Thursday, February 16, 2012

A lesson in "Shaking your Tail Feather"

I took a taxi back to Stone Town on Friday morning so I would arrive early enough to meet Afton from the ferry. She was one of the Dar posse I'd been hanging out with the previous week, and my highly accomplished tour guide of Dar to boot, and was to be the first of that group to arrive for the Sauti za Busara music festival that was on this weekend. The festival is a celebration of African music, with artists and dance groups coming from several different countries around Africa, as well as from Tanzania. I had no idea what to expect from it, but the people I'd spoken to who had been before all said it was amazing, so I was looking forward to it.

After dropping our bags at Safari Lodge Hotel - a far smarter looking place than the one I'd been in earlier in the week - we set off to wander the streets while we waited for the next group to arrive. There were to be 8 of us staying at the hotel, but due to work commitments they were coming in at different times, some not arriving until the Saturday morning.

It was fun walking about with someone else, taking photos and trying to be artistic. Afton takes great photos and, because it had been so long since she'd last been to Stone Town, and because I was only just finding my way around, we managed to help each other to not get too lost. I'd learned, however, that even when you have no idea where you are in Stone Town (and that happens quite a lot), you are never far from where you want to be and there is always someone willing able to point you in the right direction.

I should say more about Stone Town at this point, I think. Before I arrived at the start of the week, I was slightly apprehensive, having read about it and been told what a maze of streets it was, and being advised to "just get lost" in the narrow lanes. Now, I often feel at my least comfortable when I have no idea where I am, so was not altogether sure I'd like this strategy, but by the time I left to go to Kendwa earlier in the week, I'd totally come to love Stone Town and the confusion that goes with it, so was looking forward to getting back to it for the festival.

A lot of my apprehension would have been based around the fear that there were thieves and robbers lurking round corners, waiting to pounce and relieve me of anything they could get. Very quickly I realised that, by thinking this, I was doing a massive injustice to the people of Stone Town. Maybe in the big cities on the mainland (Dar and Arusha, for example) this is a more likely scenario - although I have to be fair and say I never once got threatened or robbed in these places either, and quickly learned to relax there too - but in Stone Town it is just plain wrong to think like this. I'm not saying it never happens, I'm just saying every single person I met in my week on Zanzibar and the 5 days in Stone Town was friendly, welcoming and helpful and I had nothing but good experiences there.

However, when one first arrives and begins to walk the streets, it is understandable why some people might be nervous (including myself for a few hours right at the start!). The town is a labyrinth of narrow streets hemmed in by high buildings, making it almost impossible to spot a landmark to aid navigation. You may lean towards the strategy of taking a left then a right, believing this would eventually lead you roughly in a straight line, but you very quickly realise this never happens. Occasionally you pass a poster or graffiti slogan or shop or hotel that you remember passing before, then you pass it again, try a different street and pass it again! Other times, you miraculously find yourself directly where you wanted to go, only to find you have no idea how you did it or how to get back!

There are many locals with small shops, selling food or crafts, and even more folk just sitting in the shade, but all are happy to try and direct you, and some of the youngsters will even take you and show the way. Often they don't even want any money for this, which is a nice change. Up and down these crazy narrow streets ride people on bicycles and scooters, beeping horns and ringing their bells to clear a path and scatter children (or, more usually, clueless tourists). No-one ever seems to get cross or hurt, apart from in the busy market areas where tempers fray amongst the crush of people. Others push barrows loaded with all manner of goods through the streets, making a kissing noise that carries surprisingly well, to alert people in front to move to the side. This sound gets used a lot in Tanzania, not only to move people out of the way, but also to hustle for fares on the bajajh taxis. It is a more friendly sound than a horn, although they get used too!

This may now paint a slightly clearer picture of Stone Town, but still will not have done it justice at all. I was so pleased to find that I liked it though - despite my brave words back in Dar, boldly proclaiming that I'd be fine, I was not absolutely certain I would be, but it has to have been one of my favourite places of the trip.

Anyhow, come midday and Afton and I met the next ferry with its 3 extra members of our group. One more ferry to meet around 6pm and we'd be pretty much all here. By the time we'd got this round of people settled in to the hotel and found some lunch, it was about time to head to the Old Fort, the venue of the festival. However, just as we got settled and the first act was gearing up, I headed off to meet the last ferry of the day. I got to the ferry and found I had about half an hour to wait, so I decided to work out the best route to the hotel. I knew it was very close, and could find it if I followed the ring road the taxis used and then cut in, but guessed there must be an easier way. I went to the taxi drivers waiting by the big Banyan tree and asked. One of them offered to walk me there, and pointed out all the landmarks I could hope to find on the buildings we passed and, sure enough, in two minutes we were there. I'd never have found it on my own, but now I was the group expert on getting back to our digs, fast. It was to be just about the only place I could guarantee to find, and then only if I started at a particular place, but I was happy.

Back at the concert, and myself and the late comers had missed one of the feature acts - a 107 year old woman who sang. Apparently she was superb, and hopefully Afton got some video footage so I may get a taster, but nonetheless, the next acts were good too.

Bright, colourful costumes, lots of percussion and big groups of performers, singing, chanting, stamping, dancing, clearly having the best time. The energy was amazing, the smiles on their faces infectious, and the performances captivating. Its times like these I realise just how inadequate my writing style is to convey the amazing scenes in front of us. I'm not normally big on music gigs unless I know the artist or the songs really well, but I have to say I was never bored for a moment. The fact that any singing done was in Swahili and there for totally incomprehensible to me, made no difference. The rhythms and melodies wrought just by the performers' voices was enough to take me along for the ride, and I wasn't the only one. By the end of the evening, even I was having a bit of a dance to myself - high praise indeed, I think you'll agree!

Eventually we called it a night, and went back to catch some sleep, ready for my last day in Zanzibar, Kara's birthday and another evening of crazy music.

I was up early the next day, finding the heat hard to sleep in, and enjoyed a bit of quiet time on the hotel roof. Other folk gradually emerged, including, eventually, the Birthday Girl. It actually turned out she'd been up nearly as early as me but had gone out to track down some extra accommodation for a couple of extra people who had decided to come over as well. We went out to breakfast at a small cafe, enjoying some fantastic coconut bread and spiced avocado and tomato on toast, before Kara went off to meet the noon ferry and the final members of our increasingly large team.

The group split then, some off to Prison Island to see the large tortoises (technically they're Giant Tortoises, but having seen the Larger Galapagos ones, I feel I have to differentiate. Call it travelers snobbery if you will. That's probably exactly what it is!), others for a shower and a snooze before the evenings revelry, and some for further wanderings in the maze and a bit of shopping. Needless to say, eventually all roads led to the bar, and we reconvened and confirmed evening plans over a well earned cold beer.

The first plan was to see an early act at the festival. They were an incredible group of artists, each with a different physical handicap, but when they played and sang, you would never have guessed. One of the guys who came to dance at the front of the stage had no use of his legs, but was pulling off break-dancing moves and using his hands to chuck his useless limbs around in the same way Fred Astaire might have used a cane, or a Morris Dancer his bells on a stick. It had to be seen to be fully appreciated, but again, the energy and enthusiasm was infectious.

From there, we went to The House of Spices restaurant for a birthday feast of pizza and pasta and wine and beer and vodka shots, before returning to the festival in time to catch probably the act of the weekend, a Nigerian singer called Nneka (you tube her), likened by some to Lauren Hill. Amazing voice, mostly sang in English, powerful messages, very passionate about what she does. Superb performance.

Beers were sought after this, at which point excess alkyhol lead to a more permanent fracturing of the group. Afton and I went in search of some of her other Danish mates, and at some point the rest of the group slipped out to the night club, leaving us behind, half expecting to get a text when/if they left. No text, we figured, must mean they were still here. We went along to the club eventually, but with a door fee to pay and no idea if they were in there or not, we didn't go in, so sadly out evening came to an early end at about 1.30am. As I had to get up at about 7am to pack and get to the ferry by half 8, I wasn't too upset, but it would have been nice to have continued the party a bit longer. No matter, it was a stormer of a night anyway.

As I waited for my ferry in the morning, Kara came out to see me off. Despite what must have been one of the all time great hangovers, she found her way to the port with enough time for us to chat for a bit before I left, talk over the the finer points of the trip, and say cheerio. Whatever other activities I may have engaged in, however much I enjoyed them and however worthwhile they helped make the trip, I can't pretend this holiday was really about anything else for me than getting a chance to hang out with Kara and build the friendship we started back in Canada last August, and we got to do that. Maybe not in exactly the way I might have liked, but I'm glad we got the time we did, and I'm sure we'll catch up again some time. Until then, I had a 49 hour transit time from Zanzibar to NZ ahead of me, and at least 4 months of work before I could get away again. Who knows where to next time? Not I. There are options, as ever: maybe the UK/Sweden to see my new niece/nephew and go to a wedding; or to Brasil to meet my brother as he prepares to leave South America for the next leg of his epic road trip around the world; or some other as yet unspecified location. Money will be the deciding factor, so it's nose to the grindstone once again, driven by the desire to be elsewhere. I hope that whenever and wherever I go, you'll join me in the next version of my blog. I may yet bring forth a final, reflective entry. Until then, check out the photos I've uploaded onto flickr by using the link on this page. I've thoughtfully re-arranged the 3 trips into collections, so you can nose about in whatever takes your fancy. Thanks once again for your company and your feedback. Always nice when I get an e-pat on the back :-)

1 comment:

Ed said...

Consider yourself patted - a great write up, bro. I'm really wishing I can get there too someday. You certainly lucked out with the music festival. Nice one.