‘cross Waters from Dar and Strange Men in Cars — Zanzibar: The Tanzania Chronicles #6

A picture overlooking Dar es Salaam from the Accomondia hotel window
While I can draw SOME parallels between Toronto and Dar es Salaam, the view is NOT one of them…

So we woke up in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s largest city — a fate it shares with Toronto in that it’s the largest, but not its country’s capital city. Dar es Salaam had cultural undertones that gave the city a bit of an edge to it after dark — like the fact that you wouldn’t see any women in public at night — set against a backdrop of heavy rain that just made the city feel even more ominous.

But we wouldn’t be there long — after washing up and a taxi ride, we’d find ourselves on the shoreline, approaching the ferry docks to get to Zanzibar. But when we arrived at the docks, the eagerness of the random men who: wished to take our bags and escort us to the door of the ferry station; or those looking to sell us “discount ferry tickets” (lie) for faster travel times (lie) and cheaper first class seats (lie) was only a sampling of how desperate Tanzania is as a nation. Obviously, we quickly grabbed our bags and carried them to the ticket office ourselves, keeping a firm eye on them all the way there.

Getting across the waters to Zanzibar will set you back $35 US a head if you sail Economy class — but a quick eyeballing of the prices showed me that First Class tickets were $40 — the best $5 investment I’d ever made in my life!

Remember that Tanzania’s the third-poorest country in Africa. Everywhere you turn is someone trying to make a quick so so that they’re even a little better off than they were the day before — the ferry was no exception.

You get your bags stowed away by suspicious-looking workers, they don’t give it back to you until you pay some more (fortunately someone waved us along and we kept our bags in sight the whole trip) — you need to constantly be on top of things.

But First Class was amazing — while Economy saw 90% of the passengers crammed into a dark interior room at the base of the boat with stale air, First Class had both an air-conditioned interior room on the second deck and an open-air viewing area on the top. The two-hour travel to Zanzibar was very forgiving with a good dose of fresh air.

The top deck of the ferry we rode to Zanzibar
Open concept sea travel.

After our jaunt on the ferry, we made our way through even more immigration (despite the fact that we didn’t change countries), and had to once again figure out which taxi drivers were on the level, and which ones wouldn’t hesitate to drive us to a shady part of town (which were in no short supply) and relieve us of our worldly possessions.

We eventually haggled one guy down to a semi-fair price and found ourselves (after one worrisome patch on some back roads) at our destination — Imani Beach Villa.

Imani Beach Villa in Bububu, Zanzibar
Imani Beach Villa — despite it being on Fuji Beach in Bububu, if you’re not a beach person, this is the place for you!

One of the first things you do when returning “home” from a long travel is check out where you’ll be sleeping, and as for beds, Imani wouldn’t disappoint!

With a ridiculously large bed (which was, in fact, two double beds put together), Sarah would later say that she would sometimes have to roll over five times at night to find me (I’m an edge-sleeper)!

That’s quite the bed! But the bed has nothing to do with the adventure, so let’s move on!

While in Imani, we’d meet some interesting people, such as:

  • A couple of dudes who had just come from their Kilimanjaro climb, explaining how difficult it had been. This started to get Sarah a little anxious, and started making me wonder why I’d agreed to this!
  • ‘Asta Bowen: ‘Asta Bowen is an author and teacher from the US who was popularized for writing a book on huckleberries. We caught her in the middle of a year of travelling and shared some good stories!

Zanzibar is quite the interesting place. To the north, you have beautiful beaches with white sand and sparkling blue waters. To the east? Coral reefs that you can explore just off the coast of the island. But as for the rest of the island….

Stone Town

This trip was one of the few times during the trip where Conflict-Ready Casey had to come out to play.

Sarah — who finds it impossible to sit still — decided that she wanted to see Stone Town, one of the most historical — and most desolate — parts of Zanzibar.

Simon advised us to take a taxi to the market and make our way through Stone Town to reach Forodhani Gardens, the beach area where all the tourist attractions are.

THIS WAS BAD ADVICE.

Let’s take a look at a map of Stone Town, shall we?

A map of Stone Town indicating the points of interest for my story
It looks so easy to navigate from space! Source: http://www.expertafrica.com/area_map/Stone_Town.htm
  1. is where we were dropped off, right outside of the markets
  2. is Forodhani Gardens, where we want to go
  3. is Stone Town, where we needed to cross to get to Forodhani Gardens

In somewhere like New York or Toronto, with straight and clearly marked streets, this would have been no problem. But this was not New York or Toronto. In Stone Town, most of the roads are tiny back alleys with buildings stretching 30-40 feet above you. In short, if you’re claustrophobic, this is not the place you want to be!

Conflict-Ready Casey briskly walked with Sarah through all of this, warily eyeing everyone who eyed them back as they darted from alley to alley, trying to keep an eye on their direction of travel so they would end up endlessly lost or in a dead-end.

A sketch of what I look like when I'm ready to get into conflict?
Wanna mug me? Wanna steal my luggage? Wanna mess with me? I wouldn’t even TRY it.

After 15-20 minutes of trying to find a way through this madness, they eventually emerged on the other side near Forodhani Gardens and came across a pair of tourists trying to find their way on a map. I walked up to them and in my best Canadian accent possible said:

“Mind if we share your map?”

And so, that’s how we eventually found our way to Forodhani Gardens. (Don’t even get me started on the precautions we took every time we needed to exchange cash at Forodhani Gardens! Oh man. Next time, all money in advance.)

After our Stone Town escapade, we finally reached Forodhani Gardens and checked out a few things along the beach:

  •  the House of Wonders (the Wonders weren’t all that wonderful, in my opinion)
  •  the Palace Museum (see: House of Wonders)
  • Mercury’s (a very touristy restaurant with touristy — read: not amazing — food), where the only interesting thing was this item on the menu:

    The Toronto Tumbler — a drink on the menu for Mercury's in Zanzibar
    I really should’ve asked them HOW this cocktail got its name!

Finding a taxi back to Imani, as usual, was another adventure in itself — with guys trying to usher us into unmarked taxi cards and trying to offer Sarah “extra-special prices” (of 5,000 Tanzanian shillings extra), we eventually got them to cut the crap and found our way back.

The Adventure to Kendwa

Another thing that Sarah wanted to see were the beaches on the north end of the island, knowing their reputation for being utterly beautiful.

While she wouldn’t be disappointed, getting there wasn’t going to be easy. Getting a ride worked out pretty well, with our bartender offering to take u there and show us around for a reasonable sum. But the drive there wouldn’t be without complications, such as:

  • the fact that many gas stations cut their gasoline (or “petrol”) with water, which is a not-so-slow death for a car engine, causing numerous stalls when you’re trying to get anywhere
  • the sheer number of police checkpoints littered across the main roads; I was told that if I was asked any questions to introduce myself as a relative and to inform the cops that we were “going to see family”

We would eventually make it, and when we did, we were welcomed by sights like this:

A shot of the white sands and unbelievably blue waters of Kendwa Beach
You need to see this to believe it!

With some time spent on the beach and some mediocre food eaten at the beachfront restaurant, we headed out to get Haji back to work for his evening shift and call the Zanzibar leg of the trip a wrap!

One more sleep and we’d be heading to Arusha, where the Kilimanjaro chapter of the trip begins!!!

–case p.

Skill Sets: You’re Doing it Wrong

From talking to a lot of my friends, I find that many people waste their free time. There’s so much out there to distract us — television, “news” (think about how much of your newspaper is taken up by ads and information that has no effect on your life whatsoever), entertainment — but these are all designed to dull the senses; to let us forget that we’re not using most of our time to do what we actually want to be doing.

Usually, we simply accept our lots in life — we accept the jobs that we have and rarely consider a different life. We usually keep the same social circles, habits and routines, rarely breaking away from them to flirt with reinventing ourselves.

And if you’re doing that, you’re doing yourself an injustice.

Some of the things I’ve always liked doing are drawing, sorting information and coming up with cool ways to communicate information. So when Niya told me about the Toronto Service Design Jam, I thought it would be a cool weekend to firm up my design chops and maybe learn how to take my infographics game up a few notches.

But what I learned was something else altogether.

So the entire idea behind the weekend was to take the tools that they’d shown us and use them to create ideas on a specific theme that would help to solve problems in the environment around us.

We worked hard, we had lots of ideas — but when it came to communicating our idea, there were other groups that kicked our team’s ass.

A live-yarning presentation showing how different community members are connected in a neighbourhood.
While the presentation was interesting, we got all "tied up" in the idea and didn't have enough of a deliverable to put forward...

Seeing the other groups present was quite the experience — I could complain about the nature of our groups and winding up working with far less resources than the other groups; the fact that I don’t work too well in groups where you have to actually rely on one another to produce a completed product; or perhaps the fact that whenever we got advice and critiques from our mentors that it threw me completely for a loop, immobilizing my thought process and forcing me to re-think about everything I was doing… really, it all comes down to one simple truth:

I didn’t know what the hell I was doing.

Coming from someone who’s used to being good at what he does, this was a very humbling yet frustrating experience. I wanted to be as good as the people I saw with polished presentations. I wanted to have an idea that would change the world. But all I felt from the judges is that we hadn’t gone far enough.

Why didn’t we go farther? Why were our ideas all over the place? I don’t really get what you’re going for….

It left me feeling a bit dejected after, but it also reminded me that we’re not always meant to swim upstream and fight against our strengths.

I learned a lot about presentations outside of the formal and conservative style that I’ve grown used to — how to really get into the details of mocking services up — how to really draw someone in to your idea if you were pitching something like a startup or seeking funding for something.

You can get an idea of what we wound up creating here:

IMG_3141

…or at our Global Service Jam page for Neighbourhood Social.

but I think next time, I’m going to take another look at firming up the skills I already have.

–case p.