Upon returning home from my three-week solo trip to Africa, my first sojourn to the continent, I proclaimed to my family and friends that, if I ever ran away from home, they’d likely find me in Zanzibar. There is something special there, something magical that finds a little space in your heart and fills it up like a warm cup of Zanzibari chai tea. I spent the first leg of my trip in Nairobi and Maasai Mara, Kenya, and after a week braving the chaos that is Nairobi traffic and being awestruck by the migration of the wildebeests on the Mara, I headed to Zanzibar for a long weekend. As I flew past Mount Kilimanjaro en route to Zanzibar, I marveled at how beautiful the water was off the coast of Africa: so many different shades of blue!
Not one to waste any time on this adventure of a lifetime, I arranged for Abdi, a local guide, to give me a walking tour of Stone Town just a few hours after my arrival. Abdi agreed to meet me in the local town square in front of my hotel. A sprightly guy with a head of curly, wild hair, he exuded the joy and lightheartedness characteristic of Zanzibar. I liked him immediately! After a short negotiation (or perhaps an agreement, as I didn’t negotiate because his price already seemed fair), Abdi and I set off on the day’s adventure: a stroll through Stone Town to learn about its history and architecture and a visit to the Darajani Market to buy local spices.
Arabs built Stone Town without a master plan, so the layout of narrow, winding streets with their abrupt dead ends and turns only makes sense to those who live there. We were quite a pair, I’m sure, with him waving to all of his friends and the shopkeepers, and the black American woman with the fancy hairdo. I got the sense that, although there are black Americans who travel to Zanzibar, we don’t do so with the same frequency as Europeans, Koreans, and Chinese, as evidenced by the reaction I received when I spoke in my American accent. I looked like I belonged there, so much so that people spoke to me in Swahili quite often, and the look on their faces when I responded in English was enough to keep me entertained my few days in Stone Town! He shared the history of each building and waited patiently as I snapped a bazillion pictures of intricately carved Arabic and Indian wooden doors for which Stone Town is known and asked endless questions about Zanzibari culture. He and I traipsed through the back alleyways of Stone Town, with its winding, narrow streets, exploring the old slave market, with its dark dungeon and monument to the Africans who were enslaved in Zanzibar, and all the other sights Stone Town had to offer.
After about two hours, Abdi led me into the crowds at the bustling Darajani Market, where the locals go to buy fresh fruits, meat, spices, and other goods. The block-long market, an overwhelming, chaotic array of colors, smells, and sounds, was filled with women dressed in colorful hijab bargaining for goods and tending to their stalls, and men hawking wares and talking very animatedly in Swahili. We visited the fresh fish stalls (seeing a stingray being cleaned is NOT a pretty sight!) and watched the restaurant workers bid for the best catches of the day. I even bought some spices to take home, though I haven’t figured out quite what to do with them yet, and I tried lychee fresh off the branch, a grand accomplishment for me, as I’m a very picky eater! I skipped the fresh meat stalls – the smell alone was enough to make me walk past quickly. As we wound our way to the edge of the market, we stood on the corner of the old and new Stone Town, where the dusty road met the paved one, and a sea of cars zipped around the roundabout seemingly without regards to any traffic laws. And this was only the beginning of my two-day Stone Town adventure with Abdi! When I was planning my African adventure, a friend on mine promised that I would fall in love with Tanzania….he was right! I’m already planning my return.
Submitted by Angelina Arrington