21 November, 2001
-- When we visited Kenya a few years ago, we spent two weeks in game parks
from the west to the east and then a relaxing week on the beach in Mombasa.
The facilities were superb, the animals magnificent. Food, service and
organization were first class. Our memories of Africa were one reason we
wanted to return, although we knew our experience this time would be very
Last week we spent five days in Zanzibar, in neighbouring Tanzania. Once again, we were treated to a five-star hotel that compares more than favourably with anything in Europe or North America. (Of course, prices are comparable too)
We flew from Kisumu to Nairobi (1 hr), then another hour to Zanzibar. We were in this beautiful hotel, so divorced from the reality of the daily life in Africa that it was like a dream. However, we revelled in warm showers, comfortable beds and oodles of fresh green vegetables. It really is like the brochures: endless white sand beaches, blue water, swaying coconut palms and cool breezes. All the asker (watchmen) were Maasai and strolled the perimeter in their brilliant red robes, elaborate hairstyles and plentiful jewellery. All with a large stick of course.
There are some noticeable differences with Kenya. Where we live in Kakamega, we are at five thousand feet, so receive cooler air and more rain, although we are directly on the equator. Zanzibar is of course hotter and more humid inland, although the beaches are continuously swept by lovely breezes. Kenya is predominantly Christian in most areas and uplifting sayings or texts from the Bible are everywhere. Our taxi drivers' cars have "God is Love" stencilled across the front and back windows. Tanzania is Muslim and the women wear variations of traditional dress from brightly coloured kanga to black burkha but all with heads and arms completely covered. There were many girls' schools around and the students wear long blue dresses with the white Muslim headscarf covering their hair and falling below their shoulders.
The matatus (public transport vans) were in better shape than in Kakagema and did not appear to be overcrowded. The police were not armed and although we were stopped three times on an hour's ride, they were polite and efficient.
Inland from the beach, once through a perimeter of scrub, the land is covered with plantations of fruits, mainly bananas. The shambas are generally well kept and many have small Vespa-type vehicles. The people are poor, but seem to be doing better than in rural Kenya. This is born out by a recent report from an IMF spokesman who says that both Tanzania and Uganda are functioning better than Kenya and are receiving much more foreign investment as well as foreign aid.
Our hotel was on the East Coast with a slowly shelving beach which dropped off sharply but a long way out. The waves broke way out there so we had a kind of lagoon which was ideal for sailing small catamarans and Hobey cats in the stiff breeze.
We took a day trip on a sailing dhow out to some snorkelling areas. We motored out, had a long time on the reef and then were served a seafood BBQ on a sandbar. The organizers provided numerous tropical fruits including custard apple, jack fruit and boaboa, which were new to us. The boat hoisted sail for the return trip of about an hour.
Another day we drove from the coast to Zanzibar town. On the way we stopped at a spice farm and were taken through the fringe of the jungle to see cinnamon, turmeric, cloves and other spices growing amongst the banana and coconut trees. The old part of the town of Zanzibar is called Stone Town and consists of narrow lanes and alleyways. The island has known Arab, Portuguese, German and British occupation. From the eighth century it was a centre for the Arab slave trade. Slaves from East Africa went mainly to the Mediterranean and Europe, although we were told that some arrived in West Africa too and were sold in America. We went down into the holding cellars where slaves were kept without food and water for two or three days in impossibly crowded conditions. One high, barred opening gave inadequate ventilation and a deep ditch in the middle of the room served as a latrine. Men were kept on one side and women and children on the other, all chained of course. Many died before they could be auctioned off.
A British Bishop was a moving force in abolishing the unspeakable trade completely in the 1800's and his Anglican cathedral sits next to the slave cellars. At the altar is a stone marking the site of the whipping post where, according to our guide, slaves were beaten to prove their stamina. The marble floor has red streaks in the stone to symbolize the blood spilt on that spot. Off to one side is another marble plinth marking the former auction block.
Our guide spoke at some length about David Livingstone and what he did to stop the slave trade. His heart is buried in Africa (Zambia I think) and his body is in Westminster Abbey in London. When he died, it took two years to carry him home because his body was taken to each country where he had worked. A tree that grows over the spot where his heart is buried has supplied wood for church crosses and there is one such on display in the Anglican Cathedral in Zanzibar.
We are now back in Kakamega and are busy clearing the Form 4 leavers and taking in marks. The city water supply broke down about three weeks ago and needed parts from Nairobi. Then there was a break in the line and of course there is no equipment to quickly locate the rupture. So we have had no city water for about a month and are relying on the afternoon rains to replenish our water tanks. Fortunately (for us, but not the farmers, it is still raining for about an hour every day.
© 2002 Patricia Crossley