After a rough start due to not being able to sleep last night, I woke up late to find the compound awake and bustling. Machui Community College is closing for a month’s holiday today so the students are finishing their mid terms and cleaning the grounds before heading home. I watched the goings on, feeling a little useless because there wasn’t really anything for me to do. This only lasted a little while though because in the afternoon the other volunteer here and I went into town. She has been here for nine months already and is fluent in Swahili, so I am learning a lot from her. She took me into Stonetown, which is the oldest part of Zanzibar. On the way there I got to experience the crazy driving here again. The driver wove in and out of traffic, narrowly missing people, bikes and motorcycles. How they manage to avoid accidents, I will never know.
Somehow, we arrived in Stonetown alive and began to explore. Our first stop was an atm to get some Tanzanian shillings. One US dollar is worth about 1,300 shillings. Everything costs hundreds or thousands of shillings so it sounds like a lot more than it really is. We set out for the narrow streets of Stonetown and were immediately bombarded by shopkeepers yelling Karibu! and Jambo!, wanting us to come look in their stores. Some persistent people will follow you down the street, trying to convince you to come buy something. Most of the stores sell the same items; scarves, kangas and jewelry. They try to charge white people more but luckily the girl I was with knew how much things should cost. She was able to haggle in Swahili for me and I only got ripped off on one bracelet.
One thing I noticed is that you can never be a hurry in Zanzibar. Everyone you meet wants to strike up a conversation and get to know you. There’s no such thing as speed shopping here and you definitely have to have a lot of patience. After wandering around Stonetown for a while, we decided to stop at a Cafe and get a drink. I opened the menu, expecting some exotic African foods with Swahili names. Instead I found American food like hamburgers and smoothies. I was slightly dissapointed, but my stomach was happy to have some normal food. I settled on a banana and strawberry smoothie and it was delicious.
Next we went to a fruit and spice market. The smell was intoxicating and all the strange fruit looked enticing. We were able to get spices for free from one man who knew the girl I was with.
Soon after this it began pouring and we sat under an awning to wait the rain out. We happened to be next to a man selling Mohaja chips, made from Cassava plants and covered in Chili powder. I decided to try some and they were excellent. The young man selling them talked to my friend in Swahili as we waited for the rain to stop. Later she told me that he said he asked if I have a boyfriend. She warned me that the men here like women with white skin and that I should say I have am married or engaged when they ask this.
To get back to Machui, we used the local transport, called the Daladala. It is a minibus or a trolley that is packed with as many people as possible. This is definitely one way to get close to the locals – I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have gotten any closer to them. After a harrowing ride during which I held on for dear life, we finally returned to Machui. I think riding in cars around here will probably cure my car sickness. Today I definitely dived in the culture of Zanzibar and am overwhelmed by everything I experienced today.