Letter from Zanzibar 2001 (1)
Trip Start Jan 02, 2001
1Trip End Jan 09, 2001
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I'd been living in Dar es Salaam during the October general election and knew all about the trouble in Zanzibar - from newspapers, local TV, BBC radio and Tanzanian friends ; now I was setting foot on Zanzibar (the main island, Unguja) for the first time in many years. I wanted to revisit old haunts and have a good time; but I also wanted to see for myself what impact recent political events had had on island life.
As I stepped off the hydrofoil, a policeman, one of several waiting on the quay, indicated that I should open my bag. This was new; in the old days there were no policemen and no bag searches. He went through my luggage, then waved me on
I strolled down narrow streets, admiring the white cliff-like buildings on either side, dodging bicycles, examining the patterns on old Zanzibari doors. One of these doors - very old, beautifully carved - had the letters CUF daubed across it in white paint and a picture of the CUF presidential candidate, Seif Sharrif Hamad, crudely stuck on.
If politics have sullied the old romantic image of Zanzibar, then tourism has modernized and, some would say, cheapened it. Since my last visit here in 1996, the tourist industry has grown rapidly. The Stone Town, which used to make so few concessions to visiting outsiders (it was once difficult to find a place to sit down and eat in the afternoon), now panders shamelessly to foreign visitors, with a plethora of chic hotels and smart eateries to choose from.
The old Floating Restaurant - always such an inhospitable dive - has been transformed into Blues, a trendy lodestone for hungry wazungu (foreigners)
Next to Forodhani was something I'd never before seen in Zanzibar: a large Masai-run souvenir stall. Spear-carrying Masai men with long braided hair, dressed in their full regalia of purple-red cloth beaded ornaments, stood guard round a collection of wooden statues and trinkets. Souvenir stalls and Masai are common on the Mainland but new here. A little further on, I stopped for a sunset beer in the Starehe Club and was surprised to see three young prostitutes preening themselves at a table. They smiled at me, trying to catch my eye. Prostitution, such a way of life on the Mainland, was virtually unknown here - or at least invisible - in the old days. Like the Masai, the prostitutes have been drawn across the water by the magnet of tourist money.
I reflected that, with the advent of tourism, Zanzibar, once so unique, so pure, has become more and more of a piece with the rest of Tanzania. Tourism and politics: between them they've brought Zanzibar into the modern world. I decided I preferred the old Zanzibar.