East Africa Day 5 – Zanzibar

I went for breakfast at 8am, still tickled by my last dream.  I met a blonde, curly-haired American as I ate breakfast in the little wooden shack with sand as the floor, overlooking the beach and the ocean.  He was living in Sudan, and boomed ‘MORNING!  HOW ARE YA’?’ as I tried to fight the hundreds of flies off my breakfast.  I told him my plans for the day, which were to go to Mnembo Atol, the paradisiacal island for a snorkeling tour.  ‘EXCELLENT CHOICE!’  He bellowed, then he turned his attention to the staff of the restaurant and then his wife, asking the same question ‘HOW ARE YA?’ in the same army captain bellow.

After brekkie I joined a tour – a snorkeling tour to the beautiful island of Mnembo Atol, a private island upon which no one is allowed to set foot.  The tour was a good chance for me to meet other people and say hi.  They were around 12 of us on the boat – which was wooden with a motor, but also had a sail, though this was down when we set off.  It took well over an hour to reach the first snorkeling spot, time for the crew to take to reading their books – one of them was reading a very dog-eared David Copperfield. On the way we spotted a school of dolphins, which seemed keen on following us.

The snorkeling was lovely, and the water nice and warm.  At first, I swam over dead coral, where fish were few and far between, but later the coral began coming to life, and there was a small drop over which bigger fish could be seen lurking.  I saw all kinds of colouful fish, and also saw an octopus –  a rare sight as they camouflage very well.  The second snorkel sight was just as impressive, and I laughed when I spotted what looked like a peeled, swimming potato.  Potato fish, I nicknamed it….a weird little spud.

After lunch on board we headed back.  The crew hoisted up the tatty off-white sail, and with the motor helping we were full-speed ahead.  We passed colourful beach scenes, locals flipping around in the sand, diving off boats into the water, happy and free of the strains and stress of city life.  We were back well in time for another spectacular sunset.  I’m really enjoying this laid-back start to Africa.  This morning I watched women wading in the water trying to catch octopus.  Now, I was watching dhows returning from a day of fishing, hauling their tuna up the beach and bargaining with restaurant owners, who dragged the fish away to the kitchens once a deal had been struck.

After the sunset, and after I had fended off a couple of Masai, including some ‘gangsta’ Masai’ wearing dark sunglasses, an interesting modern contrast to their traditional garb, I headed back to the bungalow.  I was feeling a little worse for wear, flu-like symptoms starting to grip me.  I showered as quickly as I could, as the shower constantly turned from cold to scalding hot in under a minute, and I slapped on some moisturizing cream, as I had got a little sunburned.  I poured some talc down my nether-regions, which had stopped itching maddeningly, which I was most thankful for.  I then headed out to a restaurant and met 2 chaps I had met earlier on the boat, one an Indian-English guy and the other a German, who both worked as consultants in London, and were on a 2-week break.  They were well-spoken chaps, clued-up about politics, African issues and more world issues.  Much more than I was, living in my tiny South East Asian bubble.  I realized sadly that, amongst the foreign company I keep in Singapore, my knowledge of the wider world, even my grip on English vocabulary, was slowly slipping away.  This is what happens when you spend most of your life in foreign countries communicating with foreigners in simple English.  I kept up with the conversation, but at times I was left behind intellectually.  This won’t do.  I felt rather ashamed of my political ignorance.  Still, it was nice to have an intellectually stimulating conversation for a change.  I realized I needed more of them.  I ordered a pizza and a Tusker beer, which had become my favourite of the African beers.  Conversation became smoother after a couple of those.

After dinner, we got talking to a Polish woman living in Malawi, and a Zimbabwean man, a couple who were also on the boat trip earlier.  They worked for aid programmes, and talked passionately about their work.  The Polish woman seemed pissed off with Africa….and she complained that the infant mortality rate hadn’t dropped in 15 years.  She focused on AIDS awareness and prevention in Malawi, the man did the same in Zimbabwe.  She said the focus of the program was on the ABC method, but she didn’t think it was working.  A for Abstinence.  B for Be faithful.  C for Condoms.  She felt B was almost impossible to achieve.  Malaria was another focus, the Tuberculosis, and Dengue.  All rife in Africa.  They were switched on, learned, and passionate about their work.  It was really interesting to listen to them, but my flu was taking over me now.  I had to leave, rather rudely.  Never mind.  I wandered back, popped some Panadol Cold and Flu, and went to bed.

Author: Neil

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