Tags: Changu Island, Prison Island, Shannon Moeser, Zanzibar
On our way to Prison Island in a motorboat, we roared past slow moving dhows and fishing boats. As we neared the island, I saw several buildings in front of a forest, but not until we landed did I grasp why the place was special. Dozens of giant tortoises lumbered along the shore. I was enchanted. One looked up as I approached it and Eddie persuaded me to climb onto its shell. It didn’t move while I perched on it and Eddie took my picture. Posing for this photo was much easier than holding awkward postures in a modelling session.
After enjoying a romp with the tortoises, I glanced around. Large shade trees with thick trunks and wide-spread root systems sheltered us from the heat of the sun. The old prison was still intact, its walls weather-beaten but its door secure and windows closed, protected by bars. Several bungalows surrounded the prison, their doors locked and windows veiled by curtains. But no people. Just the smell of salt air, the nearly inaudible rustle of tortoises moving slowly over sand and grass and, in the distance, the faint hum of fishing boats. For once, Eddie appeared uninterested in examining his surroundings; he simply watched me. I remembered that, in his letter, he had written: “I am working on a secret job and require quiet, so I am not in Zanzibar Town tonight, although I can see it over the waves.”
“You were working here,” I said quietly.
He looked into my eyes and nodded.
After about an hour on the island, we returned to town, and once back at Eddie’s apartment, he said, “You should rest now. I promised an Arab friend that I’d take you to his home for dinner.”
Shortly after arriving in Dar, I was escorted to a concert at the home of an Arab, and warned that I would be seated with the women. During the event, females huddled together, surrounded by a black curtain, unable to view the males or the musicians. I didn’t enjoy the experience.
However, this time Eddie said his male friends wanted to meet me, so I would not be sequestered. Eddie knew all my dresses were sleeveless and knee length – clothing generally frowned upon by Arab Muslims – but if Eddie thought it okay, it would be. (Most Muslim women covered their arms and legs, but not all covered their hair or faces. Ismaili women wore saris and, in Dar, they frequently wore western-style clothes while working in offices. An acquaintance, the wife of the Second Secretary at the Sudanese embassy, wore colourful long garments that covered her body from shoulders to feet, and draped a scarf over the back of her head, but left visible her exquisite face.)
Shortly before nightfall, Eddie and I picked up Omar who lived in another part of town.
“Let me ride with the lovely lady, Eddie,” Omar said. “You can drive us.”
He held the door as I hopped out of the front seat and into the back. We chatted as Eddie drove east, towards the other side of the island. I was surprised by Omar’s appearance. His complexion was as brown as many coastal Africans, and his hair more frizzy than curly. So I asked how Zanzibar Arabs differed from Zanzibar Africans given their similar appearance.
Omar replied, “Some families have a tradition of being Arab and others have a tradition of being African.”
Identification based on a tradition. They looked alike and had the same religion. Some were descended from Arabs who profited by trading between the Arab peninsula and the islands; some were descended from Africans who profited by trading between mainland Africa and the islands. Both groups played a part in the slave trade. The Arabs fathered children with African women; these children adopted Arab traditions and so were considered Arab. Sometimes these children married the children of African traders and were considered African. This ethnic mixing blurred the distinctions between these two groups. However, those identified as Arab owned most of the land and were generally wealthier than those identified as African.
Later, after my trip, I discovered the revolution in Zanzibar had been led by an African from Uganda. Once the Sultan and his cohorts fled, this Ugandan was shoved aside and eventually barred from returning to Zanzibar (after a trip to the mainland), and then barred from Tanzania once Tanganyika and Zanzibar merged.
This meant that Zanzibar was now controlled by an African political group that differed minimally from the Arab group; both parties had similar ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds. The African group, representing a larger number of poorer citizens, espoused a socialist policy, not unlike that advocated by Julius Nyerere, President of Tanganyika until its merger with Zanzibar and, after the merger, the first President of Tanzania.
Arriving at our host’s home after a 20-minute drive, I wasn’t sure where we were. The house sat in the middle of a field that might have been a spice plantation. Our host and his friend (possibly a relative) had lighter complexions than Omar. They were both young, around 35, just a bit older than Eddie. We were invited into a large living room, furnished with many comfortable sofas and chairs, coffee tables, table lamps, oriental carpets, and ornate wall hangings. The bright rich tones in the carpets and wall hangings mixed tastefully with the softer shades of the furniture. Relaxed in a large cushioned chair, I felt at ease surrounded by the four men.
The host, his friend, and Omar asked me questions – about Canada, my family, living in Dar, and why I came to Africa – and I felt like a star. They were charming and appeared to have a genuine interest in my responses. So I smiled and answered to the best of my ability, not trying to be demure or evasive. Looking back, I must have been glowing – a friend used to say that I “bubbled” whenever I became the center of attention.
We moved to a large rectangular table in the dining area, where two young women joined us. They wore black cloaks flowing from the top of their heads to the ground, but no face veils. Once we had seated, the host rose, went into the kitchen, and came back carrying a fork, its prongs a bit bent, which he presented to me. Everyone laughed. Arabs ate with their hands. I felt like saying that working-class Canadians often grasped food with their hands as well, unlike pompous Europeans with their multi-cutlery settings. I picked up the meat and some vegetables with my fingers, as they did. But I couldn’t match the deftness at which these Arabs – and Eddie – scooped the rice using only their hands. For rice, I used my fork. Between courses, servants brought bowls of water and cloths so we could clean our hands.
With regards to how it tasted, the meal was a bit of a disappointment. Having become used to the hot curry and cool fruits in Indian cuisine, I found it rather bland, with its emphasis on lamb, vegetables and rice. I did enjoy the sweet dates served for dessert.
After dinner, we returned to the living room and the two women accompanied us, although they sat in a corner and never spoke. Everyone was in a hearty mood, teasing each other and plying me with more questions. For once, I was tired of talking about me – there was not that much more to say – and I noticed the host’s collection of conch shells displayed on a low table between the sofas. I had purchased two similar shells from street sellers in Dar, but had never imagined such a variety. I enthusiastically praised his beautiful collection and the ingenuity of their placement, each with unique markings, arranged by size.
The host immediately offered me one as a gift. I was astounded, not believing he meant it.
“Are you sure?” I asked.
“Yes, yes. I want you to have one.”
“You choose. The one you like best.”
My hand hovered above the display and I was about to pick a large one with unusual markings when Omar whispered, “Take that one. It’s rare and one he prizes.”
Omar gently pushed my arm towards a small shell. Like an imp, I chose it. As I picked it up, I caught a flicker of pain in the host’s eyes, followed immediately by a smile.
Soon after, Omar, Eddie and I took our leave, among profuse expressions of gratitude for a most enjoyable evening. The host presented the shell to me, carefully wrapped.
Years later, I realized that I had committed a cultural gaffe by praising the host’s collection. Traditionally, Arabs will offer an object of admiration to a visitor as a gift. Not to do so would lower the host’s esteem in the eyes of his companions. I didn’t know this, and Omar used my ignorance to play a joke on our host by encouraging me to pick a highly-prized shell.
I have since realized that among these people, one-upmanship was a game, and that was the reason I was invited to dinner. My host had dared entertain in his own home this strange blond woman who broke many cultural taboos. It was a way of outshining the community’s more conservative Arabs. They would have something to talk about for months. And, indeed, in a letter I received from Eddie six weeks later, he mentioned that an Arab who had not been present that evening had asked him about me. On this small island, there seemed little to do except entertain each other with stories.
Back at Eddie’s place, we again relaxed in his living room. He told me a bit about Prison Island, how the main building was used as a quarantine station for years; how more recently, the island had served as a getaway for city residents who sometimes used the bungalows for overnight shelter.
“Since it is no longer a secret, I might as well tell you. I was working on Zanzibar’s budget. That is why I needed a quiet place.”
He had worked in Zanzibar for years beginning as a clerk when it was a British protectorate. He called himself a Zanzibari, but he had no family here, just friends. Again he mentioned his wife and two children who were now living in Nairobi. Although his government contract included a five-day leave to visit Nairobi each month, he had not been allowed to go in June or July. Expecting to take the trip early in July after completing the budget, he initially told Solange he would not be in Zanzibar during the Saba Saba holiday. Later, however, he was informed that he could not go until Cabinet passed the budget, which would likely take another month.
I again told him about my boyfriend who had left Dar at the end of January, supposedly on a one-month trip, but had been barred from re-entering Tanzania due to political infighting with his former colleagues.
Both of us were alone, and lonely.
“Well,” I said. “I still have Solange. I wonder how she spent her vacation.”
“I don’t like Solange,” Eddie said.
“You don’t know her well. She’s very kind.”
“She should have stayed here. You were sick. She should not have left you alone.”
“But Joseph and his family had made arrangements. She had to honour them, even if I couldn’t. I improved rapidly, and thoroughly enjoyed touring with you and Dick-Dick.” And to myself, I added, “Plus I wanted to stay because you had a real toilet.”
The next morning we moved quickly. I worried about missing the ferry; only one ran each day between Zanzibar and Dar es Salaam. I fretted about getting through immigration and the possibility, however remote, that officials on the mainland would find reason to deny me entry.
Eddie remained calm and had me out the door in plenty of time.
“Are you going directly to work after you leave me at the ferry terminal?” I asked Eddie.
“You told me in your letter that you would have to work ‘round the clock’ this weekend. Instead you showed me around the island.”
“Now I am going to suffer. I’ll have to work all day and all night to catch up.”
“You aren’t going to work straight through the night?” I asked.
“Yes. I must.”
Passing through the market square, we could see a long line-up at the terminal, even though the ferry would not be leaving for 45 minutes.
“Oh,” I said, “I forgot to buy my scarf. Can we stop?”
Eddie looked at the line-up and said, “I’ll get it and mail it to you. Or maybe I’ll be able to give it to you in person. I must go to Dar for meetings on the budget. But I don’t know when.”
He drove up to the main gate. As I hopped out, Eddie said, “Don’t forget to send me a note to let me know you got home safely,”
I spotted Solange and rushed to greet her. I turned to wave goodbye, but Eddie had already curved his car away from the melee. The smell of sweating bodies. The noise of people jabbering in several languages. It was all so familiar. Yet for two days I had peace and the luxury of intelligent conversation. Already I missed it. Only the familiarity of Solange lulled me. She was, as I’d told Eddie, very kind – though by no means sophisticated or brilliant.
We easily passed through the immigration queue and, after we settled on the ferry, I started telling her what I had seen – the old town with its narrow alleyways, the slave cave, and Prison Island with its giant tortoises.
Solange interrupted. “I’ve seen plenty of giant tortoises in the Seychelles.”
“Where did you go?” I asked.
“I met lots of people. We walked around town and visited.”
Probably Solange believed I should have returned to Joseph’s house once I felt better, that Joseph had plans and Eddie kidnapped me. But I thought my holiday had been more fun. Eddie knew what an outside visitor would want to see.
Heading home, we said little more, but unlike the ferry ride three days ago, when I was quiet because I felt low, I hummed to myself as we bounced over the sea.
Tags: Shannon Moeser, Tanzania, Zanzibar
Rejuvenated by my long slumber in Eddie’s guest bedroom, I wanted to explore Zanzibar and asked Eddie to take me sightseeing. He was reluctant because he thought I might have a relapse, but I insisted and promised to tell him if I felt tired.
Off we went in his car, after he made a telephone call. A few minutes down the road, we picked up Dick-Dick, who was around my age. Looking back, I realize we were introduced but much of what was said quickly faded from my still-hazy mind. All I saw at the time was that he was devoted to Eddie, a follower. Later I discovered that he was a young lawyer working in the Zanzibar Attorney-General’s office.
Dick-Dick was dressed immaculately in an orange cotton shirt and pressed white pants. Eddie wore black pants and a white shirt, its sleeves rolled up, just as he had the evening before – not the same clothes, just ones that were almost identical. In tropical Africa, clothes were regularly washed because, by the end of the day, they reeked from perspiration. That was why I wore sleeveless dresses: perspiration evaporated into the air and I didn’t need to wear perfume, a common cover-up used by women who wore dresses with sleeves – even short sleeves – that soaked up sweat.
We drove down the short hill and, after a few turns, were in a maze of streets, most so narrow that Eddie’s car left only a slim gap on each side. These must be one-way streets, I thought, until we met another car face on. Oops. A two-way street wide enough for only one car. No wonder we were driving so slowly. Eddie backed up onto another road while the other car continued on its way, then he eased into a dead end lane, parked, and we started walking.
Tall stone buildings lined both sides of the road, leaving it in shade, but what fascinated me were the thick wooden doors. I rushed from door to door, running my hand over the ornate wood carvings surrounding their frames and rubbing the heavy brass studs jutting out from the door panels. No two entrances were identical. An entire street filled with plain stone walls, barred windows, and unique portals.
Above the door frames, a few had elaborate rectangular borders, but the largest, and most richly decorated, were crowned by carved semi-circular arches. One door was partially open; we peered inside, but could see only a stone staircase leading to the floor above. Alongside of one richly polished door were a number of brass plaques indicating that its owner carried on a business within the premises. My picture was taken in front of that one. These were astonishing entrances into what appeared to be stone fortresses; all had the look of guarding prized possessions. I asked Eddie what the carvings on these doors represented but he didn’t know, nor did he know what lay behind them. He and Dick-Dick seemed as captivated by these mysterious buildings as I was, yet they lived no more than ten minutes from this labyrinth of treasures.
A woman in a black burka walked down a side lane and hurried away; Eddie quickly took a photo of Dick-Dick and me to so he could capture a silhouette of her in the background. Then another car drove by and I snapped its picture.
Except for that one woman and the two cars, the streets were empty, silent. Afterwards, I would find out that this area was home to the wealthiest, most powerful Arabs, the ones targeted by the African revolutionaries who overthrew the Arab government. Just six months earlier, thousands of Arabs had been massacred in the uprising. The turmoil had stopped but the bare streets suggested ongoing wariness.
We walked back to the car and drove to a market square near the ferry terminal – a five-minute ride. Cars roared and people bustled about. A street vendor squatted on the sidewalk encircled by the fruit he offered. Open-air shops sold food and clothing, and Eddie purchased mangos and chapatti (Indian flatbread). At a kiosk, I examined a gold silk scarf decorated with images of Zanzibar – a dhow, the beach, an Arab coffee seller and an ornately carved door like those we just saw. I wanted a souvenir of my Zanzibar trip. Should I buy it? With one more vacation day left, I might need my shillings for something else. Eddie suggested I wait.
“It will be here tomorrow,” he said.
Eddie and Dick-Dick discussed plans for an evening dinner, after which we drove back up the hill, dropping Dick-Dick off at his home. At the apartment, Eddie and I relaxed in the living room. The furniture was minimal – a wooden sofa with cushioned seats, a matching chair, small coffee table, and a floor lamp. No ornaments, pictures, wall decorations, or carpets, nothing to suggest that a family once lived here. Eddie told me his wife had fled with their two children shortly after the January uprising. Although the insurgency was aimed primarily against the Arab leadership, some Asians were also killed. Consequently, many Indians departed when the governing Arabs fled. Eddie said his wife managed to move most of the family wealth to Nairobi.
Curled on the sofa, I talked, primarily about my life in Dar and my family in Canada, but also about my uncertain plans. When I arrived in Africa, I was determined to make it my permanent home. Now I wasn’t so sure.
After shifting in my seat, I glanced at Eddie to see if he was paying attention. He gave a small nod of encouragement, so I continued describing the difficulties I was experiencing in my quest to settle down and get married.
If Eddie were not already married, I would have considered him a possible candidate for a husband. Although not conventionally handsome, he did have a rugged, world-weary appearance, and he was about 30, the perfect age for me. But most important, he was intelligent, decisive, and possessed an eager mind – all qualities I found attractive. But he was married, and so I didn’t flirt with him. I knew how to turn the wattage up and how to turn it down. With Eddie, I turned it down. There were no coy smiles, no fleeting glances into his eyes – tactics I used with potential romantic interests. Instead, I acted normally, smiled appropriately as a friend, and spoke in my customary tone, telling Eddie stories about my life, not attempting to cloak myself in mystery.
On his part, Eddie said he liked the way I spoke my mind, clearly and without pretense. This communication style was how I had always talked, but during the past couple of years it had slowly dawned on me that speaking this way – forthright, blunt, and often lacking reserve – turned many off. People seemed to prefer light banter and feigned compliments – a conversational skill I’d never mastered (and never would).
After talking for over two hours, we got ready for dinner, then picked up Dick-Dick.
During our two-hour tour through old Zanzibar, Dick-Dick seldom said a word to me. I knew he was being included because it would not be proper for Eddie, a married man, to be seen escorting a single woman. Yet Eddie didn’t seem worried about what Joseph might say. I don’t think that Joseph belonged to the same Asian community as Eddie and Dick-Dick. In East Africa, there were Ismaili, Goan, Parsee, Hindu, Sikh, Muslim, and Christian groups, all descended from workers who arrived from the Indian subcontinent. To an outsider, the groups were difficult to distinguish; they dressed alike and had similar names and customs. But different communities seldom mixed socially. Eddie had made it clear in his letters that Joseph was not among his friends.
When we left for dinner, I wondered if we would run into Solange. Zanzibar Town did not have a large population and Eddie certainly had known where to find us the night before. Solange and I couldn’t communicate by phone because Joseph, like most Tanzanians, did not have a home telephone. Eddie had one, but he also had a car, both signs of relative wealth. Still, given Zanzibar’s small Asian populace, I thought we might encounter Solange on our evening outing.
We didn’t. This reinforced my assumption that Joseph belonged to a different Asian group than Eddie and Dick-Dick.
At the restaurant, we didn’t mention Solange or Joseph, nor talk about families or work. We had a carefree conversation about life in Dar, recreation in Zanzibar, and food. Eddie ordered a curry fish dinner and I requested a moderate level of spiciness for my portion. I could still remember the dinner prepared for me seven months earlier at an Indian café in Dar, my first curry meal. Although hungry, I took two bites and couldn’t eat more; my mouth was on fire, a burning sensation that lasted for many hours. Since then, I’d learned to tolerate a reasonable level of spice by smothering the dish with cool fresh fruit – slices of bananas, mangos, and avocados in particular. Luckily our fish curry was accompanied by many cooling fruit sauces, which I piled on my plate – and then I ate the entire feast. Tangy and sweet at the same time. Delicious.
The next morning, Eddie said, “After breakfast, we can take a trip to see the slave cave. Dick-Dick has told me he knows where it can be found.”
Dick-Dick greeted us wearing a white shirt, white shorts and polished sandals. I smiled to myself; he was dressed like Europeans in old colonial Africa, so unfashionable in the new Africa. I wondered who he was trying to impress – Eddie or me. Eddie, as usual, had donned another white shirt with rolled up sleeves, and black pants. I imagined his closet: a row of black pants and white shirts with rolled up sleeves – a uniform suggesting nonchalance when in fact, I was beginning to realize, he was anything but carefree and easygoing.
We drove north, hugging the coast, gazing down on white sand beaches nestled amongst rocky cliffs. Once we left the city, the road was empty; we might have gone by one or two other vehicles, but mostly it was just us, the highway, and a spectacular view. Then the route jagged inland, passing through fields dotted by tall coconut trees amid shorter brush-like foliage. We stopped to watch four African women working the rough land. They were wearing western-style print dresses, which suggested they were Christian rather than Muslim. African Muslim women wore black chadors – open cloaks flowing from the top of the head to the ankles, which were held together by clutching the loose sides with one hand. Often, on the streets of Dar, I could see them laughing from behind this partial face veil, when they held the cloth away from their lips. In Dar, non-Muslim African women wore brightly colored African-printed cloths wrapped around them.
The four women walked towards the car, saying nothing; we probably appeared as extraordinary to them as they to us. I pulled out my camera and they stood in line. Unlike the Arab woman who had scurried away yesterday, they wanted their picture taken.
One of them, an old woman, displayed stretched earlobes and wore a faded African-print cloth slung over her shoulders like a cape. The stretched earlobes and cape were traditional adornments used by the Maasai and other tribes living in the Tanzanian interior, but not by coastal Africans. Like the Maasai, she had very short hair, slender facial features, and a proud gaze. How had she ended up in Zanzibar? Could she have been a former slave or the daughter of a former slave? Zanzibar had a flourishing slave trade – one of its main sources of income – until slavery was abolished near the end of the nineteenth century, but the island continued to keep and export slaves, surreptitiously, for another 40 years.
My reflections were interrupted when Eddie started the car and Dick-Dick, in the back seat, consulted his map. I’d always believed that Zanzibar was one large island. Instead, Eddie explained, it was a group of islands, two large ones surrounded by many tiny ones, most of which were uninhabited. Even the two large islands were relatively small, as each could be driven from tip to tip in less than three hours. Their primary industry was agriculture and they were often called the “spice islands” because they exported cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and black peppers.
After consulting his map, Dick-Dick said, “I think we turn here.” A dirt road curved back towards the coastline. There were no signs, the road got rougher, and Eddie asked, “Are you sure this is the correct way?”
We chanced upon the ruin of an old Arab house, its crumbling walls mostly intact although its portals – former windows and doors – were hollow. Eddie walked around it, thoughtfully examining the inside layout, and then spoke to an Arab sitting on the ground in front of the gap where once a door stood.
When we got back into the car, Eddie said, “According to that fellow, the cave is a bit further down the road.”
Soon after, we stopped at the cave entrance. Dick-Dick and I descended steep steps cut into the limestone rock. Eddie took our picture, and then followed us. After a 90-degree turn and a few more stairs, we were on sloping, uneven rock, the only light a dim beam seeping through the narrow slit at the entrance.
I cautiously took a few steps, moving downward towards the sound of running water. The air smelled musty, damp. Tentatively I advanced a bit further until it was pitch-black. In my imagination, a row of chained slaves stood beside me. How fearful they would have felt in this dark hole. My mind echoed with their cries of despair, their wails and moans. And although only imaginary images, I became frightened. I moved back towards the light, where I would not be disturbed by eerie visions.
But Eddie continued downwards, moving meticulously among the rocks, caught up in the adventure, not at all disturbed by the blackness. He reached the water. This cave had been created by a natural stream flowing to the sea and was used clandestinely after slave trade was officially abolished. The tunnel led to the ocean and slaves could be held in the chamber until safely loaded onto a boat.
Dick-Dick had joined me, and we waited together under the faint light until Eddie returned. Then we all climbed back into the brilliant sunshine.
With no stops, we were back in town in 30 minutes. At the market, we ate lunch while Eddie and Dick-Dick discussed plans for the afternoon. They had expected the cave tour to take longer than it did.
“Prison Island,” Eddie said.
I overheard Dick-Dick say, “Restricted … no visitors allowed …” but didn’t hear Eddie’s reply.
Eddie turned to me and said, “We have decided to take you to Prison Island but first we must make a stop.”
We drove to the front of a three-story, white, colonial building, with balconies surrounding the second and third stories, many square windows, and an arch over the main door.
Eddie entered, followed by me, then Dick-Dick. As we walked along quickly, I kept my eyes on Eddie but in my peripheral vision noticed rows of desks, and sitting behind them were clerks. All males. Most were African. They stared at our small procession and I sensed hostility. What was this foreign female doing in a restricted government building? Eddie was oblivious to the stares.
We reached the top floor and Eddie entered an office while Dick-Dick and I stepped onto the balcony; I snapped a quick photo – looking down on buildings in the heart of Zanzibar.
Eddie returned and our procession wound down the stairs and across the main floor. A few hostile stares lingered but most workers had returned to their tasks.
Eddie had obtained the keys to a motorboat owned by the government.
Tags: Dar es Salaam, Shannon Moeser, Tanzania, Zanzibar
A hole. The toilet was a hole in the ground. I wasn’t prissy. As a teenager in Canada, I’d often used my aunt’s outhouse and just wrinkled my nose to block the stench. This hole was more sanitary – there was water flowing into it – and didn’t smell nearly as bad as that outhouse. But my western body had not developed the muscles needed to rise from a squatting position. The wall was not close enough to use for balance; if I crouched too low, I would fall on my bum. I peed – a bit – not very efficiently. Luckily there was a shower nearby, so I washed. But what would I do for the next three days?
Three weeks earlier, Solange had said, “Let’s go to Zanzibar for the Saba Saba holiday.”
And I thought, “Why not? I’ve lived in Dar es Salaam seven months and haven’t seen hardly anything outside the city.”
So I helped Solange compose a letter seeking a place to stay – a note to Dr. Coutinho that included our photographs. I’d never met him but Solange told me he often visited the U.N. office where we worked A few days later, Solange mentioned that Dr. Coutinho had written to say he would not be in Zanzibar during the holiday, and so instead she’d made plans for us to stay with her friend Joseph and his family. Joseph was part of Solange’s circle, not someone I’d have encountered through work or social functions.
On June 22, 1964, I received a letter from Dr. Coutinho. His small, neat handwriting contrasted with his lavish, unrestrained prose. After thanking me for “my very sweet letter” and describing how he was on a “secret job” that required quiet, he added:
How pretty Solange is – and you, wow! Incidentally, I am married, although my wife is permanently in Nairobi – not divorced nor separated – but allowing me the liberties of life so soon.
Then he continued:
My friends were disappointed that you and Solange were to stay with Joseph – that’s his name I presume. They were planning to take you two out on a picnic to a neighbouring island … and on my suggestion would have shown you around Z’bar Island. All that unlucky for me and without me. You could then have had Monday with your host. But your host will not like that, I am sure – too bad! Nevertheless, please do write and let me know how you feel about it all. Say what you want done – rub against the magic lamp – and my fair lady thy will shalt be done.
He signed it, “Eddie, that’s me name.” One small slip, me instead of my. His first language would be one of the Indian dialects, his second probably Swahili. English was likely his third language, yet he made only one error in two pages of dense handwritten prose.
When he previously responded to Solange’s request, possibly he had made a similar suggestion – that he could arrange for his friends to take us on a picnic and tour of the island. If so, she hadn’t mentioned it when telling me that Eddie (Dr. Coutinho) would not be in Zanzibar during our visit. Maybe she knew that accommodation with Joseph also meant that Joseph organized our entertainment. Eddie’s mocking comment – too bad – suggested friction about his proposed scenario. That could be why he was now writing directly to me. Still, the trip had been Solange’s idea and she was making all arrangements, so I wrote Eddie a short note, thanking him for his concerns, and stating that Solange had already set up our schedule. What I didn’t tell him was that I was feeling listless and was just going along with whatever Solange planned. I attributed my low spirits to the fact that my boyfriend had been away from Dar for almost five months.
The day before we left, I received another letter. This one was brief. Eddie said he would be in Zanzibar during our visit. He wrote:
I was not allowed by my Minister to go to Nairobi yesterday. I must stay here for a very urgent job that entails ‘round the clock’ sessions. I am still being hopeful that I might meet you – but if not do please be my guests some other time.
Solange and I worked at the Dar es Salaam United Nations regional office. Dar es Salaam was the capital of Tanzania (formerly Tanganyika). Tanganyika was granted independence in 1961. Of the approximately 4,500 Europeans who had been living there, nearly 1,000 departed. This exodus resulted in a shortage of English-speaking office workers. Within a few days of arriving in Dar, I quickly obtained a job as an executive secretary, with my own private air-conditioned office, even though I was only 23. Solange had no secretarial skills but spoke fluent English and Swahili, and easily found employment as a receptionist at age 20.
In Dar, there were three major racial groups – European, South Asian, and African. Each had its own residential sections (one for Europeans, several for Asians and Africans). This segregation was initially established by colonial policy and continued after independence through neighbourhood housing preferences. Although I was European, I lived in the South Asian downtown area, boarding with Muslims – an Indian Ismaili family.
Solange was part African and part European, with possibly a bit of South Asian as well. She had emigrated from the Seychelles with her mother and several younger siblings, living with them on the outskirts of the city, in an area accommodating many Christians – both African and Indian. Solange was a devout Catholic.
Both of us had African boyfriends, but mine was no longer living in Dar and Solange was in the process of breaking up with hers, so a short vacation would help us forget our troubles.
When I arrived in Dar es Salaam, it was the capital of Tanganyika; now it was the capital of Tanzania. Initially, Tanganyika was one of four countries forming British East Africa, the others being Kenya, Uganda, and Zanzibar. Tanganyika was the first to gain independence – in 1961. Independence was granted to Uganda in 1962 and to Kenya and Zanzibar in 1963. A bloody coup occurred in Zanzibar on January 12, 1964, just one month after attaining independence. The Sultan (with his Arab government) was overthrown and replaced by an African-led Revolutionary Council. This occurred while I was living in Dar but all I remember about that incident was a bit of tension in the streets for a couple of weeks. My work and social life carried on as usual.
Less than four months later, on April 26, 1964, Tanganyika and Zanzibar merged, forming a single country – Tanzania. That was just six weeks before Solange suggested visiting Zanzibar during the Saba Saba holiday. Saba Saba (Swahili for seven seven) was a festival held on July 7th in Dar es Salaam. Our office would be closed Monday and Tuesday, July 6 and 7.
As the finishing touches of the alliance forming Tanzania had not yet been completed, Saba Saba would not be celebrated in Zanzibar this year, making it easy for Solange to find us accommodation. For me, it was a great opportunity to visit another part of Africa at a relatively low cost.
On July 4th, Solange and I worked until noon, our usual Saturday quitting time, and then caught the ferry. I carried a small navy bag containing two extra cotton dresses, a robe to wear when visiting the bathroom, extra underwear, a toothbrush, toothpaste, lipstick, and my camera. My purse held my passport and a few shillings – enough money for a small emergency, not so much that I would worry if it disappeared.
For three hours, we suffered on uncomfortable wood benches. The sky was deep blue, the ocean calm, but still our boat bobbed and rolled. My stomach uneasy, my mind a bit hazy, I said little. Usually we talked incessantly about work, our love lives, and our families. Unlike most young women in Dar, we two were free – allowed to work, date, dance, travel alone, and make choices without male interference. We wore simple cotton dresses, sleeveless, fitted to display our legs and the natural curves of our bodies. This was what we always wore in Dar, which was cosmopolitan, even though about 65% of the population was Muslim. We never thought that our attire might not be appropriate in Zanzibar, a conservative Muslim town seeped in Arab tradition. The immigration officer, however, was surly, especially to me. He eventually stamped our passports but we were restricted to a four-day visit.
Joseph, a South Asian, greeted us at the Zanzibar landing dock. He had hired a cab to drive to his apartment, a short distance away, close to the sea and the town centre.
At Joseph’s apartment, we met his wife, who showed us our bedroom. She said, “We have only two beds. Our daughters can share one and you can share the other.”
They were twin beds.
I didn’t expect luxurious accommodations and had assumed that Solange and I would share a bed, but I worried about its size. In Dar, I had learned to lie in the middle of my bed, with no part of me touching the mosquito net. By sharing a small bed with Solange, parts of my body would brush against the net, and those blood-sucking fiends would land on vulnerable areas of my anatomy. Throughout Joseph’s house, I could hear the high-pitched whine of mosquitoes, just waiting.
Nonetheless, after the long ferry trip, I just wanted to relax and soothe my queasy stomach. I plopped on the bed besides Solange and we napped. When we woke, I headed for the bathroom, and discovered the hole.
Our host had arranged to take us to dinner at a restaurant. Solange and I wore our simple dresses; Joseph had donned a crisp new cotton shirt and his wife a light blue sari. We strolled down the street, talking and laughing until we reached the restaurant, where Joseph was greeted by friends. He had brought special guests – Solange and me. In front of us were mangos, papaya, bananas, and guavas. There was curried chicken and rice. Plantains cooked with peanut curry. Lively music. Non-stop chatter.
A man slipped into the seat beside me. Unlike the others, he was dressed informally, wearing a simple white shirt, his sleeves rolled up. He spoke only to me. Eddie. He was taking a break from work and would return to his office after dinner.
In the middle of the festivities, I felt dizzy, sick.
“I need fresh air,” I said.
Outside I vomited. On the sidewalk, thank God, not in the restaurant. Eddie stood beside me. I saw Solange, maybe Joseph …
“I need to lie down.”
Everything was a blur. Eddie took charge. I was in his car, then in a bedroom at his apartment.
“Lie here while I get a doctor,” he said.
How would he find a doctor on a Saturday night? I only needed to rest awhile and I would be fine.
I removed my dress and draped it over the back of a chair. Then I crawled into bed and covered myself with a sheet. A few minutes later, Eddie arrived with a doctor, who examined me while Eddie hovered in the background. “Malaria,” the doctor said.
How could I have malaria? I took my quinine pill each morning. But I had been feeling low lately. Thought it was because I was lonely, my boyfriend now living in Cairo. Maybe I had also been fighting an infection.
The doctor gave me medicine; I swallowed, and fell asleep.
In the middle of the night, I woke and saw the shadowy outline of a man.
Rape! I’m going to be raped.
I vaguely remembered the doctor leaving as I fell asleep. I was in an empty apartment with a stranger. I didn’t move, though my eyes were open. Did he realize I was awake?
As my vision adjusted to the darkness, I saw the figure clearly through the mosquito net.
Eddie sat on a chair. His brows were furrowed, his gaze focused on my face. He didn’t move, just stared like a grief-stricken father. He barely knew me but he was worried. He was watching over me, making sure I didn’t take a turn for the worse. I relaxed, closed my eyes, and fell back to sleep.
A soft breeze blew through the window cooling the humid air. Through half-opened eyes, I saw my navy bag by the door. My mind was no longer groggy, my stomach no longer upset. Still, it was my full bladder that impelled me to push aside the bed sheet, untuck the net, slip on my robe, and find the bathroom. Relief. Eddie had a real toilet.
Back in the bedroom, I dressed and then ventured into the kitchen. Eddie sat at the table, writing. He looked up and smiled. Not a broad smile, just a gentle, quizzical half-smile.
“I feel better now,” I said.
Eddie got up and sliced a banana into a bowl. He suggested I try to eat while he fetched the doctor.
I ate and still felt hungry. Eddie returned with the doctor who examined me, said my temperature was normal, gave me another pill, and told me to take it easy for the next few days. Then the doctor left.
Eddie prepared us a small breakfast – a mango, sweet rolls and coffee. I thanked him for looking after me and fetching my bag.
“Solange did the packing.” he said. “I hope nothing is missing. I invited Solange to come along and join us but she wished to stay with Joseph.”
When speaking about Solange’s decision, the tone of his voice implied criticism. Without addressing the topic directly, Eddie conveyed the message that he expected me to stay with him. I knew that if I insisted, he would drive me to Joseph’s place. But I didn’t really want to go. Here I had my own bed, fewer mosquitoes, and a real toilet.
Tags: Shannon Moeser
I have lost 15 lbs since those pictures shown in the post “Me Old” were taken. I look more like the photo on top of the page now. Thanks to David and John.
I will post a new photo when I get back to Butchart Gardens again. That might not be for awhile, as we are now entering winter and I usually visit Butchart Gardens in spring.
Tags: Changu Island, Prison Island, Shannon Moeser, Zanzibar
I am busy writing a long story and won’t be able to post much. This picture will appear in the story. Can anyone guess where it was taken? (Continent doesn’t count; you must name the specific location.) When the story is posted — hopefully in about three months — you will know then. Meanwhile, I hope to whet your appetite.
Tags: Gloria Dawn
Someone is trying to sell the centerfold from a PIX magazine on eBay, which is being marketed as a photo of “Gloria Dawn.” They can do this legitimately, as long as they sell the actual centerfold — just like anyone can legitimately sell the magazine itself. However, I just purchased the entire magazine — it’s not that hard to find. Initially, I bid on one and lost the magazine to someone who got it for $17. The second time it came up, I got it for $25. I was going to surprise you by posting some of the photos here. It’s another set of the photos of three girls on a boat cruise by Ron Vogel (all photos in black and white) that was first published in Topper.
I’ve been busy lately. I’m taking a writing course and it is keeping me so busy that I haven’t had time to post anything. Anyway, here is a very rough copy of the centerfold. I’ll post a better copy in Gloria Dawn Photos when I have time (probably not until after the course ends in the middle of December).
Too bad this eBay seller, styxiejones, had to mess up my surprise for you. He/she is probably going to try to sell several of the fold-out pages from the magazine individually, for the same price it costs to purchase the entire magazine.
Tags: Elmer Batters, Gloria Dawn
George (known as “Teogan” to former My Archives members) recently discovered this picture on eBay, informed me and I won the auction. It is unique because, to the best of my knowledge, it is the only published colour photo of my dark blond hair. Elmer Batters took it — read “Nude in Black and Blonde” if you don’t remember the episode. The fact that my hair ends are nicely flipped tells me that he took it early in our session; my ultra-fine hair drooped quickly. All the other photos I’ve seen from that session are in black and white. Five other photos appear in the Champagne magazine feature (entitled “Nude in Black Gloves”), but this full-page picture is the only one in colour. Maybe after taking this photo, Batters decided that colour film wasn’t suitable for the lighting setup. (He liked to work with natural light, even when indoors.)
The photo does not appear to have been touched up in any way. Even my appendix scar, which is often air brushed out in nude photos, is visible. I did find my lips disconcerting; they appear garish and odd shaped. It’s not the bright red colour; photographers often asked me to wear bright red lipstick, even when I had light blond hair. It’s the shape. After zooming in on them using Photoshop, I realized that the makeup artist had drawn them larger than normal, and my normal lips are full enough, thank you very much. It’s as if she was not used to working with full-lipped models (and actresses) and drew her pencil lines beyond the natural ridges, making them appear bizarre. Below, on the left, is a close up of my lips are they appear in the photo; on the right is my attempt to draw my lips their proper shape using Photoshop. (My Photoshop skills are not perfect, so this is only an approximate rendering of how my lips should have appeared.)
In black and white photos, the garish red disappears amongst the ridges of my natural lip line as seen below. But in that colour movie, which was never completed, I must have looked tawdry. Probably one reason the movie was never completed.
The black and white photos in the Champagne feature are full-length and more flattering than the colour photo. As per the “Donna Cole” set (see: http://gloriadawn.wordpress.com/2013/06/13/donna-cole-picture/), I am wearing black nylons, black gloves and a teeny black bikini bottom. In the Champagne pictures, taken before filming began, I look more refreshed. Also, Batters took pains to make my breasts more attractive. He didn’t always focus 100% on legs, you know. Eventually, I’ll post the complete set on gloriadawn.wordpress.com. But don’t look for them to appear soon. I have lots of other things to do first.
Tags: Gloria Dawn, Phil Jacobson
The only thing Adam 1964 forgot to mention was that I had also appeared in Adam thirteen months earlier (Dec 1962). These were some of my favorite photos, taken by Phil Jacobson. I wonder why Adam 1964 (Jan 1964) failed to mention that I was in the earlier feature?
Tags: Gloria Dawn, Keith Bernard
I just got a new Adam magazine with new “Susan Norman” photos of me, taken by Keith Bernard. I was surprised to find that the blurb accompanying the photo layout was TRUE. He got my measurements correct (well maybe cut one inch off the hips) — but mostly correct, whereas most of the blurbs are way off. He also correctly identified my birthplace (Canada) and where I was currently living (Hollywood). But most of all, he got the fact that I was planning to go to Africa correct. The only thing I found odd was that when I modeled for Keith, in early June 1963, I was planning to go to Kenya, but I’m sure that I never mentioned Tanganyika, because I never even thought of going there until I re-connected with an African I’d met two years earlier; I didn’t reconnect with him until August 1963. Keith may have kept accurate notes, but he couldn’t have known about Tanganyika. My agent didn’t know where I’d gone. Only a couple of close friends at the Hollywood Studio Club knew. So Keith must have found out that I’d left for Tanganyika from one of them. Anyway, here are two of the pages (full-page B&W photographs) censored. I’ll post the uncensored versions later in the Keith Bernard section of Gloria Dawn Photos.
PS added September 12: I’ve lost ten pounds since these photos were taken in May, thanks to the encouragement of my two “buddies.”
Photos of me taken a week ago. I need to lose weight. I need someone to keep prodding me! Any volunteers? (I don’t know how long I’ll keep these pictures up.)