Six hours in Zanzibar


The street along the port

Zanzibar – Friday, February 8th, 2019

This morning, I woke straight up and headed to the ATM around the grassy corner before taking a much delayed Uber back to the Zanzibar ferry. With Jonas busy and Joakim incapacitated by some illness. I decided to go on my own and spend four hours exploring the UNESCO World Heritage City of Stone Town, Zanzibar. Zanzibar is famous for beaches throughout the island, I wanted to stroll through Stone Town for the heritage.

After breezing through check-in and metal detectors, I sat on the comfortable air-conditioned two-hour ferry to Zanzibar. Navigating across the Indian Ocean, I still had the internet to read Wikipedia about the island nation’s past. I passed Zanzibar’s immigration smoothly, I even got a passport stamp when I entered the self-governing region of Tanzania.

Stone Town is like a dusty arabesque mirage of an Arab port. You can see from the photos that the buildings and the people have an arabesque quality to them. Much of the towns arabesque maintained or restored for tourists, as the economy is now mostly tourism. So I walked around for a few hours taking photos of the winding streets and the interiors of the restored Omani mansions which were now hotels and cafes. The Stone Town is dusty and safe, like Oklahoma. I thought about the declined glory of Istanbul, but also how ill-gotten the wealth was for Zanzibar.

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Zanzibar is an autonomous island within the Union of Tanzania. Zanzibar puts the ZAN in TanZANia. Zanzibar is unique from the mainland because it was heavily colonized and influenced by the Sultanate of Oman which ruled it until 1964. Yes, the sandy notmuch of modern Oman was once a colonial power. Sadly, Zanzibar has a dark history. The Omani elite used the island like a parasite to poach and capture slaves from the mainland – with the Arabs selling the Africans to the Europeans and Americans.


A reminder of the slaveholding cells in Zanzibar

Wandering through Stone Town, I stumbled into a slavery museum which was painful and brief. The museum even led me to a slaveholding cell where they kept slaves until they were sold in the nearby market. The eye witness accounts of slavery written in the exhibits were so troubling, I felt sick to my stomach. Crazy to think how much American demand for slavery promoted the crime and how wealthy Zanzibar and America became because of it. The museum reminded us that only the public sale of slaves ended in the late 1800s, modern slavery remains an intractable problem than during the formal slave trade. The descendants of Zanzibar’s freed slaves eventually revolted against the Omani Sultanate and the island joined the African state of Tanzania sometime in the 1960s.

Interesting to learn that because of the mass displacement of peoples in Tanzania due to slavery. That so many of the African peoples were separated from their tribal homes, the hybrid Swahili identity replaced the lost identity that the displaced people. Just after slavery, there were large populations of former slaves who knew their tribe, but not their mother tongue. In being robbed of this as well they took on Swahili (a hybrid of Arabic and African languages) to hide that they were former slaves and still be proud of who they are. Another sad story in how Africa’s history has been so disrupted by outsiders. Really interesting to see where the slave trade started. An origin point for the African diaspora that is all over the world. I thought about how until the advent of genetic testing most people in the African diaspora didn’t know where specifically their genetics came from.

I took some nice photos of the town and the boats as the ferry embarked back to Dar es Salaam. Going to and from Zanzibar was so effortless! The Tanzania that I’m seeing is convenient with Uber, tourists traps, and nice cafes. I don’t think that I’m seeing the true challenges Tanzania has to offer. This experience is also showing me how ill-informed the stereotypes about Tanzania and Africa are. Uber and mobile internet have eliminated many of the parts of travel that create headaches and adventures. In some sense, I was lucky to travel in India and Nepal before Uber and I had to use a bit more of my wits to get around and talk to people.

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The ferry ride made me a bit queasy. I ended up sleeping briefly in my luxury VIP seat. Then I took some photos of Dar es Salaam as the boat approached. I sorta laughed with irony when a women spat into the wind and it flew backward and hit me. Reminds me of 2009, when someone spat on me, likely intentionally – but I was too young to care, on a subway escalator in Prague.


As we re-entered the central business district of Dar es Salaam, I snapped these photos of the shiny glass buildings that usher in bland modernity. I’m certain the high rise buildings will surprise my mom who was here not long after independence. Then I took an Uber across town to the Expat colony of Masaki where I arrived at an excellent Lebanese cafe for shawarma, before Jonas, Mikyung, Joakim picked me up and took us home.

They had gone out to buy a TV, only to have it out of stock. Jonas and Mikyung shared with me throughout the trip their quiet frustrations being home renters in Dar es Salaam, with the all the things out of whack – compared to the convenience and certainty of life in Bangkok.



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