There can be few places in the world that are better for people watch than Jaws Corner in the centre of Zanibar's old Stone Town. An elderly gentleman has set up an impromptu coffee stall, and the junction, where four of Zanzibar's winding alleys converge, has become a meeting place for everyone on the island.
The coffee is brewed is two stainless steel kettles, balanced precariously over a small charcoal stove. It's drank in the small handle-less porcelain cups so common in the Muslim world, from Cairo to the Indian Ocean. And when you're finished, the cups are washed clean in rainwater collected from an overflowing gutter that runs from the roofs of one of the surrounding dilapidated buildings,complete with rusty roofs, and rotting shutters hanging ajar on the last hinge.
And as you sip the coffee, you sit back and watch, as an endless stream of pedestrians, bicycles and motorbikes move back and forth into the courtyard, and then onwards, while local men sit around the edge of the square, on steps sheltered from the sun and the rain, and debate everything from Somalia, to the Champions League final, to the Zanzibari quest for freedom.
In this, one of the most multicultural and cosmopolitan towns I've been to in Africa, the cast of extras include the plump Egyptian looking man, with a full face, a big nose, an easy smile, and missing teeth; Tourists, with their white skin, short shorts, socks pulled up high, rucksacks, and floppy sun hats, an exasperated, lost, and sweaty looking on their faces; Children on their way to school, with their freshly pressed shirts tucked into their shorts, and rucksacks full to bursting, it's as if they're parodies of the tourists they run past; Rastas and beach boys, 3/4 length shorts, one-love necklaces and reggae hats, following the girls in their short skirts; The old man with a face that could gurn for Tanzania, smiling out from below his embroidered Muslim cap and gold-rimmed aviators; Boys on their way to the madrasa, wearing the caps and robes of Islam, fighting, playing and running along the alley ways as the sound of their steps and laughter echo along the stone walls; Middle aged men, Arabic, Indian, north-African, Tanzanian, in trousers and shirts, with bellies bulging beneath the fabric, playing dominoes on a rickety table in the middle of the square, that barely stays upright with the slap of a new piece on the board; Young Indians, sunglasses on their gelled hair, and elaborate shirts on their backs they could have ridden straight out of a Bollywood set, flying past on their polished vespas, the roar of the engine and the peep of the horn giving people precious seconds to dive to safety; girls, with their headscarves flowing in the wind, gossiping on the way to school; and the elderly Muslims, wearing elaborate hats, in red, green, cream, gold, and whites, with elegantly trimmed beards, spectacles on their eyes, and walking sticks or umbrellas in their hands, and the universal greeting of Salaam Aleikum on their lips.
It's Jaw's Corner, and I could stay here hour, after hour, after hour...
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