Stone Town’s Street Market and Spice Tour

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Boys are splashing into the bay, running in out of nowhere, more every minute. The older ones are lined up on built-up brick walks of Forodhani Gardens, running and jumping off the edge and into the water in dare devil stunts. An old man in a long white robe and prayer cap stands in silence amidst the chaos, with one foot up on the edge of the brick walkway, watching the sunset. Kids are crawling over and under a small playground that was completely deserted just hours ago. Muslim women stroll in colorful head scarves and high heels, texting and chattering with their friends. Boats bump over the small waves and a wooden dhow with its sail up crosses the burning-orange ball of sun. Suddenly, the stiflingly hot daytime park is cooling and becoming Stone Town’s social center. The grass is green and trimmed, trash free and comfortable to walk across. As we walk toward the central plaza of the gardens, I can smell popcorn popping at our favorite snack shop, the one we go to every day. The one where one of our waiters introduced himself as Mr. Super Handsome and introduced the other waiter as Mr. Lova Lova.
“You know, like the song?” he said.
We pass them and say hello.
In the plaza food vendors are setting up for the nightly street market. We wander through to see the selections: pizza, dessert pizza, fresh juice, beef, various fish, naan, chapatti, corn, salad. I can smell the beef grilling, and I am wishing there were park markets like this in the States. Right in front us pizza dough is being rolled out, meat is being grilled, a man is running thick stalks of sugar cane through a hand-powered press to make juice. And, for once, somewhere in Africa smells good. We order and twilight falls quickly. After we finish our dinner and juice we wander through the other stalls, checking out the dessert selections. We settle on pizza with banana, coconut, and Nutella. The men cooking work quickly, their hands flying in the light cast by a kerosene lantern. The noise and chatter around me falls away as I start to speak to them in Swahili. It is fun, but I am concentrating. Genuine laughter fills the space between their questions and my broken answers. It’s the same laughter that all the Africans we’ve met can emit; it’s the only kind here. Orders before ours are handed out, money is paid, and finally our delicious dessert is ready.
“Lala fofofo,” I tell the two men as we walk away. Sleep like a dead person.
This one guarantees a laugh.
The next day we leave the hotel at 9a.m…well almost. Our spice tour guide is running late (no big surprise) and we head out of Stone Town a bit to a spice farm. Zanzibar is a spice island and I was excited from day one of this trip to learn more about how the heck you grow a spice…I had never really thought it through. With a large group (the most white people we’ve seen in months…forgive my political incorrectness and notation of skin color please) we go walking through the farm, stopping to learn about the various trees, bushes, roots, and grasses along the way. First up is lemongrass, which gives off a delicious lemon scent and can be used to repel mosquitoes. A slew of information and plants follow: ginger root used for stomach problems, cinnamon taken from cinnamon tree bark and sticks made from the branches, nutmeg from a pit inside a fruit, green vanilla beans growing on a tree, coffee cherries on trees, unripe cocoa, ylang ylang flowers, star fruit, oranges, coconuts, a pepper plant producing red, green, and black pepper. Ginger was the spiciest, making me cringe after I hardly touch the root to the tip of my tongue. I suck in my cheeks at the sour star fruit and delight in the fresh citrus scent of the lemongrass and the sweet smell of ripe vanilla beans that makes me think of home and holidays and summertime ice cream.
We proceed to the old Persian bath houses of the main wife of Zanzibar’s old Sultan Seyyid Said. During his time on Zanzibar, the Sultan had nearly forty wives and a few of their old palaces in Stone Town are now historical museums. At the end of the tour we buy some coffee and spiced tea and we all sit on mats on the floor for a traditional Tanzanian lunch of chapatti, spiced rice called pilau, curry sauce, and cooked pumpkin leaves. We chat with some of the other travelers about their journeys and we are soon headed back to sweltering Stone Town.

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