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Friday, April 27, 2012

Zanzibar Pt. 1

I promised you all a blog about Zanzibar, but then school started and I got busy.  Oops.  The term has been going well so far, though.  I began teaching on the third official day of class when I usually can’t start until the sixth or seventh day.  I’ve also stockpiled a bunch of really good lessons for this term, so teaching has been going exceptionally well.  I’ll have more to report in a couple of weeks.  For now, here’s a rundown of my week in Tanzania.

My travel buddies were fellow PCVs Joey, Kelsey and Andrew.  Hopefully none of them mind being mentioned in my blog.

Day 1

Our journey began Saturday, April 7th.  We woke up at 3:45 in the morning and took a taxi to Nyabugogo, the bus park in Kigali. It was pitch black out and pouring rain.  We had tickets with a bus company called Taqwa, sort of like a Greyhound for all of East Africa.  We left Nyabugogo right on schedule, at 5:00.

There were two drivers, a technician and two other staff people on board.  They were Tanzanian and spoke Swahili, no Kinyarwanda.  It was very relaxing just listening to them talk without comprehending anything.  Tanzanian Swahili sounds like water lapping the side of a boat.

The trip from Kigali to Dar Es Salaam was to take at least 30 hours.  That’s right, 30 hours on a bus!  Fortunately we made lots of unscheduled stops, mostly in the absolute dead middle of nowhere so everyone could get out and pee on the side of the road.  I say “lots,” but that still meant we had to sit on a bus for stretches of eight or nine hours without anywhere to go to the bathroom. I learned to limit my water intake.

There were only two scheduled stops before we reached our destination.  The first was a very brief stop for lunch in a small town outside Dar.  The second was from midnight until 4 am at a rest stop in the middle of nowhere, the purpose of which (as I found out later) was to avoid being attacked by bandits.  None of us could sleep.  We got off the bus and found a canteen where we were served very greasy omelets by a man who told us several times to “be at home” and “have no problems.”

The omelets had fried potatoes in them.  Doused in hot sauce, they were about the most delicious thing I could remember ever eating.

Day 2 (Easter Sunday)

We arrived at the bus park in Dar Es Salaam at around 11 am.  From there we took taxi to the waterfront.

The first thing that struck me about Dar was that it looked like an actual city.  Unlike Kigali, it was dirty and noisy and teeming with life.  It was also a lot more diverse.  There were people in traditional printed cloth outfits and people in Western clothes, but also people in kufi and ikanzu and women in hijab.  There were Masai.  There were people from the Middle East and North Africa and people from India.  There were a few other tourists, but they didn’t stand out like they would have in Kigali.  For once, being foreigners didn’t make us special.

Our first and only order of business in Dar was to catch a ferry to Zanzibar. The ferry was hot and stuffy.  I fell asleep within the first twenty minutes and slept through most of the ride.

We arrived in Zanzibar sometime in the afternoon.  It was like crossing into a whole other country.  I don’t know much about the political relationship between Zanzibar and mainland Tanzania but I do know that to set foot on the island we had to fill out a form and have our passports looked at, just like at an international border.  An immigration official also demanded compensation from Joey for not having his WHO card.  Initially he wanted something like $100 but he eventually accepted $40 “because it’s a holiday.” It was our first direct experience with corruption.  Things like that don’t generally happen in Rwanda.


It’s difficult not to have a powerful first impression of Stone Town.  The humidity was oppressive, but the air smelled like seawater and plumeria.  The wharf was lined with coconut palms. The town itself looked more Arab than African, at least based on what I’ve seen in pictures.  There were lots of sun-bleached buildings with little glassless windows and narrow balconies.  And there were stray dogs and cats everywhere.

We ate dinner twice that night, once at a little place right on the waterfront and once at a fantastic Indian restaurant near our hotel.  In between we checked out the fish market.  I wish I’d had time to eat an entire meal there, too.  They sold all kinds of things, grilled barracuda and octopus on skewers.  Who wouldn’t want octopus on a skewer?

Day 3

Monday was Spice Tour Day.

I highly recommend the spice tour for anyone who decides to visit Zanzibar. For something like $10 a guide picked us up at our hotel, drove us to a spice plantation about twenty minutes outside Stone Town, walked us through the whole plantation, gave us lots of spices and fruit to sample, provided us with lunch, and finally drove us down to the coast and let us splash around in the Indian Ocean.  All in all, an incredible deal.

The plantation was fascinating.  I was impressed by the sheer diversity of things they grew there.  In a single tour I got to see teak and mahogany trees, peppercorns, turmeric, cinnamon trees, vanilla, cacao, nutmeg, curry leaves, star fruit, banana trees, two different plants used for dyes and some local varieties of chili pepper.  Nutmeg was probably the most interesting.  The seed is black with a red vein-y coating.  Apparently it’s a traditional drug in Tanzania, but only women take it.  Our guide didn’t say what its effects are supposed to be but he did say that if we ask a Tanzanian woman about nutmeg and she has nothing to say on the subject, she must not be from Zanzibar.

We ate lunch at a nearby village.  It was like Rwandan food but with the addition of spices.  There was pilau rice, beans and vegetables in coconut sauce.  It was delicious.  I lamented the fact that coconut palms don’t seem to grow in Rwanda.

From there we drove to the coast where we were given an abbreviated tour of some caves that were integral to the illegal slave trade in Tanzania.  The caves we saw were in use until 1908, largely because the sultan of Zanzibar wanted to keep the trade going.  It would’ve been a heavy note to end the tour on, but fortunately we were then led down to the beach and given some time to splash around in the ocean.  The water was surprisingly warm, even when it started raining on us.

On the tour we met two PCVs from the Zambia program.  We agreed to meet them for Ethiopian food later that night.  Between us we ate more injeera (sp?) and drank more honey wine than we could easily afford, but it was definitely worth it!

The rest of the week will come later.  For now I have to log off.  Na ejo!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Bless the Rains

It’s raining again.  Raining, after enough dry months to turn the roads to choking red dust, dry up all the water in our rain tankard and raise the price of almost everything at the market.  When it started on Thursday I was so excited I ran outside and did a little dance.  I promptly fell on my butt in front of the gardener, Dina, but he didn’t seem to judge me for it.  He ran over, helped me up and yelled, “Invura yaguye!” The rain is falling! I said “Yep, and me, too.” He didn’t get the joke, but oh well.  It was nice to share my excitement with someone.

After my last post one of you thanked me for the update and said it was good to know how my projects were going, but what about my mental and emotional state?  That’s a harder question.  In general things are fine and I’m happy, but saying that doesn’t really inform anyone of much.  I feel comfortable here, probably more comfortable than I would if I blinked my eyes and found myself back home in California, but there are constant, subtle reminders that I haven’t adapted to Rwanda so much as I’ve learned to take its peculiarities for granted.  When I actually pause to look at things, it’s all still very bewildering.

I’m almost positive the feeling goes two ways.  My village is used to me but my presence is still strange.  It’s all fine and good that the American government sent a volunteer to Gihara to teach English, but why a young woman, and why for two years?  And for God’s sake, if I’m not making any money why would I agree to any of it in the first place?  It makes no sense but they accept it.  After all, I’m clearly not going anywhere until my contract is up.

On Saturday I’ll be taking a vacation in Tanzania.  The plan is to take bus to Dar Es Salaam, then on to Zanzibar from there.  It will be a thirty-hour journey, but according to everyone Zanzibar is worth it.  Of course I’ll tell all about it here as soon as I get back.  In the meantime, here's a picture of the sunrise over my site. Pasika nziza!