Tag Archives Indian Ocean

Snorkeling, Spice Farms and Stone Town in Zanzibar, Tanzania

This is part II of my trip to Zanzibar. Check out part I here.

Zanzibar Beach Indian Ocean Beautiful | The Girl Next Door is BlackBright and early I met up with the group of 20 other snorkelers and divers at the pick up point for our guided trip on a dhow. The hyper crew had us all introduce ourselves by name and origin. The group of six from my hotel were aboard, along with two white South African girls. The rest of the group hailed from places in Europe like Germany, the Netherlands, England, Scotland and Poland. I was the lone person who lived in America. I was also one of only two solo-ers and the only black person aside from the crew. Thankfully, no one directed a shocked exclamation of, “YOU ARE BY YOURSELF?!” my way.

We stopped in the middle of the Ocean twice to snorkel and let the divers do their thing. I had to use a life jacket because though I can swim (as in do proper strokes, even backstroke) I still cannot tread water. Having almost drowned twice, I just cannot relax enough to let the water help me float. One day…

Clown fish in Zanzibar Indian Ocean CR:  BBM Explorer, flickr.com | The Girl Next Door is Black
Clown fish in the Indian Ocean Photo cr: BBM Explorer, flickr.com

The coral were “reach out and touch someone” large. I could swear one tried to grab my leg. Our guide made sure we all stayed together so no one got lost or taken by coral or lost in the frigid, choppy water.

The problem with guided snorkeling is everyone must enter and exit the water together. If you decide you want to stop – say if you’re chilled to the bone and wish you’d accepted a wetsuit when offered – you have to tell the guide and then everyone must return. Even though I felt like my legs were going to fall off and it’d be 127 Hours: Indian Ocean edition, I opted to grin and bear it. I wasn’t going to ruin the trip for everyone else.

Once back on the dhow and still freezing, I climbed up to the top-level to catnap. Shortly after I laid my head down I heard a male voice say to me:

“Dada (miss), do you like the trip?”

My eyes were closed, so I pretended I didn’t hear him.

“Dada, you are from America?”

Alright, I’ll play, but I’m not sitting up. “Yes, I am from America.”

“Ah, America. I like to visit there one day. Where is your simba?” Hmm, simba means lion, so is he talking about a man?

I don’t have one.

“I don’t believe it. You are too beautiful to be alone.”

Yep, I am here by myself.”

“How old are you?” I told him.

“Nooo. I think you are 23, 24. You are very beautiful. I am 42. I am looking for a special lady. Dada, I am going to play you a song.”

He pulled out an empty Tupperware container leftover from lunch, turned it over, began drumming on it with his hands and sang,

Jambo, jambo bwana

After three weeks in TZ, I’d heard the beloved 80’s Kenyan pop hit so many times I could play it myself. He asked me to join him in playing. I could see the South African girls peeping over curiously.

“Dada, I want to take you dancing. I think you probably dance like Shakira.”

Shakira, I am not. CR: oouinouin, flickr.com
Shakira, I am not. Photo cr: oouinouin, flickr.com

I guffawed. “Uh, maybe if I have some pombe (beer).

“I’ll take you dancing at the club where the local people go. We can have some drinks and dance. Cost no money.”

My gut told me that as nice as he seemed, going off with a man I just met in a foreign country, thousands of miles from home, where I can barely speak the language, is an unwise idea

I’m sorry, I am going to stay home tonight.”

“Dada, we will have fun.”

Noooo, I’m sorry.

“Dada, why do you break my heart? I think you are lying and have a simba at your hotel.”

His tenacity and earnestness was admirable (and amusing).  Tempting. He wasn’t bad to look at: Wesley Snipes choco with short dreads and very fit from his day job.

Ha! I really don’t. I leave tomorrow and I want to go to bed early tonight.

“Ok, we will go dancing early. 10 o’clock.”

10! That is not early!

“The people do not start dancing until 11.” I shook my head no.

“Dada, why do you reject me? What is wrong with me? I am going to sing another song. It is about a man with a broken heart.” He launched into a sad melody and looked at me forlornly as he sang. Is this really happening? I fought the urge to laugh. Everyone on the top deck eavesdropped without subtlety.

Dejected and rejected, he left to attend to his captainly duties.

We neared the shore where high tide had rolled in, bathing the beach in ocean water. The captain and his assistants navigated the dhow 100-feet from shore and anchored it.

“Ok, ladies and gentleman, you will have to swim. We will pack your things.” Is he for real? I can’t swim that! I can swim in a calm, contained swimming pool next to toddlers diving and synchronized swimming. Not a angry-waved, freezing ocean. Embarrassingly I had to ask for help. Of course, who else but the broken-hearted captain also doubled as lifeguard? Now I felt like I owed him. But, not enough to reconsider going dancing. Once we hit dry land, I thanked him profusely and said goodbye. He threw a last sad-puppy face my way.

Beach East Coast Nungwi Zanzibar| The Girl Next Door is Black
East Coast Nungwi Zanzibar

Later that afternoon, I headed to the bar at the hotel to have a pre-dinner drink and enjoy the ocean view.  I introduced myself to the bartender, Bakar, who’d met my friend J earlier in the week.

“So, you are friends with J_, yeah? He is my best friend!” This tickled me. People seemed to get attached quickly in TZ.

Yes, he told me about you. You like hip-hop, right?

He smiled widely. “Yes, I like Tupac!”

We made idle chitchat for a bit and he shared, “I would like an American girlfriend.”

I asked why.

“American women have independence. African women want you to have a job and then buy everything for them. They depend on you.”

I laughed, “So do some American women. They like men with money and nice cars who will buy them things.”

“Really?” he asked, surprised. “But, in America, you have a job. You can pay for yourself. Here? The woman wants you to buy her things that are simple, like bras. And they ask you to help their family too.” I could see his point.

I dined solo at dinner that night and continued reading my book. I ordered fish for dinner mostly so I could share it with Mwezi, the hotel kitty. I went to bed early in preparation for the next day’s activities. The hotel manager had helpfully arranged a spice tour and Stone Town excursion for me.

In the morning, a driver picked me up and me to a local farm where a guide awaited me. I thought I’d be joining a group to tour the farm, but I had my very own guide! I loved my guide; he was very knowledgeable and sweet.

Ginger, an aphrodiasic for men, in addition to being used to flavor foods and aid in wellness.
Ginger is used as a male aphrodisiac  in addition to its use in flavoring foods and aiding in wellness.

The spice farm is community owned and they all share in the profits (including the dog I saw eating the fallen fruits). As we visited each plant or tree, an assistant would tear off a leaf or slice into bark for me to smell and guess what spice is derived from it. I sucked at the game. The only thing I was able to guess was the scent of vanilla.

I enjoyed seeing the origins of the spices we use for cooking, medicines and to scent things like candles and perfumes. Also of interest was hearing how the locals use spices recreationally. As my guide told me,

Ginger is an aphrodisiac for men. It gives them power.”

Later, “Nutmeg has many uses. You can make it into a tea to help with your nerves if you are like, a singer. But, it’s also good for women as an aphrodisiac. If a man takes ginger and a woman takes nutmeg, it’s like a boom! You don’t know who will win.” He pantomimed an explosion with his hands. I giggled.

Nutmeg, which my guide informed me has many uses including use an aphrodisiac for women.
Nutmeg, which my guide informed me has many uses including use as an aphrodisiac for women.
Tree climber - his job is to climb trees to get fruit down. Tree climbers' skin becomes rough due to the nature of their work.
Tree climber – his job is to climb trees to retrieve fruit. Tree climbers’ skin becomes rough due to the nature of their work.

Near the end of the tour I tried some of the tropical fruits grown on the island: mangoes, green oranges, orange oranges, jackfruit, papaya and a couple of different types of bananas. The guys serving up the fruit in a open-air hut, were listening to Drake. They spoke barely any English but were jamming to “Forever.” The one who cut my fruit flirted with me via my guide. I didn’t need him to translate though. I’d learned the words for “beautiful,” “(not) married,” and “American” quickly. I loved that the men I met in Tanzania were so upfront (but respectful) about their interest. It was refreshing and flattering.

Spices for Sale Spice Farm Zanzibar Tanzania | The Girl Next Door is Black
Spices for sale
Jackfruit in Tree Zanzibar | The Girl Next Door is Black
Jackfruit – it’s an adventure removing these from the tree. They are heavy and if one falls on your head…
Spice Tour Guide Zanzibar Farm | The Girl Next Door is Black
With my spice tour guide. I’m wearing handmade souvenir gifts made for me from plants on the farm.
Drinking coconut water in Zanzibar Spice Farm | The Girl Next Door is Black
Drinking fresh coconut water

My driver waited for me (with my luggage) during the hour and a half I toured the farm. He then drove me into Stone Town where another guide was waiting to take me on a tour of the city. My driver let me know he’d return for me to take me to the airport in a few hours. This kind of personalized service would have cost me so much more in the States. In TZ it was affordable and I felt like I was helping employ people who needed it.

Muslim Men on Promenade in Stone Town Zanzibar | The Girl Next Door is Black
Promenade in Stone Town
Little Girl in Stone Town Zanzibar | The Girl Next Door is Black
This little girl is too cute and she happened to be grasping an impressively designed door.

The people of Zanzibar have an interesting ethnic makeup due to colonialism and trade with influences from all over Africa, as well as Britain, India, Oman and Portugal. This diversity was especially noticeable in Stone Town, the hub of Zanzibar. Ninety percent of the population is Muslim, 7% Christian and the remaining 3% of other religions include Hindu. Many of the women dressed in traditional Muslim coverings and the looks I got for showing the bit of leg I did in my capris did not escape me. I found myself scandalized when I saw two female tourists wearing booty shorts and tank tops. Put on some clothing, you harlots!

You can also see the varied cultural influences in the architecture. There are the Arab-inspired narrow streets and open air markets; the ornate, heavy wooden doors with rounded tops reminiscent of India; and its own native influence with buildings constructed from crushed limestone and coral, hence the name Stone Town.

The only Hindu temple in Zanzibar Stone Town | The Girl Next Door is Black
The only Hindu temple in Zanzibar

Zanzibar is more of a tourist destination than Moshi and I observed a distinct difference in the treatment of visitors in each place. In Zanzibar, the locals greeted visitors with “jambo,” which I’d learned soon after arriving in Tanzania, is a greeting used for tourists. Having been in Tanzania for three weeks, I was taken aback by the number of “jambos” directed my way.

Ampitheatre Stone Town Zanzibar Tanzania | The Girl Next Door is Black
Amphitheatre

My guide clearly took his job seriously as he rattled off historical facts in rapid succession. I love history, but I found myself becoming mentally fatigued. I can’t keep all of these Kings straight!

We visited the site of a former slave market where a Christian church now stands. Left intact is the cellar where slaves were held until auction. The cellar was dark, windowless, tiny and at 5’1” even I probably wouldn’t be able to stand upright without hunching over. The captors chained people up in this dungeon with no access to food, water or even a way to relieve themselves.

Outside is a tree that stands as a marker for the old trading post. Near it is a monument to peace with messages in four different languages. There is also an art installation depicting five African slaves chained together by their necks awaiting sale at auction. The chains are from the originals used on the captives. Taking all of it in, I felt the same sobering, heavy feeling I got when I visited the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam. Sometimes I hate people.

Peace Monument Slavery Stone Town Zanzibar | The Girl Next Door is Black
Peace monument – “May peace prevail on Earth”
Slave memorial Stone Town Zanzibar | The Girl Next Door is Black
Slave memorial

Freddie Mercury, of Queen fame, is Zanzibar-born. My tour guide told me, “He is the king of rock ‘n’ roll.”

The museum was disappointing. Aside from a plaque outside and a handful of newspaper clippings, I’m not sure what made it a museum.I didn’t actually see anything about Freddie Mercury inside. It seemed like any other souvenir shop.

Freddie Mercury Museum Zanzibar | The Girl Next Door is Black
Freddie Mercury Museum

After we visited the open-air markets, we headed back to our starting point where I overheard three youts speaking in English about their prowess with girls with some of the foulest language I’ve heard since Eddie Murphy’s Raw. I gave them a look that said, “I can hear you motherbleepers and I know and you know, the ladies don’t love you like that.”

 Motorbikes in Stone Town Zanzibar | The Girl Next Door is Black
Motorbikes are a popular form of transport

I liked Stone Town, but a few hours touring the city was enough. Perhaps at another time I might like to try some of the restaurants and maybe spoil myself and spend the night at one of the expensive rich-folk hotels, but I enjoyed the quiet and ease of Nungwi more.

Right on time, my driver picked me up to take me to the airport. A male passenger was with him. The passenger introduced himself to me, asked me a few questions and then said,

“I just met you, but I will already miss you when you leave.”

I knew I would also miss the men of Tanzania when I left.

Tanzania: A Weekend in Paradise – Pangani

My first full week in Tanzania was a busy one. After a great weekend safari in Tarangire and Ngorongoro Crater, my body told me it needed a break, in the form of a cold. After 20 hours of flying and airport hijinks , I’d only slept 13 hours in 72 and my body wasn’t having it. I spent most of the week battling fatigue, congestion, a sexy-sounding mucus-y cough and a sore throat. Between co-teaching two English grammar courses, spending a hot afternoon walking around rural Moshi recruiting students for the next school session, and just generally trying to get my bearings in a new country, I was exhausted and ready for some relaxation.

Three other volunteers and I (George, Je_, and Ka_) planned a trip to Pangani, just outside Tanga for the weekend. There are very few ways to get to Tanga from Moshi and the most common means of transport is by bus. The bus ride was brutal. I thought an 8-hour ride on a Greyhound bus from Los Angeles to Las Vegas next to a malodorous person who appears not to bathe is bad. This was far worse. It should only take 4-hours to drive from Moshi to Tanga. Our bus ride expanded to a hellish 8-hour ordeal where the following occurred:

  1. We learned that in Tanzania, there is no such thing as a full vehicle. The bus operators will let as many people on a bus as possible, packing people in like sardines. People stand in the aisles, including women holding babies in brightly colored slings and men with pungent body odor who end up face-elbowing those unlucky enough to have aisles seats and there are random seats hidden all over the bus. If they could put seats on the bus roof, I’m sure they would.
  2. The bus stopped frequently. It seemed that every 10 feet was a bus stop. Why person at point A couldn’t walk the 10-feet to point B, I have no idea, but I will say that after 8-hours of this it got on my damn nerves. The bus also transported cargo, so even if no human was boarding and disembarking, the bus would stop to deliver large packages of food. We were even lucky enough to be on a bus that had a mechanical issue: adding a 40-minute delay to our ride.
  3. Each time the bus stopped, a rush of street vendors appeared at passenger windows to offer goods for sale: mostly a bunch of junk food and beverages, but at times fake watches, wallets and loaves of bread. Is it a common occurrence for people to crave loaves of bread, a fake-ass set of Beats by Dre headphones and a tomato? These roadside sellers were persistent too, banging on passenger windows, tantalizingly waving their products and not taking “no” for an answer. By the tenth stop, I was through being polite. “No, hapana, non, no, nyet, I do not want!”
  4. People throw trash out of their windows on the side of the road. As an American who’s had the “Don’t Litter!” admonition ingrained in my brain since I started toddling, I have a Tourettes-like reaction to seeing others litter. I calmly, repeatedly reminded myself that it was a different culture as I watched someone toss a cookie wrapper out the window, spoiling the beauty of the surroundings. Even still, when the gentleman in the seat in front of me steadily tossed his orange peels out of the window, I almost had an aneurysm.
  5. Listening tomuzak playing on the speaker system (90s era Celine Dion and Michael Bolton, kill me now) did not quash my homicidal feelings. To the lady with the baby seated behind me: I am sorry your baby didn’t like wind blowing in his face, but that bus was a furnace where body odors go to fester and radiate. It takes a village to raise a child: hand your baby to someone else (people were regularly doing this) and leave me and my open window alone!

    The scenery on the drive to Tanga is gorgeous. The Usambara mountains are in the background.

When we finally arrived in Tanga, a harried 8-hours later, we had to endure the jockeying of taxi drivers. The minute one puts a foot on the bus step to descend, at least four men approach you to strongly encourage you to choose their taxi over the shady guy next to him. Some  even come to blows over potential customers. “Sista, sista, dada, taxi! Taxi!” We still had more traveling to do as it’s a 45-minute ride to Pangani from Tanga. One driver offered to take us in his tuk-tuk and another taxi-driver shut him down for that nonsense. Four people, including two men, and our bags, were not going to fit in a tiny tuk-tuk. We finally chose a driver who seemed the least likely to rob us and make us the subject of a “when travelling goes wrong” documentary. Other than our taxi driver stopping during the ride to pee on the side of the road, being stopped by roadside police (who thankfully weren’t corrupt) and being forced to listen to Akon’s annoyingly high-pitched “my jublies are in a vice grip” voice on the radio, the taxi ride was uneventful.

It was clear when we arrived at Peponi (which translates to ‘paradise’ in Swahili) Beach Resort, that the distressing bus ride was worth it. The place is gorgeous with Bougainvillea , mangroves, palm trees dotting the grounds and a view of the Indian Ocean only a few feet away from the bandas and campsites. We later discovered cute monkeys, a few resident cats, mongoose, crabs and turtles.

Inside our banda at Peponi Beach Resort. The mosquito nets doubled as a canopy during the day.

The grounds were beautiful and the banda adorable, but we were ridiculously excited about the prospect of taking a hot shower. The shower most of us shared at the volunteer house didn’t want to give us hot water, so we’d spent days taking cold showers. We had a window from 5:30pm – 8pm for a hot shower. Hot showers are bliss.

After dinner (whole crab, yum!) we walked on the beach that night. It was low tide and we walked on the sand that just earlier had been completely submerged in ocean water from the Pemba Channel as the moon shone brightly on the water. Amazing doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Ready to enjoy my first meal of seafood in Tanzania and drinking a glass of Tusker (or ‘tasca’ as it sounds when said with a Tanzanian accent), a Kenyan beer.

We arose early the next morning for our dhow snorkeling trip. The water was definitely not as clear as say, the Pacific Ocean near Costa Rica, but it was still a great time. Our foursome was joined on the dhow by a young couple from Amsterdam and an older couple from Toronto. While snorkeling we saw massive coral reef and a few colorful fish. I also had the pleasant experience of getting seasick for the first time and upchucked in the ocean. That shouldn’t destroy the sea life right? It’s all organic ingredients. It also rained heavily for about 10-minutes, sending us all underneath a tarp our dhow crew set up.

The dhow on which we sailed to sand island. Our captain is chilling on the boat. It’s got to be a great job.

The weekend in Pangani was incredibly relaxing. I loved being in the water despite the number it did on my stomach. We all bonded even more while trading life stories, meeting a few new people and enjoying beers and wine. The calm I experienced helped temper my irritation on the bus ride back, which blessfully only took 5 1/2 hours.