Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Zanzibar

Every three months on mission, expats are required to take a one week R&R. Recharge our batteries, get out a little bit, and relax. For my first, wonderful break, I headed to Zanzibar. What exotic and romantic images that simple little word conjured up in my mind!

The journey started, however, with the regular 5 hour drive to Kampala, followed by meetings in the office. Even in bed at 8:45 that night, I knew sleep would be little – my alarm was set for 12:45. We had to leave at 1:00 to make the hour-long drive to the airport in order for me to be 3 hours ahead of my 5am departure. Who chose 5 am?? And no, I did not need to be there 3 hours ahead. The airline desks didn’t even open until 3, so I lay on a bench, unable to sleep though fatigue teased my eyelids. (I will add that once through to the boarding area, I bought a bottle of Duty Free red wine. “Here, for my first customer,” said the cashier with a smile as he handed me a packet of gum. It was 3:10 in the morning).

The flight from Entebbe to Nairobi is short – just 45 minutes spent hovering high over Lake Victoria. But the Kenya Airways staff always makes sure to give you a drink and a snack. Barely making their rounds before landing, we descended into Kenya, where I was to rendezvous with T for our journey. It was nice, actually, finding T, both of us tired and delirious. Me from my two hours of sleep, he from his long trip from Colorado.

A taxi was waiting for us when we landed in Stonetown – we figured we both would be too tired to want to deal with haggling taxis fares and arranged for the hotel to pick us. Through the narrow winding streets we wove, stopping after ten minutes. “Here, you walk. Hotel is just down, not far. I can’t drive more.” And we were scooted out of the van. Much of Stonetown is a tangle of maze, streets narrowly cutting through towering white-washed buildings above. Ancient Arabic, Indian, and Mughal influence give the town a truly fantastic feel, with beautiful windows formed in the classic ogival arch.

The doors themselves are something to admire - posters have been made and paintings abound of the beautifully wooden-carved doors, history hidden in each notch. We we took a tour of the town, we were told that some doors have a chain carved around their borders, and old invitation to those interested in participating in the slave trade that this home was indeed a trader's lodging. Some doors have giant brass knobs - a feature carried over from Indian influence, from regions where elephants were deterred by the pointed weapons.




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