Zanzibar

by zunguzungu

We flew to Zanzibar in the company of two other mzungu and an mtanzania who was polite but seemed a little overwhelmed by our collective whiteness. The two other wazungu (one german, one irish) however, were less overwhelmed. The German kept noting how identical everything looked to the things she had seen in in Georgia (the former Soviet republic), and while I suppose, in a sense, the absence of things Western does tend to look similar, but if Zanzibar resembles Georgia more than superficially, I’ll cross the ocean and count all the cats in it. It was of course not even ironic that the two were analysts for, respectively, the World Bank and the IMF.
On arriving, we were texted by Haj, a friend of Liz’s, who told us to take a daladala to a coastal beach called Paje to meet him, so after splitting a cab with our intrepid analysts, we set forth to find one. A daladala is a little minibus that most people use to get around; there are no schedules and there’s just one fare (usually about 20 cents, though this one was a longer distance so it would be four dollars for the both of us), so they usually wait until they’re pretty much full until leaving.  And by full, I mean full–not only every available seat but every available cubic foot will be filled with a human being (which, by the way, causes you to lose most inhibitions about human contact and think nothing of being draped over some stranger and having another stranger draped over you). So, after Liz wowed the locals with her swahili, we found a daladala that was indeed going to Paje. And they even gave us the front seat. And then we waited.
In retrospect, it is clear that taking a daladala instead of our other option was a mistake. But the other option, the buses that go from hotel to hotel and then off to the beaches, serving tourists exclusively for the mindboggling price of six dollars, we had rejected out of hand. Instead, we would take a daladala like everyone else, save some money, and rub elbows (and everything else) with the wazanzibari. But the thing about the wazanzibari is that going from Stonetown to Paje is a trip of a day, and we wazungu had wazungu expectations. We expected to get there now. A trip of an hour should take us an hour.  Seems reasonable, right?
Instead, it quickly became apparent that the daladala was not going to get us to Paje anytime soon.  We first waited for about an hour before departing, gradually becoming more and more irritable, despite the aid of some guys who ran to buy whatever we wanted (yummy peanut butter bars and nuts of different types). And then, after we had been going for a while (though slowed by the daladala’s habit of picking up baskets, industrial sheeting, bicycles, and other such things that needed to be transported), we discovered to our horror that we were headed back to the place we had started.  On interrogating our driver, it transpired that we would go to Paje “soon.”  After waiting for about another hour, it transpired both that the man had been lying and that he had disappeared. And so we waited.  And waited. And waited.
We eventually did get there (after two tire punctures and an education in how fast Tanzanians can change a tire), of course, but we didn’t get there when we wanted to get there.  We got there when they wanted to take us there.  And that’s sort of how things work out.  The original driver (who we now realized we should not have paid in advance) wasn’t going to leave quickly, but he needed to make sure that we didn’t leave and choose another mode of transportation.  So he took our money, fed us sweet lies, and then (once we had realized the game was up) vanished, to be replaced by another driver who was shocked (shocked!) to find that we had given money to that rapscallion.  That liar was no part of our company, he proclaimed, but–with a nobility one so rarely finds these days–he gallantly volunteered to take us to Paje for free.  We’d just have to wait a little first.
The moral, I think, is not to pay upfront and that you get what you pay for.  I’ll have more on this later, but it is interesting to me that we chose to take a daladala, chose to take the kijiji form of travel, but sort of recoiled from the reality of that (or were insufficiently willing to deal with what it entailed).

PS — As some of you may have deduced, this blog is about two weeks behind my present position.  I’m actually in Arusha now, about to meet with Prosper of the Shinda school, and all seems really good on that front, but I want to maintain some sense of chronological consistency, now that I have more stable internet access, so I’ll take this one day at a time. The blog is sort of meta- now, isn’t it?