Monday, July 16, 2007

A Mzungu in Zanzibar

July 7th, 2007

“Left fuel low” flashed a warning on the dashboard in an alarming red light. I tightened my seatbelt and continued to stare at the cockpit wondering if our pilot, with whom our lives depended, had taken any notice. He gazes blankly at the signal and increases the engine torque to get us through a thick cloud. Apparently it is not an issue, so I sit back into my seat and look out the window, where three thousand feet below our tiny Cessna plane sprawl rows of small shacks and giant villas that follow a shore line defined by white sand beaches and deep blue turquoise waters. This is Dar es Salaam, or “place of peace” in Arabic. It is a ridiculously hot, muggy, polluted, malaria-infested city that is home to over two million people. Some of them are expats. Most are resident Tanzanians, and others – scraggily-looking travelers, backpackers and foreign students – come from afar to haunt the city’s corners in search of themselves. I was part of that crowd a few years ago, after spending ten months at the local university to learn about development issues and be challenged by living in their company.

What makes Dar unique is its mosaic of cultures that have been mashed together to define the Swahili identity - colourful Hindu temples, large mosques, decorative kangas, a schizophrenic architectural style reflecting Arabic, Portuguese and German influences, beans, rice, chicken, beef, a corn four paste called ‘ugali’, kiti moto, octopus and a bounty of other foods to satisfy many pallets (oh, and did I mention beer?). It was this mosaic, coupled with welcoming residents and an internship opportunity with the Aga Khan Foundation, that drew me back to the nightmarish heat and humidity that blankets Dar eight months of the year.

Our single prop plane rocks back and forth as we pass through a cloud, it's white fluff blanketing the view in all directions. I tighten my seatbelt and think about not repeating the spell of motion sickness I experienced on the much bigger and longer flight from Canada, where turbulence plus high altitude mucus build-up tested the resilience of the thin paper bag by my seat. Suddenly there’s a flash. One of the passengers is taking pictures. I take deep breaths and look out of my window, waiting for a view. The clouds begin to clear and I see a small island below, and then another one. Finally there is a large piece of land that stretches far off into he distance. This is Zanzibar.

1 comment:

Caitlin said...

I think that flash was when I asked Rebecca to take a photo of me. I was somewhere between hyper and euphoric, that was the coolest plane ride EVER. I just wish I could have sat in the co-pilot's seat!!