After a chaotic day of flying from Nairobi – don’t ask – we finally arrive in Zanzibar.
What is it about the name ‘Zanzibar’? I remember first hearing the word as a kid in the theme song for schlocky 60’s sitcom ‘The Patty Duke Show‘, about two kooky look-alike cousins:
‘Meet Cathy, who’s lived most everywhere,
From Zanzibar to Berkeley Square…’
It just sounded so exotic. Even today, our brother-in-law Chris says ‘Zanzibar! That’s such a fun word to say!’
The old town, known as ‘Stone Town’, is a warren of narrow streets and alleyways.
Intricately carved wooden doors are a Zanzibari thing. We pass a madrasa where we see boys hunched over their Korans, deep in study. We are invited in, but only because we might take their photograph and give them some money. We politely decline.
There are heritage buildings that have been turned into hotels much fancier than ours.
My main interest in Zanzibar is as the heart of the former Indian Ocean slave trade. Zanzibar was the main outpost of an Omani Arab empire that bled central and eastern Africa dry of countless people that was a match in barbarity and cruelty with the Atlantic slave trade.
It was finally stamped out by the British.
You don’t hear about this much in the West because it doesn’t match the Western-people-bad-everyone-else-good narrative that simple people use to make sense of their world. You certainly don’t hear about it in modern Oman.
Even though modern surviving slavery is largely restricted to Muslim countries – Mauretania, Sudan, Libya, the Gulf States – black people seem to be willing to give a pass to their former Arab taskmasters. There is no movement demanding reparations from the Gulf State gazillionaires.
(There was a smidgen of Karmic payback. During the 1964 Zanzibar Revolution, thousands of Arab and Asian Zanzibaris had their property looted and were then tortured, raped, and killed. Most survivors fled the island.)
A different kind of market. We stop to watch an auction take place at the fish market.
Present-day Zanzibar has lots of very pettable cats in the streets.
As we tend to do when near the sea – Zanzibar is an island – we treat ourselves to a good dinner of seafood.
It might not be common knowledge, but the late vocalist for the band Queen started life in Zanzibar as Farrokh Bulsara. So of course, there is a Freddy Mercury Museum.
(His Zoroastrian family fled to England after the, um, disturbances in 1964 mentioned above.)
In the 1980’s, my friend Ann and I attended a Queen concert at the Westfalenhallen in Dortmund, Germany. It was a pretty rockin’ event, as I recall.
Sight or Insight of the Day
It rains a lot our first few days in Zanzibar. I mean, it hammers down in great deluges and solid walls of water for at least eighteen hours. We’ve never seen anything like it, not even in the Andaman Islands.
The tin roofs of most buildings make a hellish clatter as the rain smashes down on them. The streets are awash. We begin to wonder if the rain will ever end.