A few summers ago, I flew to Tanzania to visit a friend stationed in Arusha to get experience for her social work degree. This is the second of two posts about this adventure.
Bethany and I left Moshi to head toward Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar Island. One of her social worker friends back in Arusha had arranged for his friend Alex to meet us at the bus stop and help us around the largest city in Tanzania. For this, we were much appreciative; Arusha and Dar es Salaam were like night and day. Arusha was smaller, had a cooler climate and was Christian in culture, while Dar was giant, very hot and was a largely Islamic city, presenting a culture that neither of us had experienced before. While we were welcomed into the city, there were rules, and we were – I felt – much more accepted with a male presence.
We spent the day with Alex as he guided us through his city, from his university to government buildings (and a United Nations building guarded by a guy with a rifle) to a shop where I could buy a scarf to cover my bare shoulders without getting ripped off. (My shirt, I realized within minutes of arriving into the city, was not modest enough.) Exhausted after a day of walking, Bethany and I made our way back to the hotel room he’d reserved for us, excited to have a shower (and disappointed that it didn’t have hot water). Our itinerary for the next day was Zanzibar Island.
Zanzibar Island is known its spices, which are grown on Zanzibar and its surrounding islands. It’s also known for Stone Town, its main city with labyrinth-like passageways between 200 year-old coral stone buildings. We wandered through the city for quite some time, but I failed to get a photograph of the view. My best shot, above, taken from a return trip from an island jaunt. As far as spices go, while I bought a few chintzy gift packs to give away back home, I did not take any photos.
I did, however, take pictures of food. Upon our arrival to the island (after we went through a sort of customs; Zanzibar used to be its own country, so we had to get our passports stamped and let the government know exactly where we intended to be) we came across a busy, almost western-style restaurant. I ordered something with chicken and plantains and remember being slightly surprised that the fruit had the consistency of potatoes and that the chicken resembled, well, a real chicken. With bone, gristle, skin and a feather or two attached, and this dish made for awkward eating. My surprise, of course, was a sign that we are too far removed from our food system in the west, but I suppose that that’s another story.
It wasn’t long until Bethany and I were on a dala dala to the east coast of the island, where the beaches and resorts lure tourists. And for good reason. This, friends, was the view from our ocean-side bungalow. Our $30 a night ocean-side bungalow. We ended up at a cheap resort that had six other people and a staff of two (who acted as bellhops, concierge, chefs, and bartenders).
The “restaurant” at the resort offered a wide variety of foods, but when Bethany and I tried to order two different meals, we were informed that it would be better if we ordered the same thing, and that our meals would be ready in an hour or so. So chicken curry for two, it was. Without freezers and distributors to offer short cuts such as pre-packaged boneless chicken breasts, everything we ate was most certainly made from scratch. It’s a miracle, perhaps, that it only took an hour to get the food to us. (We wandered around the resort until it was ready.)
The most memorable part of the meal was not the food, but the company. A mother cat and her two kittens were very interested in our meal, and spent quite some time begging for pieces of chicken and rice. And it worked, though we were a bit disappointed that Mama Kitty ate the food herself instead of giving it to her offspring. Perhaps it was for nursing?
Mama Kitty had competition, too. A rooster was also at the table, begging for scraps. Quite a sight it was, seeing a rooster and a cat compete for chicken meat. All in all, we were all well-fed. Bethany and I even ate some of the food ourselves.
The hotel staff, it turned out, were hakuna matata Rastafarian-types, who were likely under the influence of one of the islands herbs and spices for the majority of the time we were there. They had a talent for turning an empty bar into a night club; all eight guests ended up dancing (though I looked ridiculous next to the Germans) and drinking strange cocktails (one with Hershey’s syrup) far into the night. We were never charged for drinks, so – foolish or not – we demanded to pay for them as we checked out of the bar. (Who knows? Perhaps they were included in our $30 stay?)
As we took the bus back to Arusha, we passed by real life. Most people in Tanzania do not ever get a chance to make it over to Zanzibar Island; the two-hour ferry ride costs around US $40 one-way and it’s just unaffordable. Truth be told, like a Lutheran in a Garrison Keillor story, I felt much more comfortable when I was out of “paradise” and back in a world with a little more stress and maybe just a little more purpose. I’m strange like that; “no worries” kind of freaks me out.