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Published: October 20th 2007
Kendwa sunset Ah, there's nowhere like Africa for people to refer to you, unashamedly, by your skin colour.
The sun drops over the Zanzibar horizon...
In Senegal I was a toubab, in Burkina Faso, a blanc, in Ethiopia, a faranji, and now, I'm a mzungu. I have been since I set foot in Kenya. All over East Africa, especially in areas away from the beaten path of tourism, little tykes run up to you, pointing and screaming, 'mzungu, mzungu!'. People shout the word at you through your window as your bus cruises through their village. In Rwanda, I even had a woman on my minibus wrap her arms around me and intone it several times. Obviously she hasn't seen many whities.
I wouldn't be so against this labelling of myself - and all other white folks - if I hadn't found out what the origins of the word are. 'Mzungu' actually comes from the Swahili verb meaning, 'to wander around aimlessly, like a mad person.' Not exactly a flattering description, even if it does describe your average African traveller quite well. The plural is 'wazungu', and, since I am now wandering around aimlessly with my Dad, I thought it would make a good title for the post.
Little Tommy Turtle
Me and one of the turtles at the Baraka aquarium, Nungwi, Zanzibar
last I wrote, I have made the long trek from the forested hills of the African heartland in Rwanda, down to the palm-fringed coast of Tanzania. As I had expected, Tanzania is not so very different from Kenya. The two countries share similar geographic features, a common language (although Swahili is much more entrenched here than English), they eat the same food, they both host large numbers of Indian migrants, and they are also home to a crapload of large wild animals.
The west of Tanzania is definitely the frontier territory of this NSW-sized nation, with dry, dusty savannah and scruffy, corrugated-iron-heavy villages very much the order of the day. The road trip to Dar used to be a three-day extravaganza of bumping along dirt roads, but in the past year or so about half the road has been tarmacced. So now its 'only' 30 hours by bus from the Rwandan border to the coast. I broke the journey twice, first in the nowheresville settlement of Kahama, and then in the nowheresville capital city of Dodoma. Rather like the Canberra of Tanzania, this town of 170,000 lies slap-bang in the centre of the country, surrounded by barren hills and
A traditional dhow sails out of Zanzibar
containing nothing but a bunch of ministries and boozing politicians. Despite being the centre of administration for decades, it is almost like nobody has really accepted the fact, and most foreign embassies and businesses prefer to do their stuff in Dar es Salaam.
I eventually chugged into Dar on my fourth day in Tanzania, with the only real obstacle along the way being a snapped axle that our bus sustained in the middle of the bush near Dodoma. Luckily our bus guys were trained in the African art of patching up a major mechanical disaster with nothing but some old screws, a lot of grease, a hammer and a bucketload of sheer ingenuity. Vehicles that would be written off back home inevitably live on to fight another day here.
I had a nasty feeling that Dar would be just another Nairobi, but my fears were laid to rest soon after arrival. Despite being home to almost 4 million Tanzanians, the city has a decidely laid-back atmosphere, and, although there is the odd scam involving tourists, there is little of the violent crime that one might expect in a huge East African city. With its seaside, tropical location, Dar
Two of the turtles at the Baraka aquarium, Nungwi
was also the steamiest place I'd been since Accra, so it took some adjustment after the cool highlands of Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda.
The city is an intoxicating mix of Africa, the Middle East, and India, a place where Hindu shopkeepers rub shoulders with Masai herdsmen, Bantu taxi drivers, and Arabian men in full Muslim dress. Lutheran churches, office blocks, and minarets decorate the skyline, and the busy harbour plays host to old-school dhows and modern catamaran ferries.
I was in Dar for a specific reason - to meet my old dad, who has come to join me in Africa for the next two months. I hadn't seen Kev since February, so it was awesome to see him again. He has made quite a splash in Tanzania, what with his humungous beard (tied in a plait) and the peakless cap that he has taken to wearing. We can barely walk five metres here without someone shouting out, 'mzuzu!' (beard), or, more usually, 'Osama!', or, 'Fidel!'.
Kev and I spent a couple of days in the big smoke, while he acclimatised to the realities of Africa after the luxuries of Bangkok, and then we took the slow
Kev gets a lift from the 26-year old turtle at Baraka aquarium, Nungwi
ferry to the Indian Ocean paradise of Zanzibar island, some 70kms north-east of the city.
Nowhere evokes images of the perfect exotic, heavenly, tropical island, quite like Zanzibar. It has been, in the past, a slave and spice trading centre, an outpost of the Omani sultanate on the East African coast, and the focal point of the coastal Swahili culture. Now it is all about the tourists. Wazungu are flown and ferried in, to get lost in the cobblestoned alleyways of Stonetown, or to soak up the sun on one of the many white-sand beaches.
Kev and I spent a fun few days in Stonetown, the old section of the island's capital, Zanzibar Town. The place is an incredible melange of Indian, Arabian and African influences, with the odd British church or Masai art shop thrown in. Strolling around the alleyways, you feel like you could be in Goa, or Varanasi, or Cairo, or Jerusalem - until a long-eared guy in full Masai tribal dress sidles up and tries to sell you a wooden cosh. We were lucky to be in town for the end of Ramadan, and the beginning of Eid, and so we saw the transition
Kev and the turtles
Kev feeds some seaweed to his flippered friends
from empty streets, closed restaurants, and grumpy, fasting, shopkeepers last Friday, to partying families and smiling, feasting young guys in their best outfits, on the Saturday. That night, Stonetown came alive as every local muslim (and they make up 95% of the Zanzibari population) came out to eat seafood skewers and sit in the main park.
After seeing Eid, Kev and I trekked up to the northern tip of Zanzibar, to be a pair of lazy beach bums at an idyllic spot called Kendwa. Susan had stayed on this beach back in 2001, and has raved about it since, and now I can see why. Calm turquoise water, soft white sand, spicy seafood, and a hut right on the beach, complete with hammocks and a bar. We did nothing for a week, except sunbathe, eat dinner with our Scottish/English mates Douggie, Julie, Dave and Nirupa, read, and play Scrabble. I beat Dad most times, but he was so relaxed on the beach he didn't care. One day we took a snorkelling trip, out to a lovely reef off Mnemba Island, where we followed triggerfish, angelfish, and parrotfish, as well as a lone ray, before eating some tastier, but less
Me and my mates
Me hanging out with a bunch of hawksbill turtles, Zanzibar
colourful, fish on the beach. We also visited an aquarium, which was more of a small lagoon, in the nearby town of Nungwi. In the seawater pond were 15 hawksbill turtles, all caught by fishermen and being prepared for a return to the open ocean. For a few bucks, we were allowed to swim with and pet these gentle and graceful guys, and we even got to feed them some of their favourite snack - a bit of the local seaweed. Swimming around with the hawksbills was a real buzz and the highlight of the week.
Today, we decided we had done quite enough lazing around, and knew that if we didn't get up off the beach and head back to Stonetown, then we probably never would. So here we are, back in the centre of Zanzibar, and all ready to get back to the mainland for dad's first (and my second) safari adventure...
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