Zanzibar. Few names ring as magical and so full of mystery as Zanzibar. It makes you think of spices, Arabs, sultans, explorers, and all of 1001 Nights thrown into the lot. Noisette and I thought that while we’re living reasonably close, visiting Zanzibar was too good a chance to pass up.
So off we went to this exotic land at the start of the kids’ August term break. There is a direct flight from Johannesburg to Zanzibar on 1Time, if you don’t mind the rather rickety plane (before moving to Africa, I always had pity on those poor people having no other choice but to fly with such outfits as Congo Air, but let me tell you, our plane was not much above that). I’ve already told you about our arrival and visa odyssey, but now I’d like to talk about Zanzibar itself.
As always, reality puts a cold damper on your imagination. What seems incredibly exotic and vibrant and beautiful in your mind invariably suffers from the harsh realities of life, namely poverty, dirt, and a bad smell. Still, I would say that Zanzibar has a very special charm, not so much stemming from its illustrious history (more on that in my post about Stone Town) but from the friendliness of its people.
If there is one phrase that encompasses the people of Zanzibar, or the entire Swahili culture for that matter, it is Hakuna Matata. It means something close to “no worries,” as immortalized in the movie The Lion King, but until now I didn’t know that these words were actually spoken by real people.
You really don’t have to know much Swahili to have a conversation in Zanzibar, which would typically go something like this:
– Jambo (how are you?)
– Sijambo, wewe? (I am well, and you?)
– Sijambo. Hakuna matata
Every encounter ends with Hakuna Matata, and coupled with the brilliant smile most Zanzibaris will offer you, it really starts to seep into your psyche. There is no reason to worry! Life is great! Everything will work out!. Of course it helps when you’re at a 5-star resort with free round-the-clock alcoholic drinks to your heart’s content, but still. Montaigne once said that “The pleasantest things in the world are pleasant thoughts: and the great art of life is to have as many of them as possible.” If anyone has taken this advice to heart, it is the people of Zanzibar, and by extension the rest of Tanzania and Kenya – which we have yet to see – as well. Hakuna Matata goes a long way towards keeping pleasant thoughts in your mind.
Most of Zanzibari life revolves around the sea, coupled with some farming. The freshest fish is always on the menu, and wooden dhows gracefully glide along the coastline all day long. They are built today just as they have been built for hundreds of years and there are several dhow making centers along the Zanzibar coast where you can observe the skilled craftsmen at work on these ships.
We all loved Zanzibar, and even though our kids would argue that we could have done without the trip to Stone Town, I think that it was important for them to see such a different world and I hope it will leave an impression somewhere in the recesses of their minds.
More on Zanzibar:
- Travelling in Africa: Of Visas and Yellow Fever Certificates
- Stone Town
- Relaxing at La Gemma dell’ Est