It's a creekmore world

Africa Day 18: Exploring the markets and street food of Stonetown, Zanzibar

Our goals for today are modest by adventure standards.  We want to see a museum, score some souvenir loot and eat some food at the night market.  It feels like a ‘day off’ because we can eat breakfast late and come back for a nap in mid-afternoon.

At first the windy streets seem complicated, but there are really only a few main ones, and before long you’ll hit one landmark or another.

I ask someone where the Slave museum is and he tells me to take a left at the ‘big tree’.    Did he really just tell me to take a left at the tree?  His directions work well enough.

The ‘slave chambers’ museum is a small room that was used to store slaves before they were sold at market.  Stonetown saw hundreds of thousands of slaves sold mostly to the Arab and Persian world.  It’s not really a museum even, just a room.  One has to use some imagination.

Toward the city museum, we stumble on a cool junk shop.  There is lots of stuff that I might like here but nothing There are some nice dresses, but none fit quite right, so we continue on.

The girls like to shop, imagine that.  Zanzibar has good textiles and affordable but not bargain prices.  There isn’t as much haggling as there was in, say, Marrakesh or Beijing.  They seem mostly to offer a 10% discount from the original price and are willing to let us walk away without a sale if we don’t buy it.

A few stores are genuinely special boutique quality stuff.  Lily buys an adorable pair of parachute pants from a kids store called ‘Udupi means love’, which is quite well known across Tanzania.  We also got our nephew/cousin, Bodhi, something for the fall.  Trish finds an expensive place, and fits sexily into a few beautiful dresses with nice beadwork on the shoulder straps.  It looks modern and vaguely African.

The city museum is one of those goofy places that is as interesting for its empty halls and stacks of rubble as it is for anything you see.  It’s so poorly developed and curated that it takes no more than 30 minutes to see the rooms.  Of interest is an ornate door and a ship in the middle of the central courtyard.

Throngs of kids in head scarves and uniforms come bounding down the stairs engulfing us.  Every kid in Zanzibar from every madrasah must go here once or twice on a school field trip.

‘What do you think will happen with the Supreme Court’s decision on Obama’s health care?’ asks an older man manning the cash register at the museum gift shop.  We get a lot of ‘Obama!’ with two thumbs up and a big grin, but this isn’t a question I ever expected to get.

Obama’s record in Africa is mixed.  Obviously as an African-American, he gets a lot of support.  But he hasn’t fulfilled a lot of the expectations of making Africa more central in his foreign policy.  In fact, aid to Africa has dropped quite a bit since Bush’s massive HIV prevention budgets increased sub-Saharan africa’s aid by four times what it was when Clinton left.

We chat for a bit and the shopkeeper gives me a good place nearby to eat lunch.   On the way back to the hotel, the girls do a little more shopping for these cute beaded, leather sandals.

Trisha and I look in an art shop for some drawings.  There are some nice pencil drawings of the famous wooden doors in Zanzibar.  Many buildings have carved, ornate doors.  The Square ones are of Arabic origin, the pointed ones are Indian.

I want to do four-up in a larger carved frame, and he exclaims ‘Four!  I have never had that idea.  Thank you for that idea!  It will bring me more business.  Thank you for that idea.”  I can only assume he is sincere.  He claims to be the artist.  Four pictures and a mahogany frame are about 90 bucks.

As we walk back to the hotel, I think that I probably could have haggled for a little less.  But it’s not worth it, right?  Isn’t it strange how we spend thousands on a vacation and then haggle over nickels and cents?  We nap and then take in the sunset on the roof.

One of the highlights of Stone town is the night market for food.  Every day, a few dozen tables of food are attractively displayed for purchase.  Mostly there is grilled fish of various types, breads, some meats and chicken and a few other items like samosas, French fries and a few salads.

It has a reputation is for inexpensive great food and I was pretty excited.  Up close, it wasn’t impresive.   The fish looked dry.  It’s pre-grilled, and then grilled again to heat it up once you order it which makes it dryer.

Most of the skewers look the same – even though they said it was about 6-7 different kinds of fish. ‘Tuna, Kingfish, snapper, Mahi Mahi, swordfish, Shark, and grouper’ the first guy explains.  There is no way you can get snapper to hold its form on a skewer like that.

And it wasn’t cheap at all, about 5$ for a small skewer of fish.  Not surprisingly, it was terrible.  And the haggling and selling is constant, which is annoying.  There is a lot of pushing and grabbing to get me to buy more dry mystery fish.

(I also realized on the second night we went that they probably keep the same fish skewers each day.  There is no way they sold all the fish they had laid out in one night.  Some of it had to be re-used each day)

Instead, I look for ‘locals’, to see if I can tell what they are eating.  Several are around one stand that doesn’t sell fish.  Lily and I order a bunch of beef and chicken, samosas and chapatti, naan.

It’s incredibly cheap, and I think it’s probably Halal, but that’s just a guess.  And it’s really tasty.  The beef is tender, the chicken savory.  Lily loved the samosa, and Emma the chapati.

We don’t get to be very adventurous eating on our travels.  A sick member of the family can ruin many days of carefully planned activities so we stay conservative.  And the girls, even Trish, have limited palates for adventure eating.

Trish has been drinking a lot of water, and taking a lot of advil.  Her back hurts, her bladder is always full and she’s getting weird cravings too, like for ice cream which we buy again at the little open ‘café’ near the food mart.  She’s feeling pretty badly still.  I hope it gets better.

Emma, after losing a wrestling match with Lily yesterday, wants to prove her strength.  To the amusement of the locals,  she carries Lily to and from dinner which is about a half mile from our hotel.

At night, I walk around with the flashlight in our room.  I’m always the last up and the first awake.  In the bathroom, I look at myself in the mirror and realize that I must do a tutu pic in the dark.  It takes a while, but eventually, just a few feet from my sleeping wife the auto-timer goes off, and I’m in the right place with the right exposure in the dark.  Voila, another beautiful ballerina.