Walk With Me Through Stone Town, Zanzibar


Walk toward the ocean. Turn left. Turn left. Turn right. Dead end. Go back. Where is that motorbike you can hear coming? Glance over your shoulder. Take a wobbly step to the left to avoid him hitting you as he turns down the alley. Look up: Electrical wires, black mold encroaching on white buildings, laundry hanging limp in the choked air.

“Sister, come into my shop. Looking is free. I will give you a special discount. I will give you a good price.”
Keep your head down. Keep walking.
Say “pole sana (very sorry)” when you walk through children’s street soccer game.
Notice how deflated their small ball is. Turn right. Turn right. Buy a sliced mango from a street vendor and put chili salt on it at the insistence of him and another man.
Say “Shillingi ngape (how much) ?”
“Elfu umoja.”
Be thankful that he speaks slowly in Swahili. Try to be sneaky about digging in your bra for the money. Pay him, and keep walking.
Say “Asante (thank you)” to compliments on your dress. Step into a shop.
“Karibu sister. Welcome. I have the lowest prices.”
Absentmindedly say “Aiya.”
Browse quickly and try to see more than one thing at one time so you know if you’re going to buy before the salesmen hassles you relentlessly.
Say “Asante sana kaka (thank you very much brother).”
Try not to feel too bad when he tells you you’re his first customer and begs you not to leave the store. Come out of the maze of narrow streets and onto the big one….where cars actually drive comfortably.
“Sister, do not forget us. T-shirt? Tanzania? Zanzibar?”
Say, “Baadaye (later)..maybe,” and realize how amazing it would be to know the word ‘maybe’ in Swahili. You don’t want to make any promises.
“Listen, sister, we are having a party tonight. Playing Ragaae music. We will show you a good time.”
Say “Okay, poa (cool),” and just keep walking.
“ Unatoka wapi? (Where are you from?)”
Say “Mericani.”
“Ahhhh Obamaland!! Very good. Obama is very good. Good country.”
Say “Aiya.”
“Where did you learn Swahili?”
“Rafiki yetu. Walemu Secondaria Sciencia (Our friend. Teacher Secondary Science)”
“Ohhhhh. She is muzungu (white person)?”
“You speak very good Swahili, sister.”
Laugh at this. Say “kidogo Saaaaanaa (veeerrry little).”
As you’ve been doing, keep walking.
“Taxi? Taxi?”
Say “Hapana, asante (no, thank you).”
“Maybe tomorrow. You are going to the beach tomorrow? Nungwi? Kendwa? We have a shared van. Tomorrow.”
Say “I have just been to the beach.”
Keep walking. Greet a shopkeeper you met yesterday. Try to look like you know exactly where you’re going. Turn left back into the narrow streets and remember reading that the buildings here were built tall and close together to provide shade on the hellishly hot days. Pause for a split second to look around.
“Sister, you are lost! Are you lost? Where are you going?”
“No, I have been here. Not lost.”
Ignore this helpful man approaching you to show you the way. Realize he probably won’t show you the way to anywhere you’re trying to go and realize also that he will want you to pay him for his made up services. Keep walking. Realize you’ve been smirking the whole journey. Revel in that carefree feeling of being lost. And just keep walking.





2 responses »

  1. Look at how that Swahili lesson helped you!! I am so proud of my two students! And the word for maybe is labda…as a note for baadaye. MISS YOU!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s