The stain of Slavery in Stonetown, Zanzibar

I walk into a light, bright, white wooden building, sunfilled with soaring ceilings, in Stonetown, Zanzibar. It is now seemingly an art market for tourists, but was previously a hostel and orphanage.
Zanzibar slavery history
However a quick walk down the steps into the cellar and a different history emerges. Here is one of the few remaining pieces of physical evidence of the slave trade that prospered in Zanzibar, particularly in the 1800’s. Although the building is more recent, these cellars were reputed to be used as holding pens for slaves on ‘market day'; from here they could be quickly dragged up into the slave market directly overhead and sold. The cellars are low, dark and claustrophobic, and contain examples of the chains that were used to tether the slaves.
Zanzibar slavery history


Zanzibar slavery history

The slave trade was reputedly started by the Portuguese and then grew further when Zanzibar came under the control of the Sultanate of Oman in 1698. Initially slaves were captured or purchased from deep in the African mainland, chained together and forced to carry ivory to the coast, and then those that survived were transferred to Zanzibar to be either put to work in the spice plantations or sold. From Zanzibar most slaves were shipped to the Middle East, with some also going to the former french colonies of Reunion, Mauritius, Seychelles and Madagascar, or to North America.
Zanzibar slavery history

In the words of Unesco, Zanzibar has great symbolic importance in the suppression of slavery, since it was one of the main slave-trading ports in East Africa and also the base from which its opponents, such as the renowned explorer David Livingstone, conducted their campaign against slavery. By the mid 1800s, the European influence was returning to the region and it was Livingstone, who based himself in Zanzibar between expeditions, who led the campaign. Another key opponent was Edward Steere, third bishop of Zanzibar (1874-82). Slavery was finally outlawed in 1877, although it continued illegally for some decades afterwards. To celebrate, the Anglican Bishop Steere built a cathedral (completed 1887) on what used to be the island’s largest slave market, apparently positioning the altar over the exact location of the whipping post. The Cathedral also has a timber cross carved from a branch of the tree that once hung over Livingstone’s heart, where it is buried at Chitambo, Zambia.
Zanzibar slavery history

In the Cathedral courtyard there is now a graphic modern sculpture, by the Scandinavian artist Clara Sornas, of five slaves with chains around their necks, standing in a pit in the ground. Slightly larger than life, the slaves’ expressions convey a sense of sadness and futility. In a strange way I found this sculpture more moving and more confronting than the actual records of slavery, probably because there is so little physical evidence of the slave trade remaining in Zanzibar. I asked my guide Mohammed what he thought of his city forefathers being involved in the slave trade and he answered “its OK, it was a different time, it has nothing to do with us today. On Zanzibar we did not supply the slaves, we just supplied the market place.”
Zanzibar slavery history

Tall Tales of Twiga in Tanzania

Doesn’t Swahili has the best animal names of any language ?  Twiga for giraffe, Simba for lion, Tembo for elephant – to me these swahili words sound exactly like the animals look! Especially ‘Twiga’, which somehow manages to convey the tallness, the awkwardness and the beauty of a giraffe in one short punchy word.
 Twiga (giraffe) in Tarangire, Tanzania

Twiga were in every park we went to in Tanzania, we saw plenty of them, and each one looked so individual – even before they started pulling faces! And they certainly have expressive faces, even slightly absurd faces, I could watch them all day.


Twiga (giraffe)  in The Ngorongoro Conservation area


Twiga (giraffe)  in The Ngorongoro Conservation area


Twiga (giraffe) in Lake Manyara, Tanzania

We saw some interesting behaviour from three teenage male giraffes. Like any teenage boys, two of them were enjoying a bit of pushing and shoving, a bit of argy-bargy, and the third one was hanging back and looking like he wished that he got to play too – it was fascinating to watch – playground behaviour of the twiga.
Twiga (giraffe) in Lake Manyara, Tanzania

Can I play too?
Twiga (giraffe) in Lake Manyara, Tanzania


Twiga (giraffe) in Lake Manyara, Tanzania

Spicy cooking secrets of Zanzibar

This is a full immersion cooking class. I’m quashed into the back seat of the dala-dala(local minivan buses), escorted by the chatty Heelal and the quieter Sa’id, on my way to Afura’s house on the outskirts of Stonetown.  Heelal is one of the people who have set up this network of mothers who take tourists directly into their homes and teach them staple Zanzibar dishes. It gives the family a new way to earn money and us a chance to experience a small slice of their life. I’m also marvelling at how a thirteen seater van can so easily accommodate twenty  two passengers.

Cooking class in Zanzibar village
Cooking class in Zanzibar village

A curry cook-up

Travelling through Tanzania provides many opportunities to try the local curries. The Zanzibar version has no curry powder or tumeric at all, it focuses on the spices that grow on the island, and I’m here to learn to cook it. In a large pot over the charcoal brazier, we add a sliced onion into the hot oil. I struggle to peel and roughly chop three potatoes and a small eggplant with a blunt knife, at least it is easier to grind a generous amount of garlic and raw ginger with the mortar and pestle – using at least half a handful of each, more if I want a strong curry. A further wrestle with the knife as I peel and chop three tomatoes and it’s all added to the pot over the hot coals. After five minutes of cooking weadd a peeled and chopped mango – firm but not green. A couple more minutes and we add 5 tbsp of tomato paste and then mix in a cup of water to get the right consistency.

The final ingredient is four small fried fish. We use sardines, crispy fried, but any small strongly flavoured fish will do it’s similar to adding fish sauce in other parts of the world. It simmers until the potatoes are soft, and then we take it off the heat and let it settle while we prepare the other dishes, including the chapatis to mop it up with.

Cooking class in Zanzibar village
Cooking class in Zanzibar village

Spicy samosas.

This is another dish adapted to Zanzibar’s plentiful spice supply, and easier to master than the chapatis. By this stage I have lost all feeling in my legs while sitting on a very low wooden stool. We peel four potatoes, chop into four pieces, boil till soft and then mash. Meanwhile we finely slice a red onion, and in the mortar we pound together two tbsp each of cardamon and cloves and two tsp of rock salt. All of these are added to the mash and set aside until the pastry is ready.

The dough is much easier to make than the chapati dough. Afura rubs 3 tbsp of soft butter into 2 cups of plain flour. We start adding about 1/2 a cup of water, bit by bit, kneading it in as we go until the dough is smooth, but not elastic like the chapati. We divide the dough into small golf ball sized balls. Each ball is rolled out into a rough rectangle about 10-12 inches long and 4 inches wide, and then cut into 3 rough squares. A spoonful of mash is placed in the centre of each square, and then the dough is folded in half diagonally over the mash, and the two unfolded sides are folded over again to seal the samosa. Now its time to cook in a deep pot of very hot oil – we test the heat by adding a small piece of spare dough first, if it puffs up and cooks immediately, the oil is hot enough. We cook in batches until golden brown on the outside, and stack on a plate to drain.

Cooking class in Zanzibar village
Cooking class in Zanzibar village

Eating the spoils of the cooking.

Lets face it, one of the best things about a cooking class is eating the dishes afterwards, and my mouth has been watering for a while over all these amazing spice smells we have been cooking up. So its time to rip off some chapati and use it to scoop up some curry, nibble on a samosa and wash it all down with cups of masala tea. Its all delicious, and luckily we’ve cooked large quantities which means the extended family all get to eat it as well. I sit cross legged on the floor with two of the men, Sa’id and one of Afura’s sons. I ask if Afura is joining us for the meal, and Sa’id tells me that she isn’t, as she is not hungry now. The penny drops and I ask if, as a Muslim household, the men and women always eat separately, and Sa’id tells me that they do. I ask then why am I eating with them, and they reply that it is OK for a female guest to eat with the men. I suspect they mean that they are prepared to ignore their customs when it is a paying guest, but it’s their house and their rules, so I tuck into my little feast, happy that half of each dish we have made has been taken to  the next door room where the woman are eating. At least I get to pay the pre-agreed price directly to Afura, for her to split amongst the others involved, so I leave hoping that in spite of the eating arrangements, she has some real control over this business.

Cooking classes are still an embryonic business in Zanzibar, so if you are interested in doing a cooking course you may be able to arrange it through your hotel, or I can recommend you arrange it direct with Heelal:

Heelal Tours & Safaris Ltd; Mr Denge, Manager;  Mobile +255 7733 20121;  email dengeramadhan@hotmail.com

Controlling my inner Angelina


magara kids
“oh, I just want to take them all home” I cry,  as I am surrounded by a dozen gorgeous smiling tanzanian children in Magara village. Until now, I can safely say that adopting a child had never crossed my mind at any time in my life, and suddenly I am coming over all Angelina Jolie and starting to think that adopting in the plural might be the way to go.

Luckily for the children they are not orphans, they all have extended families and siblings, and while they and their families might live at a fairly subsistence level, while they do not have an easy life, they give every sign of being happy, fed, and well cared for – these are far from the ‘starving africans’ that we grew up hearing about on the news. And if some of their hand-me-down clothes are a bit dusty and worn, well, so are ours. Some shy, some cheeky, some ‘too cool for school’, we can’t go anywhere in Magara without getting excited cries of “Jambo’ from these kids as they wave, run towards us, follow us around, and plead to have their photo taken so they can see it in the viewer on the back of the camera. This part of Tanzania doesn’t see much tourism, so seeing mzungu, ‘white people’, is still a novelty for many of them, meaning we often get to feel as if we are indeed visiting film stars, such is the reception they give us.

So as a tribute to all these energetic smiling kids, who added so much fun to our stay in the village, here is a gallery of some of their photos. And I hope they enjoy the big envelope of photo prints making its way to them by snail mail, so that they and their families can have a physical photo and not just a brief memory from the back of the camera.

Magara – painting the town (school) cream


Magara school project
We breath in thick red dust as we bounce over the corrugated tracks at speed, we ford rivers with no bridges, we hold our breath as the wheels almost bog down in the mud and exhale again as we pull free without having to get out and push, and we close our eyes as the driver executes a three point turn on a steep hairpin blind corner as he realises we have missed the turn-off. Its only about three hours from Arusha but as we drive into our camp site in Magara it already seems like another world. Our tents are under a canopy of tall trees, next to a waterfall cascading a couple of hundred metres down a cliff side into a natural rock pool surrounded by a sandy riverside beach. Magara is a town in the lee of the Great Rift Valley, past the southwestern end of Lake Manyara. There are no national parks, game drives, or luxury lodges here, therefore little tourism or tourism dollars to benefit the locals.

Voluntourism in Tanzania

We are here as ‘voluntourists’, one of those weird made up words that I had never heard until a few months ago. What it means is that twenty of us are here, at our own cost, to spend a few days of our holiday providing basic manual labour to help renovate and maintain the Magara secondary school. We haven’t been “sponsored” by our friends, we are not part of any charity organisation, we are paying our own way, and we will be directly donating our own labour as well as contributing cash to the purchase of building materials. We will be working alongside teachers and students plus skilled local labour. None of us are builders or carpenters, and our ages range from 14 to 68 – seventeen aussies, one kiwaussie, and two canadians. We have no idea how we will actually be useful, but we are all excited to be here and wondering how on earth we will be put to use.

Getting to work in Magara, Tanzania

Having been warned to bring our oldest clothes, likely to be wrecked, stained and destroyed over the next few days, we are a motley looking crew as we set out on our first ten minute stroll to see the school we will be working on. We split ourselves into three crews – two will be painting crews (with a subset team of trainee carpenters to make wooden tables from scratch – no ikea kitsets here), and one to lift rocks and sand bags and water pails to construct solid bases on which 5,000 litre water tanks can be installed.
Magara school project

It takes a couple of hours to really get started on the first day. We want to make sure we are doing the tasks that the school headmaster and the community think are the highest priorities, which are not necessarily the tasks we think need to be done. So some time is needed to negotiate, to discuss, to get consensus. The second challenge it how to carry out our tasks. Our tour company has purchased and delivered the core materials on our behalf – bags of concrete mix, tins of paint and brushes, planks of wood. But we quickly realise that the devil is in the detail. The school has no water supply, and no power (there are solar panels for the one PC but they are currently broken). There are no rags to clean off the paint brushes, no old icecream containers to turn into paint trays, none of that paraphanaelia we all have in the back of the cupboard at home. Any such items are already in daily use in the families in this community, there is no spare “junk”. We easily sacrifice a few of our t-shirts to make rags, some of which get tied to branches to make “mops” to try and brush or wash the dust off the walls we will be painting. Plastic handled paint rollers that we have supplied are also tied onto branches so that we can reach the top of the 3 and 4 metre high walls of the school rooms. We have only one square of sandpaper, which the ‘table makers’ will need, so we search for flat stones with a straightish edge to use as a tool to scour the old peeling paint off the walls and try to create a smoother surface. The school ladder, itself homemade, is pressed into duty to carry the large rocks that need to be collected to help build the concrete bases, the ladder allowing six people at a time to spread the weight of each rock. Some water is trucked in, some is carried bucket by bucket from the neighbour’s well. Improvisation becomes the name of the game.
Magara school project

Magara Tanzania school presentation day

The plan is to be in Magara five nights, working hard for four days. In the end we only work three days, as our visit co-incides with the end of term school presentation day. And a long day it is too, slowly, slowly, ‘on africa time’. Our initial frustration that we can’t get even more rooms painted is quickly humbled on the realisation that we are being given an opportunity to share an important day with the local community. We get to plant saplings each, representing that we will always now be children of the Magara soil. The students perform traditional dances and enthrall us with their singing. The parents of the students arrive dressed in their best and brightest finery. The head of the parent representatives cajoles and shames the attending parents into donating more money than I suspect they can afford to help the school. Local dignitaries attend and make speeches. The library which we have just painted, and for which the new tables have been made, is officially opened. And about four in the afternoon, we join the parents and dignitaries and  teachers in a big communal lunch. I remember the look of confusion on the face of the lady sitting opposite me, parent to one of the students, when we realise that we are exactly the same age, and she has nine children, while I have none. She wasn’t just surprised, she was unable to visualise how that was possible. (And I probably looked as incredulous at the thought of nine!)
Magara school project

Memories of Magara Tanzania

So many memories will stay with me. Learning that it cost 20,000 shillings (approx USD$20) pa for a child to attend secondary school, a price most families can’t afford. Knowing that each evening I was spending 2,500 shillings a time for a nice coldish bottle of beer. The pure pleasure of about 60 seconds of warm water pouring over my head in the tiny bush shower every night. The deliciously cool water of the pool under the waterfall. The spicy bite of the pre-dinner soup the crew cooked up each night – my favourite was hot cucumber soup. Knowing that on average each class had to share two text books per subject between the whole class, as textbooks cost around 10,000 shillings each. The satisfying tiredness of eight or more hours of solid physical labour each day, and seeing the results of our labour. The happy screams of dozens of local kids who would come running from hundreds of metres away as we dragged our tired bodies home each night, their smiles lighting up as they begged to have their photo taken so they could see themselves in the screen on the back of the camera. The hard working crew who made basic camping way more comfortable than I ever remember it being before. The warmth of twenty wonderfully diverse people sharing a unique experience but with a common purpose – to help out in a very small but very direct way, to do something practical, forming a bond that will last a long time. All good cliches come about for a reason, and so it is with this one – we gained so much more than we gave.

And the icing on the cake? On the last evening, having completed our tasks, and said our goodbyes, we are back at camp showered, relaxed, cold beer in hand. A loud large truck comes revving into camp at high speed, carrying a big black plastic 5,000 litre water tank, and lengths of guttering for the library roof. With loud cheers we get to deliver them up to the school, roll the water tank onto its freshly prepared base, and know that come the next rainfall the school will start to have its own water supply for the first time ever. Thats my definition of euphoria.

Note: I travelled on a World Expeditions Community Project Tour

How to travel without luggage (even if you start with some).

Precision Air Mark I.

As usual we all mill around the luggage conveyor belt as it creaks into action, and the first bags start coming around. The first bags get grabbed up quickly, then… nothing. After a couple of minutes of nothing, a guy sticks his head through the opening next to the luggage pick up and very quietly he says “thats all there is, we left the rest on the tarmac in Nairobi, go see the office” and ducks out again with a brief wave at an office on the other side of the room. He is so quiet that not many people have heard, and those that have are all looking at each other questioningly, seeking reassurance that we haven’t just heard that. Then, as it dawns on us that he did indeed say that, we sprint for the lost luggage office on the other side of the room.
lost luggage

For about 20 minutes we queue at a closed window in Kilimanjaro Airport, until a staff member appears. He bravely stands on a chair to talk to the crowd. “We had to leave 88 bags on the tarmac in Nairobi, because the flight was too full, the plane was too heavy” he starts, to the sound of hope expiring from about 70 people. “There are no more flights tonight, but your bags will come on the flights tomorrow and will be delivered to you. Please line up here so that we can take the reports of your lost luggage and get them back to you tomorrow”. Pandemonium breaks out as he ducks into the office and shuts the door, reappearing at the window.

At this point we discover that he has to take the lost luggage reports from us one by one, and that only he could fill the form in, we are not allowed to fill it in ourselves. This is going to take a while – 45 minutes to be exact, and I am only the fifth person in the queue. The fun part is trying to point at the picture that looks the “most like” my missing luggage from a large laminated poster that obviously gets frequent use. We are also asked to list the contents of our lost bags, at which point I am glad I have no valuables in it, it feels like we are giving some-one a target list! None of us believe we are going to see our belongings the next day, if at all, based on some sound crowd reasoning:

  1. Our bags are in Nairobi, not known as “nairobbery “for nothing
  2. Tomorrow’s planes will be full as well, so to fit our bags on (almost a plane load in themselves) they will have to leave the next load of passengers bags behind and so on, repeating it for every flight – who would choose to compound the problem like that.
  3. Just about every one on the flight is only staying overnight in Arusha before heading off first thing in the morning – for their safari, for their climb of Kilimanjaro, or in my case to join my voluntourism group doing renovations to a school. The bags will never catch up with us.

I take stock – in my day pack I have my camera, my passport, my money. But I don’t have any change of clothes, I have no malaria tablets, and I have no sleeping bag or camp mat – this is not going to be comfortable, but it can be done! At least there is comfort in numbers, another four people going on the same trip are on the same flight and have no bags either.

Precision Air Mark II

Having convinced ourselves we will never see them again, our bags arrive the next morning, on the same flight bringing the last remaining people for our tour group. However, their bags do not arrive. Ahh – the airline decided to go for the knock on effect after all! Those bags arrive a couple of days later and do get delivered out to our campsite some hours away. However one lady finds her hiking boots and camera have been stolen out of her locked pack.

Precision Air Mark III

I am flying Precision Air again from Kilimanjaro to Zanzibar. I carry on three large pieces of hand luggage with almost all my belongings stuffed in them, and check in an empty pack. I am sitting next to a very well groomed local businessman. I notice that all the flight crew are coming up to greet him, as are the other local business men on the flight. I ask him “Are you famous, everyone seems to know you?” He chuckles and says” No, not famous, I am just a businessman”. He hesitates for a second and adds “and I started this airline, my name is ***”. “Hi, I’m Vicki”, I reply. He then introduces me to the Tanzanian Finance Minister who has just come up to greet him. I sit there thinking that all our bags are probably going to turn up when we get off this flight. I am right, not a single missing bag.

Precision Air Mark IV

A number of us had independently decided to head to Zanzibar after our Tanzania trip, and a couple of days later we got together in Stonetown for a fun cocktail-fuelled reunion. The four women who had also been on my first flight, and had also lost their bags, had just flown in that afternoon. Three of them had done what I did, carrying huge amounts of carry on baggage. One didn’t. Their checked on bags didn’t arrive.

Lions vs Zebra – the Tarangire soap opera ( a pictorial)

Once upon a time, in a far away Tanzanian National Park, as evening fell, two lionesses rested under a large baobab tree.
Lions in Tarangire


Lions in Tarangire
One just lies on her back and stretches, the other moves to the front of the tree to show off to the landrover load of tourists who have just arrived.


Lions in Tarangire


Lions in Tarangire
Lioness A continues to pose like a professional, changing expressions and poses regularly.


Lions in Tarangire


Lions in Tarangire

Lioness B starts to wonder if there is anything of interest around.
Lions in Tarangire

Lioness B is now alert, something has attracted her attention.
Lions in Tarangire

Both lions are now alert, as a herd of zebra wanders across the landscape upwind from them.
Lions in Tarangire

As the zebra continue on their course towards the lions, both are now alert, tensed and ready to move.
Lions in Tarangire

The lead zebra, walking ahead of the herd, has not sensed any danger and leads them onwards towards the lions.
Lions in Tarangire

Lioness B moves through the grass low & fast, approaching the zebra.
Lions in Tarangire

The lead zebra is only about 30m away now. A low whisper of “kill, kill” arises from the landrover as the intrepid explorers encourage the lions to go for a great photo opportunity.
Lions in Tarangire

A small wind change, a gust, and the lead zebra senses danger and stamps its feet loudly and repeatedly as a warning.
Lions in Tarangire

The herd gets the warning and without panic, turns around and heads off purposefully in another direction.
Lions in Tarangire

Lioness B comes out of hiding and watches the zebra moving away.
Lions in Tarangire

Lioness B stretches with a large yawn.
Lions in Tarangire

Lioness B casually and openly follows the lead zebra, now protecting the rear of the herd.
Lions in Tarangire

Lioness B stops to take a dump, unconcerned that her dinner is trotting away.
Lions in Tarangire

Lioness B lays down to rest in the last rays of the days sun.
Lions in Tarangire

Lioness A stops watching and takes a stretch.
Lions in Tarangire

Lioness A saunters after Lioness B.
Lions in Tarangire

The lions re-unite.
Lions in Tarangire

The lions casually stroll off after the zebras, as though they are heading out for dinner and entertainment, and have all night. Pretentious photographer with massive zoom lens mourns the loss of her National Geo moment.
Lions in Tarangire