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Tanzania: Zanzibar!

KENYA | Wednesday, 2 December 2009 | Views [888] | Comments [1]

It started with a mad scramble, a flustered, exhausted sprint through the early morning Nairobi streets, pack swinging on my back, arms flailing, my host mother Victoria calling out as she ran behind me. A not entirely unusual (for Nairobi) string of events had led to my crazed dash, struggling to reach the bus stand before the 6am Mohamed Express to Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania pulled away.. We had arranged a cab to take me to the bus stop, however when 5:30am rolled around and there was none waiting outside, Victoria concluded that the man “must be drunk!” and we began our trek, running down to the local supermarket where a lone taxi driver waiting out the early hours agreed to take us. The stress was not yet over however, for as we powered along the highway with minutes to spare, the cab slowly ground to a halt; it had run out of petrol. Now really panicking, we ran to the nearest matatu stop and bundled inside, praying we’d make it. From where the matatu dropped us I ran full pelt (admittedly in the wrong direction at first, but after startling some passersby with my gasped requests for directions, got back on the right track), and as I rounded the corner to the street, saw the bus just pulling out. “Wait! Wait! Too exhausted to notice people staring, I ran across the road in front of the bus and got on just as it was about to leave. However, a commotion stopped us from taking off- my host mother, Victoria, jumped on the bus as well. “The taxi driver! He’s here and demanding his fare!” Not feeling too kindly about paying a man who’d left us stranded in the middle of the highway, I nonetheless threw her the cash and suddenly the bus was away, and I had made it.

As we crossed the Kenya/Tanzania border and got our papers in order, I was struck by the sense of anticipation that comes with visiting a new country. Tanzania has an interesting history. It was formed from the union of mainland Tanganyika with the island of Zanzibar in 1964 following independence from the British, and it's name reflects this combination (Tan + Zan + ia). Its first President, Julius Nyerere, implemented wide-scale reforms in the areas of health care and education following a socialist model. There were massive gains in health and education, however Nyerere has been criticised for instigating the forced relocation of people onto collective farms and repressing opposition, establishing one-party rule in Tanzania. Despite this, Nyerere is widely viewed as the father of the nation and is the only President in Africa to have resigned voluntarily from his position as President, in 1985. Following his resignation, Tanzania's dependence on foreign aid became one of the highest in the world, and the neoliberal policies enforced by the IMF severely eroded previous gains made in the areas of education and health care. Today Tanzania is a peaceful country, its education system is slowly recovering, and despite remaining widespread poverty it lacks Kenya's large slum areas. Tanzanian people confess to be 'slower' than their neighbouring Kenyans, but this is not necessarily a bad thing as some would say this makes them a much more relaxed and easygoing people. Finally, everyone is extremely welcoming, especially all the cool AIESECers who let us stay at their house and took the time to hang out and show us around their city!

Bumping along the unmade road (we could see the new road being built next to the old one carrying us), I watched the landscape change as great mountains rose up, diminishing the plains and thrusting their craggy heads into the wispy clouds. We were in Mt Kilimanjaro country. The trip was supposed to take 15 hours, however a flat tyre and other amusing incidents meant that we ended up being on the road for 18 hours, finally arriving in Dar Es Salaam at around 11:30pm, where we were greeted by some of the Tanzanian AIESECers. Enjoying the balmy tropical warmth, we dropped our bags at our house for the night and 10 minutes later were out on the town again, off to the local bar for drinks with other AIESECers who had come from across Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya to gather in Tanzania’s de facto capital city in preparation for our trip to Zanzibar the next day. Kenyans love to party all night and Tanzanians are no different, so it was near dawn when we finally stumbled back to the house. I relished the fact that we were able to walk on the street at night without fear of robbery or rape, a nice change from the constant vigilance required when navigating in Nairobi after dark, and we sang and chatted loudly to ourselves as young folk with an ounce of drink to spare are want to do. Once home we collapsed onto whichever bed didn’t have too many other people sleeping on it, and 3 hours later were up again preparing to catch the ferry to Zanzibar. It was a big task for the organisers, with over 100 delegates and facilitators to account for, but eventually we all made it across!

The conference centre was on the water front and although no beach was in sight, the sunset view of fishing boats tethered against great streaks of sky was humbling. We were kept busy on the first night, starting off with a mass performance of the "AIESEC dance" (similar across the many countries in which AIESEC operates) and the “role call”, an AIESEC tradition whereby each delegation introduces itself with a group dance. The dancing was all very good, and I discovered that shaking your booty was to be a big part of the weekend. The sessions went until midnight, and despite our bleary eyes I had some beers in the onsite bar (convenient!) with Junki, another intern from Japan who was doing an entrepreneurial project in Dar Es Salaam, trying to set up a market for traditional African-made bags in Japan in a way that allows local producers to benefit directly from any profits made. We also hung out with Shige (also from Japan and who like me was doing his internship in Nairobi, raising money for an NGO operating in the Kibera slum) and Da, who was from China but attended college in the US, and was now working for Standard Chartered Bank in Dar Es Salaam.

After a relatively early night (3am) we had a full day of sessions, where we discussed leadership, the relevance of AIESEC in Tanzania, and the projects run by AIESEC in Tanzania, among other things. There were separate sessions for new and old members, and I found it great to sit down with the experienced AIESECers and talk about their leadership challenges and successes, where they found their inspiration, and what they thought made good leaders. We had a quieter afternoon and watched the sunset before dinner and our final session. Afterwards the partying started in earnest, and we headed to the "Rock Bar" and boogied down until the wee hours of the morning. The dance floor was pretty steamy, with couples getting very close, and everyone looking far sexier and coordinated that I could ever hope for. There were a large number of illicit couplings, with many delegates adopting for the “out of sight out of mind” approach when it came to their partners back home, but all was exposed the following day when the "Rumours and Scandals" team produced incriminating photos which were projected up onto big screen at the morning briefing. Struggling through our third day of minimal sleep, we finished our final session at around lunchtime, and frantically wrote our last "sugar cubes" - sweet messages to be placed in personalised envelopes, one for each delegate, which were stuck on the walls of the conference centre. The idea was that the envelopes would be taken away and read once we were home again, to remind us of the conference and all the lovely people we had met. After everyting was wrapped up and the obligatory group photos had been taken, we prepared to head off on a tour of Zanzibar!

As it turned out, our tour started and ended at the beach. We had meant to spend some of the day looking around town, but unfortunately (or fortunately) we ran out of time and ended up whiling away the afternoon sitting on the milky sand, staring out across the effortless blue, pondering along the shoreline, or splashing in the waist-high water playing footsies with soft green seaweed. At the end of it all we watched as the sun turn bright orange, throwing the myriad of palm trees into sharp shadowed relief against the setting sky. Too soon it was time to bundle back into the buses and head for the Zanzibar port to catch our overnight ferry back to Dar Es Salaam. On arriving at the port and with time to spare, Shige, Junki, Jeremy, Da and I headed down to the Zanzibar night market. When we arrived we were overwhelmed by the voracious Saturday night crowds (mainly families and children) buzzing around numerous stalls manned by men in full chef's attire, serving all manner of tea, sweets, and most importantly, fish. The tables groaned under the piles of fresh lobster, shellfish, shark, octopus and much more. We selected what we wanted and it was cooked in front of us, piled onto the plate and served with plenty of salt and fresh chapati. The shellfish was comically chewy, and I ended up swallowing some pieces whole making it look like I was swallowing a golf ball! Just as we were basking in a meal well eaten and admiring the scene, two of the others ran up telling us in panicked voices that the ferry was leaving at 9pm not 10 as we had thought, and (it being 8:50pm) we had to run for it. So we pelted back to the port, rushed through immigration and just as we were boarding, we were told that the boat was leaving at 10 after all! Of course. 

The ferry was packed; I found out later that there had originally been 2 boats leaving that night but ended up being only one, so we were jammed in pretty tightly! Despite the journey usually taking a mere 3 hours, our boat had to wait at sea until it could dock in Zanzibar when the port opened at 5am. After spending a couple of hours on the top deck playing games and watching the still water around us, we decided to try to sleep, and carved out a patch of floor on the deck below to rest our heads. Before I knew it, it was sunrise and we were back in Dar. Those of us sticking around for the day headed back to the house to unwind and get some sleep. After a lazy morning relaxing on the front porch we had a look around the markets then headed to the bar near our house for dinner and drinks. The night went too quickly and after collapsing into bed at 3am it was suddenly 4:30am and time to get up to get on the bus back to Nairobi. I have to say, I wasn't admiring too much of the scenery on the way back!

Now back at work again, I'm looking forward to escaping to the coast again, and am planning to head down to the Arabic-influenced coastal town of Mombasa next weekend. :)



Hi Beth,

Sounds like you're having a fantastic time - very jealous you got to go to Zanzibar! I remember how into the "rumor and scandals" the Indonesian AIESECers were when I was there. We had a funny session where we were meant to line-up by how many 'official' and 'unofficial' relationships we had had (given that most don't date at all before marriage) it was hilarious.


  Pippin Barry Dec 22, 2009 10:42 PM



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