Friday, August 8, 2014

Walking Tour of Stone Town -- and Our Zanzibar Wedding Celebrations Begin

The entire Levydicks family has come to Zanzibar to celebrate the marriage of son Sam to Nafisa, who grew up here; her parents are hosting the wedding ceremony as well as a series of parties (there will be a second celebration in DC at the end of the month).  Sam and Nafisa came here straight from the World Cup so that they could spend nearly a month preparing for the wedding; Joe and his girlfriend Avita flew in from New York (by way of Cairo, where their layover was long enough that they got to see the pyramids and tour Cairo); Nancy and I used frequent flyer miles to come by way of Addis Ababa and then Dar es Salaam (I do not recommend long layovers in either airport), from which we caught a short plane ride on a single propeller plane to cross the strait separating Zanzibar from the rest of Tanzania.  Nancy and I are staying in an apartment int eh Victoria Flats in the Vuga neighborhood of Stone Town, the older part of Zanzibar city, the very apartment where Nafisa grew up; her parents recently built a house in the suburban part of Zanzibar city, where many of the gatherings are being held.

We arrived at the Zanzibar airport in the late afternoon, whence we were picked for a first visit to the home of Nafisa’s parents, Mwanaheir and Mohammed.  We dined at Mercury’s restaurant (started by Freddy Mercury of Queen, who was born in Stone Town), a pleasant place which, amazingly considering that it caters to tourists, does not take credit cards (we were told that many places do not and, indeed, that those who do tend to tack on the sort of 5% charge that the credit card companies  forbid in their merchant agreements in the United States).  But we got to sleep pretty early, because it had been a long series of flights with not much sleeping on the planes.

A Walking Tour of Stone Town

Wednesday morning, we had a nice breakfast prepared by a part-time housekeeper who works at the city apartment, then headed out for a walking tour of Stone Town, which Mohammed had arranged through a friend who runs a travel agency.  The houses and shops of Stone Town date only from the early part of the 19th century, though it has the feel of a much older European or Arab community, with narrow streets and alleys.

It wasn’t at all clear to me how people navigate these alleys because I did not see any signs identifying the alleys by name

Our guide, James, led us through several alleys, looking at the carved doorways and wooden doors, many of which were in the Indian style. 

Here is a closer view of one of the signs posted next to that last door:  warning tourists about proper deportment during Ramadan

We saw a number of political posters from the last election (Zanzibar is a semi-autonomous part of Tanzania). 

Zanzibar is now run by a coalition government, but we have heard great worry about the instability that may result from the elections in 2015

Very much in contrast to our experience visiting Morocco a few years ago, here in Zanzibar, which is also overwhelmingly Muslim, other than tourists the women we saw in public invariably covered their heads, and, with few exceptions covered their bodies with formless garb

Although we saw women attired in black, most women took advantage of the full range of colors to wear gorgeous dresses, wraps and head scarves.  Even the black chadors tended to have little sparkly bits sewn into them

Our first significant stop was at an office building for the Anglican church; underneath the building was a pair of stone chambers where slaves were held for the few hours preceding their sale at the nearby slave market.  Zanzibar was a major transhipment point for the Arab slave trade; slaves would be bought in landlocked countries, brought by ship to Zanzibar, and after sale they would to India or to Indian Ocean islands such as Mauritius.

Some thirty to fifty slaves would be placed into each of these dark chambers

The church was built on the site for the former slave market, and the altar was the exact site of a pole where slaves on the market were tied up and whipped, the theory being that a male slave who could withstand a significant whipping was strong enough to warrant a high price. 

Inside the church, due to an error in following the architect’s instructions when he had been called away from the island, some of the pillars were installed upside down.

The interior decoration reflected an unusual combination of English and Middle Eastern influences.

The church was built after the official abolition of the slave trade in Zanzibar (it continued unofficially for several more years), and on the site of the slave market.  At the altar, which was at the spot where slaves were actually chained up while being auctioned, there was a shallow circular depression on the floor denoting the pole, and the mark was surrounded by marble tile with significant sections of red, signifying the flowing blood.

In the church yard there was a memorial for the slaves sold in the market

As we walked away from the church, there was a nice juxtaposition of the church tower with the minaret of a nearby mosque

Next we went to the Darajani market, the main market area of Stone Town

We passed several stands that pressed sugar cane to extract the juice

The market had several specialized areas, including the fish market

the red meat market, where we saw somebody carrying this dripping beef head

the chicken market, where the live chicks or chickens were kept in large baskets

You could have the chickens slaughtered on the spot, or you could carry it home to for slaughtering at home

There was a market for fruits and vegetables

and one for beans

Most of the stalls in the spice market had small packages of single spices

but some were more decorative combinations of spices

Between the spice market and the chicken market we walked through what our guide described as the narrowest alley in Stone Town

Just outside the main market were a few stands selling rambutan, which I had not eaten since visiting Thailand more than fifteen years before; I bought a huge bunch of them.  Interestingly, the local name for this fruit is lychee, but it is not what we know in the US as lychees.

There was a row of carts selling just dates

We passed several streets that seemed to specialize in particular kinds of goods, such as a row of dress stores

Several of the buildings had nice ironwork porches

Other buildings sported wooden porches on the upper floors

Here is an entrance to a mosque

and here a Muslim school

We passed the Old Dispensary, built in the 1890's, with fabulous balconies on the outside

and bridges on the upper floors inside

We stopped for a cool drink at Mercury’s, where we had dined in the dark the night before and thus not appreciated the beauty of the view of the Indian Ocean

then went on to look at the Sultan’s Palace

seen here with the House of Wonders to the right

The palace housed the dynasty of sultans from Oman, which had taken control of Zanzibar in the late 17th century, then moved their capital from Oman to Zanzibar in the early 19th Century.  A fight over succession led to the division of the empire into a sultanate of Zanzibar and a sultanate of Oman; the sultans of Zanzibar  kept control  until they were overthrown shortly after Zanzibar was given its independence by the British (this book by the diplomat in charge of the American embassy at the time is an excellent account of those events)

James led us upstairs 

where we saw the waiting area for VIP’s before they saw the sultan

Visitors of lesser importance waited here

Then the sultans’ living quarters:  bedrooms

and living room

We walked by the House of Wonders, which was built as a ceremonial palace by one of the 19th century sultans.  It was called the House of Wonders because of its grand size — it was the tallest building in Zanzibar, and was the first to have electricity and an elevator.

Currently it houses the museum of Zanzibar, but some of the floors have collapsed in the back and it is currently closed, hopefully for eventual renovation.

We walked through Forodani Park, which hosts a night market where we hope to have the chance to eat before we leave Zanzibar,

to reach the Old Fort, built by the Omanis after they took control of the island to aid in repelling attacks by the Portuguese empire.


Currently the Old Fort hosts musical and other performances in the evening

and galleries or daytime stalls of artists and crafts sellers

For our final stop on the tour, we stopped outside of the home of one of the major slave traders of Zanzibar, Tippu Tip

Before heading off, our excellent guide, James, then walked us across town to a homey buffet located in an obscure alley, where we joined the locals and had lunch for roughly $4.50 apiece.

The Wedding Celebrations Begin
After relaxing for a couple of hours, our hosts the Jiddawis brought us to their new home, where we thought we were going to be “crashing” a henna party.  It turned out that the henna part of the event had been postponed until a later date; but we had the chance to meet a huge crowd of relatives from both sides of the Jiddawi family who had come from all over the world — England and France, throughout the United States, Toronto and Edmonton, Canada, from Dubai and Turkey, from the Comoro Islands near Madagascar where Nafisa’s mother’s family was based – quite a diaspora. 

Each time new people arrived, those present would break out into spontaneous singing and dancing

These folks really know how to party – there was a feast of meat freshly barbecued on skewers, a soup, salads, water and soda but no liquor (many Muslim members iof the family would have been uncomfortable had liquor been served).  But it was like pulling teeth to get people to eat, because the crowd was having too much fun dancing to the music played by DJ’s:  there were a few numbers of western rock and roll (Michael Jackson was a favorite), but most of the dancing was circle dancing or line dancing so that everybody could participate without having a single partner. 

Eventually,  the bride came down in her wedding dress (one of several dresses she’ll be wearing over the course of several separate events, but this one was special because Nancy and her sisters each wore it for their weddings, having received it from their paternal grandmother)

Sam and Nafisa posed with Nafisa’s maternal grandmother

One of the songs played had been written specially for Sam and Nafisa;’s wedding – this is a Comoran tradition.  Some of the other songs to which we danced had been written for previous weddings of other members of the family. 

We were told that nobody could eat until Sam’s family ate, so finally we grabbed plates and then the whole crowd lined up for a delicious meal; then we all went back to dancing for hours more.

Finally, we lined up for a series of family photographs, first the parents with the bride and groom

and then all of Sam’s family as well as those of Mohammed and Mwanaheir’s siblings and their spouses who had reached Zanzibar (more were still to arrive)

It had been a long first day in Zanzibar, and we were ready for bed.

No comments:

Post a Comment