the wazungu exchange rate
Once we got to Jambiani, our ultimate destination, I discovered that Zanzibar is a real place. Last time I had been here, I had stayed in Stone town, the main city on the island and a pretty amazing place (any 600 year old city whose basic street pattern has remained stable is an interesting place to see) and we walked around there a bit too, but Stonetown is uber touristy and its once you get out into the country that you start to see how different Zanzibar is from the rest of the country. Firstly, the motorcycle riders wear helmets; this may seem like a small thing, but I’ve never seen a mainland (bara) Tanzanian wear any kind of protective headgear at all, and traffic is mighty hairy. “Hamna Shida” (No problems) is what the Tanzanians say, and by gosh, if they don’t mean exactly that. But on Zanzibar, people seem to have their stuff together: the roads are paved, the motorists stop for pedestrians, the houses and streets look maintained. So while this isn’t really the most in-depth analysis of the island, even on such a superficial drive-by basis, you could just tell that those islanders are buttoned on a little tighter than in the bara. (historical snapshot: Zanzibar used to be a different country than Tanganyika, and when they united they became TZ; some Zanzibaris are still sore about that, and a lot of TZ folk talk about Z like it’s another planet)
And trying to get the cheapie, “I’m a wazungu but I speak swahili” rate? Forget about it. Whereas the Tanzanian airport people seemed to schedule flights around when they were having tea, the Zanzibar immigration people at the ferry port (which is how we got back) gave Liz total hell; if she didn’t have a friend who used to work there, there’s no way she’d have gotten a resident rate. And it seemed like she might have gotten thrown in jail whilke she was at it for doing research on a tourist visa. (I wanted none of it; “Excuse me? Do you speak English?” I said, “English?,” looking lost and helpless and rich). And then once we were in Jambiani, we discovered that, like a casino or a nineteenth century coal camp, they’ve figured out ways to make sure that every dollar you spend ends up where it should, and that you spend more than you intended. After paying real money (~$6) to get food in the beachside places, Liz and I decided to venture out into the kijiji to try to find local, cheap food. After first being told to head to the starfish, we discovered that it wasn’t very local and that it wasn’t very cheap ($5.50). Please, said we, can you send us to find chakula cha kinyeji? So our host nobly took us to another place, the “Equinox,” which was sort of like an open air bar with some cooking gear lying around, smack in the middle of the village with rastas being rasta everywhere, and we eventually (by this time quite tired) consented to pay $5 for the most gristly fish I’ve ever seen, over rice. Bearing in mind that you can get a full meal in Lushoto for like $0.50, we were somewhat disheartened. We had an interesting conversation with the lone proprietor though; the guy, maybe 22, who did everything in the entire place, told us he had aspirations to be a cook (that was his true calling) and was so earnest about it that we really tried to choke down enough of the fish to make it look like we weren’t totally horrified. But Liz, at some point, started asking him (and some of his rasta friends who were sitting around smoking) what he thought about all the tourists and foreigners who were moving here and buying up property. After some misunderstanding (and we were made to realize that you cannot “buy” but only lease land in Tanzania, if you are not a citizen) it became clear that they didn’t really accept or agree with the basis of Liz’s question. Whereas we were sort of down on the whole Wazungu buying land in Africa and owning businesses instead of the locals thing, like the good leftists that we are, they were sort of non-comprehending of the idea that you would ever, for any reason, *not* welcome someone. Of course they are welcome to come here, they said, why wouldn’t they be? Food for thought, I suppose, which was at least something he was good at cooking up.
After we left, we again tried to find something good for cheap (like, it is worth noting, the property buying westerners we were being critical of in the Equinox) by finding a woman who sold juice, and when we were there, we noticed some men threshing beans (itself something you almost never see in the bara) and Liz realized we might be on to something. “Boy!” she said in swahili, “Gosh if we wouldn’t love to eat some beans with you tomorrow.” The mama was hip, so we made an appointment to return on the morrow and eat beans and octopus, passing over around 2 dollars in shillings. After a night of wondering if maybe we weren’t taking advantage of these lovely people, if maybe we shouldn’t give them a little extra money (and deciding that, yes, we probably should give them another dollar or two) we returned and had the most outstanding beans and octopus I’ve ever had. I do not exaggerate when I say it melted in your mouth, and even Liz, who has never liked octopus (wajehudi dietary prescriptions), dug in. As we were getting ready to leave, our lovely simple people thanked us, welcomed us to come again, and asked for 5,000 more shillings.
People of Zanzibar: 1, Wazungu: 0. Not that we spent very much money in the end, really, but the buying power of the dollar here gets to you, and you start thinking differently, start expecting to pay out peanuts for wonderful stuff. And, believe me, anyplace you could pay 6 dollars for that meal of octopus and beans in the states would be a restaurant to come to every single day. But that seems like its part of the wazungu experience. I’m trying to be a little more hamna shida and not grouse *too* much when I have to pay over a dollar for a meal, poor pitiful me.