Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Zanzibar Island, Tanzania

Map picture

I had heard, of course, of Zanzibar, but I honestly thought that it was a city- not so. Zanzibar is an island that is 40 nm off the coast of Tanzania. The major port and city of Zanzibar is Stone Town. We were part of a tour that spent 3 hours touring Stone Town.

Like other places we have seen that were once colonial cities, the old infrastructure from that past is still visible, but in very poor condition. One small, but illustrative example is the traffic lights. During the days of the British, the city had a system of lights installed. Today, they stand dark and rusting.

The history of Zanzibar Island is a sad one; it was the site of the Great Slave Market, once the hub of the slave trade for the whole of East Africa. At its peak, up to 60,000 slaves passed through the market each year. IMG_5237 In 1874, an Anglican Church was built atop the old market, and the old underground chambers where the slaves were held. We visited the church, which was in a very run down condition. In fact, Zanzibar is overwhelmingly Muslim.



From the church, we drove to the city Market, which was only opened to locals after the country achieved its independence. Previously it was a “whites only” market. IMG_5274 Today it is a bustling mass of smells, sights, and people seemingly moving at random. All around are swarms of flies where in some places they completely cover the food for sale.

Gladly leaving the market behind, we started a walk through the seemingly endless narrow streets, which were alive with people. After a short while, I started to pay attention to the large number of small gasoline electric generators that filled the air with the sound of their motors. Even though the building and overhead areas were literally blanketed with wires of all types, it became obvious that the neighborhood is without outside electricity, and that for those few shops that needed power, the electric generator outside the front was how they made it happen. Most of the shops were dark holes whose interiors were barely visible from the bright outside.

Before long everyone in our group was quite literally bathed in sweat – shirts and pants were soaked. The sun was blazingly hot. I would guess the temperature was around 90 degrees F and the humidity was around 80%. So it was a welcome stop when we reached a souvenir shop that had air conditioning. I could care less about the trinkets, but the cool air was literally a life saver for me at least.

Afterwards we continued on to the remains of an old fort which was built by the Portuguese in the 16 century. IMG_5354 Nothing except the four walls remains. During the colonial period, the British turned it into a tennis court for girls, but that too is long gone except for the plaques on the wall which commemorate its opening. From there, it was a short walk to the center of the water front, which has been fixed up to put a nice face on the city. Here are the remains of the old Sultan’s Palace, and a building which they call the House of Wonders, and which today houses the National Museum. IMG_5368 When the 3 story colonial building was constructed, it was a wonder because it was the only tall building in Zanzibar, and it had not only electricity but a telephone system. Inside today are a very few relics from the Island’s past, most in dark glass cases which have not been dusted or cleaned for a very, very long time. Most items are not labeled. Presumably the medicine chest from Dr. Livingston was on display, but I never found it.

Like the rest of Tanzania, Zanzibar is a very poor, third world country. Lisa and I always enjoy getting to see new parts of the world, but the conditions in these places are really sad and should make us appreciate even more how fortunate we are to live where we do.

Our next stop will be 700 nm distant to visit the small island of Nosy Be, which is a part of Madagascar. Madagascar lies back east of the continent of Africa, and is in the Indian Ocean.

I should have pictures from Zanzibar ready later today at


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