Zanzibar Holiday – Part 2December 11, 2013 at 6:23 pm | Posted in Africa Stories, Memoir -- Non-fiction Stories | 1 Comment
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.