Zanzibar is a place that had built up in my own personal mythology since childhood, full of interesting tales and culture, somewhere I desperately wanted to go. Even the word 'Zanzibar' is beautiful. I finally was able to visit for a friends wedding some years ago. I was to be one of her bridesmaids. She picked me up from the airport, a tiny airport, where I had flown in on an even tinier plane. 12 seater maybe? I sat next to the pilot, photographing the land below and wondering where on the island I would be staying. It had been a long haul, with many hours in Dubai Airport, many hours in Addis Abbiba Airport, in the mountains in Ethiopia, before a mad dash through Dar Es Salaam Airport in Tanzania to get on that tiny plane. Somehow, amazingly, my luggage made it the whole way too (something that hasn't always been the case).
Driving along the dusty roads, I found myself in a place that was somewhere both of Africa, and of the Gulf and some other place. I could see the traditional costume of Omani men, with their dish dasha (white dress) and their embroidered hats but I knew this was Africa. There were Maasai warrior guards at the hotel gates, and there women in brightly coloured African dresses. The architecture too, showed diverse influence. There were coats, hauled by tired and not so happy donkeys, men on bicycles carrying a whole truckload of goods in their panniers and on every spare surface, little trucks and plenty of tooting.
Zanzibar was once part of the Portugese Empire, after Vasco de Gama landed in 1948. Before then, and since then the trade through Zanzibar has brought Indian, Persian, Arabic, even Indonesian, Malaysian and Chinese merchants. Each surely bringing there own influence. In the architecture, in the dress, the food, cultural traditions, and even craft traditions.
As we drove to my friends house, we passed a small mosque, right on prayer time, and the call of the Azaan, though differently intoned, with the African accent, was as familiar as it had been in the Arabian Gulf. A marker of the day, that many who have lived in Islamic cultures grow to love, irrespective of their religion (or lack of in my case).
There were chickens scavenging through the rubbish --- there was a lot of rubbish -- and there were kids roaming around. The houses and the back laneways that lead off the main streets where haphazardly located and not always following a clear path.
My friends house was facing the beach, in a row with other houses, all lined up along the shore, with their own night guards and often rented by westerners. In their garden, there was a long pathway leading down to the sand. An old wrought iron gate and a stone wall with railings separated the sand from the garden. And there, at the other side of the gate was a cow! It was staring at me. I was definitely in the right place, this was Zanzibar alright!!
All along the beach there were dhous of all sizes, small fishing dhou's, some with outrigger, and the larger ocean going boats like the trading dhou that still sail all around the indian ocean.
The dhou itself has an incredible history. Just watch Michael Palin'..(Pole to Pole? I think), and you get an inkling. But that's another story (and maybe some paintings??), and we are focussed on Zanzibar right now.
The beach was a hive of activity at different times of day. I got the sense that the 9-5 was not a normal day in Zanzibar, that people kept their own schedules, that were influenced by culture, the weather, the tourist trade and who knows what else.
It makes sense that the ocean and the shore, and the trade in Zanzibar should be a big part of life as it has been for hundreds of years. This age old story of Zanzibar is why Stone Town is World Heritage listed. I am not the only one enamoured with it's story and it's beauty.
I expect that these stories and influences will make their way into my paintings at some stage but for now, I am content to revisit my photos, research about the place, and write.
So, stay tuned for more on Zanzibar...in another blog post down the track. But for now, enjoy some photos.