I guess my reasons for coming to Zanzibar were the Sauti za Busara music festival, the beach and the historical Stone Town. I spent about fifty minutes watching the festival, only laid my foot on the beach on my fourth day and didn’t go into one historical building. I’m a talented traveler.
I slept in the home of one of the warmest families I have ever met – who made me feel as at home as a Jewish white girl could ever feel in a the home of people who grow chickens, drink avocado juice and wear hijabs. I spent one night in the touristy Zanzibar (that is, tanning on the beach by day and partying at night) but when I came back to my original dwelling, they greeted me with a smile, and I sighed and said “nyumbani” (home in Swahili).
Zanzibar is 98% Muslim. I was told not to advertise my being Israeli, so I bought a new shirt (all the ones I had were covered in Hebrew) but still, somehow, strangers on the street said “shalom shalom” and “sababa” when I passed. Maybe because I was a girl in sandals who despite walking alone and being white acted like she owns the island.
The beach was stunning – that same turquoise water that you see in magazine ads and are sure is not real. The sand is white and pure. Rickety fishing boats dot the ocean and girls in many layers carry large buckets on their heads. It could have been the most relaxing time of my life if not for the “beach boys.” The beaches are smothered in local boys who have nothing better to do than say “Jambo! How are you? Where are you from?” and walk alongside you. It’s tolerable once, but not when it’s every second, when they inevitably try to sell you something or offer you something, want to know where you’re staying and where your boyfriend is, and keep coming back. It made me hate the word Jambo and refuse to talk to anyone (after falling for it the first time).
I did have fun, too. I met Germans and Australians and Americans and Japanese (and even my Chilean friends from Serengeti and Swedish friends from Kenya), I partied and heard good live music. I swam in the Indian ocean.
I tasted more fruits than I knew existed (jackfuits? uboyo?) and had spicy tea and coffee, I made coconut milk and toured a spice farm, I negotiated my way into half the price of most things, I tasted the local bread, little cookie-cake things and rode in dalla-dallas (a miniature cross between a bus and a cattle truck, in which over twenty people squeeze together, facing each other, and at least one person hangs from the outside. You’re sure you’re going to die in an accident or by being squeezed to death, but it’s about 70 times cheaper than a taxi and kind of fun). I got the stories behind the stories.
My budget, lack of a travel buddy and funny habit of meeting nice and hospitable people led me to have a bizarre Zanzibar experience. But I still have money in my pocket and am completely sunburned. Great success.