“Jambo!” “Hakuna Matata!” “Hello my friend!” These all announce your arrival in Tanzania’s most famous island. The turquoise waters were an iridescent blue I hadn’t imagined in my wildest dreams.
We boarded the Azam Marine ferry at 9:30am and made the two hour voyage to Zanzibar Town on the west side. Our guidebook said to be wary of unofficial people on the boat requesting dubious fees and sure enough, we shooed away a couple of charlatans in dated uniforms and smudged credentials asking for a boat tax. Upon arriving, we met our driver and were whisked to the Makofi guest house after an hour and a half drive to the island’s northern most point, Nungwi beach-known for its sunsets and beach life.
Staying at Makofi brought us back to our backpacking years in Southeast Asia. All three of us slept together on a single queen sized floor mattress under a mosquito net and the shared bathroom and showers were downstairs. Having a shared bathroom was an accommodation which we haven’t had to endure since our late 20’s, however, the seven night stay for all 3 of us was just under $400 and that included breakfast every morning so budget-wise, it was great. It hosted 5 dollar lunches and a $12 barbecue every other night and the staff were wonderful.
Having a week of beach time with no agenda meant we could resume Ava’s curriculum of study in the mornings which had been on hold since Budapest. She made tremendous progress on Zanzibar, (mainly in math), where she breezed through 20% of her yearly curriculum in ‘Khan Academy’. The big news however, was that we started (and finished) our second book, ‘My Side of the Mountain‘ by Jean Craighead George which tells the story of a boy named Sam Gribley and how he leaves city life to live off the land in the Catskill mountains in New York State by himself. I was surprised how much Ava took to the book and she was awestruck at how effortlessly Sam pulled trout from the stream and fashioned clothing and necessities out of thin air. Before long, Ava was carving spears with her knife, inquiring how to make a snare trap and even trying to start a fire with a small flint our friend John had given her for our trip. A fitting end to our unit on ‘survival’ and I hoped her interest in the beauty of nature would continue through such greats that inspired me like Edward Abbey, Gary Snyder, and Aldo Leopold.
We used ‘Garageband’ to record an MP3 with a faint background track and hosted it through ‘Soundcloud’ to share her reflections. A few years ago, I had helped the high school English department and their students record family stories and they too used ‘Garageband’ with multiple audio tracks including parent dialogue in Hangul which made for amazing podcasts as they ended up being more than mere projects, but cultural artifacts.
Now that I’m on the subject, I’ve been thinking a lot about the digital divide since we’ve been here. As many of my colleagues around the world post innovative videos of their students making 3D printed products, autonomous robots, coded arduinos and independent raspberry pis, I’m reminded of the sobering opportunities that students have in the developed world and private sector compared to the developing world. While out for a walk one afternoon, we passed a primary school and peering in the windows, I noticed that the students didn’t even have workbooks on which to write. Blackboard chalk was a luxury. Here, STEM is not taught in schools but is rather a tradecraft passed down among family members. Mothers teach their daughters how to weave baskets, and repair fishing nets. Fathers and older brothers teach younger siblings how to carve and press boat hulls at the shipyards and bring in a catch that will feed the entire village. Here, children leave school when the family needs them to: and their apprenticeship becomes full time and forever.
After a week at Nungwi, we took a shuttle to the east coast to stay at the ‘Waikiki Zanzibar Resort’ on Pwani Mchangani beach. The resort might as well have been a 5 star luxury resort in the Maldives as we had an en suite bathroom, a queen bed for the two adults and a single, separate bed for the girl. There was a ceiling fan and air conditioner so we enjoyed afternoons napping and watching movies on our Macbook to stay out of the sun. Our room was serviced daily and had a nice porch on which to have sundowners before dinner. On this side of the island, we caught the sunrise rather than the sunset and the reef was an unreachable 1 kilometer walk through a minefield of sea urchins. We went through 4 bottles of sunscreen and Lisa and I read a new book every day. The resort was run by Italians and their wood burning oven meant we had some of the best pizzas outside of Italy and we split two for lunch every day so our the waistlines of our pants felt snug at check out.
Zanzibar Town (Stone Town)
Stone town has an eclectic past to put it lightly. Sultans of Oman erected huge palaces for their harems here and under their tenure, slave trading flourished as enslaving muslims was against their religion. In the mid 19th century, nearly 600,000 slaves who were abducted from as far west as Congo passed through Zanzibar en route to European plantations, many at the hands of dreaded merchant ‘Tippu Tip’ whose home here still stands to this day along with the slave quarters which have been turned into a church.
The winding alleys are an intoxicating stupor of smells and sounds both Arabic and African at the same time. Since it’s been a trading port since before the time of Christ, one can’t help but feel fortunate for drifting through this storied place and contributing a sliver to its history. I wondered what late night shenanigans sailors on shore leave got up to over the years, what fashions looked like in the 800’s, if pioneer town bars still stood and which buildings among us housed ambergris and gems from Araby.
Our friends the Fossgreens joined us for a weekend night at the ‘Warere Guest House’ in north Stone town and we had a gluttonous night of seafood for dinner, creme brûlée for dessert and gelato on the walk home. After they left, we spent our days getting lost in the old town, sampling the best Indian food in town and clothing shops to get us ready for safaris.
We gave a hug to our friends at the sea port on Sunday; each of us wondering where and when we’d meet up next time, or if we ever would again.