point we had already shared the one bowl with yoghurt, and didn’t care about the rest.
Later that day we went for dinner at the restaurant next to the beach with some friends. We ordered vegetarian hamburgers (white bread with something in between and some chips). Forty minutes later the waiter came and put a plate in front of me. “Where is my one?” my friend asked. The waiter looked non-understanding at him. “We ordered two veggies,” we said. “But theire is only one veggie” the waiter told us. He went back to the kitchen and asked the chef to make another one.
Forty minutes later he came back and put a plate in front of my friend. We looked at the burger, and asked what the things that looked like meat were. “It’s meat.” the waiter said. Upset we started to eat the chips and swore at the Zanzibarian waiter. A minute later he came back, “sorry, I’m so sorry, it’s the wrong plate. Here is a vegetarian.” he took the plate (we had eaten almost half of the chips by then) and served it to another costumer sitting on the other side of the bar, and gave us the vegetarian one. The other guy did not get any more chips but would have to do with the left overs.

What is this place?

The dala-dalas never leave without being full or overfull. The taxis are expensive. The food is expensive. There are hotels everywhere and when it’s time to pray there’s not people everywhere washing, rolling out their mats, standing up, bending forward, mumbling or singing their prayers to Allah. People go on with their lives as nothing.
It is something that I miss from Mauritania (I can’t stop comparing, shame on me), the few minutes a couple of times per day when life stopped for a while. Breathing.

A walk on the streets of Stone town is filled with “yes taxi?” “karibu!” and people talking Swahili as if I would understand it. Yesterday as my friend and I waited for a taxi a man came up, I greeted him “salaam aleikum” and he greeted back, then asked if I speak Swahili. “No, I don’t.” I said. Whereupon he started talking in Swahili with me. It’s amazing, I do love it, but still. I didn’t understand what he said, and I really wish I did.


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