An African Oasis and Island Paradise on Zanzibar

Trip Start Apr 08, 2009
Trip End Ongoing

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Monday, May 4, 2009

May 4, 2009

Aside from the time I've spend working at TAFCOM, visiting families and the Children's Center, I've also tried my best to explore East Africa's beauty.  I have tried to get out as much as possible during my (short) 3 weeks here and have been fairly successful seeing all there is to see of this beautiful country.
Before traveling here I was told many a horror story of the terrible infections, diseases and parasites I would surely contract upon setting food on African soil.  Many of these fears and cautions are of grave importance and I have taken every precaution possible in order to avoid Malaria, gastrointestinal malfunctions, fungal infections, bacterial colonization of my insides, high altitude sickness, headaches, blisters, burns and rashes.  My first aid kit takes up half my day pack and I am pretty sure I have an ongoing expense account with Shopper's Drug Mart on account of my frequent spending sprees at their various locations before my departure. Yes, I am cautious.
However, I will admit to one foul slip-up since I've been here.  When you are invited to a remote Oasis in the middle of the East African Badlands its easy to throw caution to the wind.  Let's be serious.  How many times in your life are you going to spend an afternoon lazing around in the hot African sun in the pristine crystal clear waters of a true African Oasis?  Maybe once, if at all.  So, on a Tuesday afternoon after our volunteer placements Jessica, Andy, Joe and I pile into the back of a tour guide's mini van - bathing suits, towels, snacks and fresh mango juice in hand - ready to spend a quiet afternoon at an African oasis.  After the better half of 2 hours, through tiny remote villages, through a river, honking ferociously at stray cattle and goats wandering in the path of our vehicle we finally reach our little hot spring oasis.  The air is still, the sun is hot and its refreshing to enter in through an opening in the trees.  Inside it is shaded and cool and before us we see a small pond of beautiful blue/green water inviting us all in for a swim.  We anxiously set our stuff down at the base of a tree, peel off our outer layers and gingerly make our way through tree roots (and monkey poop) into the waters below.  We rest our feet on a shallow rock and are greeted by little bottom dwelling fish who curiously suck at the skin of our feet.  ( You can imagine the hilarity that ensued when Jessica and I first felt these little suckers brush up against our skin )  Apparently, you can pay a crap-load of your hard earned cash in posh North American Spas to get this type of 'fish friendly' pedicure - I've seen pictures of it.  Here we were, getting the real experience while delicately sipping Konyagi (local liquor) spiked Mango juice at 2pm on a Tuesday.  Overhead, monkeys swing in the trees and kindly drop figs on us from above (and other 'love notes' of the not-so friendly sort) - I have a feeling they didn't like our un-welcomed presence there.  After an hour or so lazing about and a healthy dose of Konyagi, we enjoyed the hour ride home while observing yet another wicked African sunset.
Friday morning, we wake up early, pack our bags and head downtown to catch the shuttle to Kilimanjaro International Airport.  Passports and boarding passes in hand, we board a small shuttle plane to the island of Zanzibar, just off the coast.  Zanzibar has been plagued by political strife and religious differences for about as long as it has been inhabited by humans.  As such, this island as a strong Islamic influence and is much more conservative than our comfortable little village outside of Moshi.  This is fabulous because here we see beautiful Muslim and Islamic inspired buildings and decor.  The food is amazing having influences from India, Ethiopia, Europe and the like. Our bellies are most definitely full for the duration of this trip :)

We take a 1 hour taxi ride up to the north coast of the island to a little village called Kendwa.  There is nothing up here save for a few mud huts on the side of the road, a small fish market (which smells exactly as you might imagine) and miles and miles of white sand beaches.  We pull into a large compound, run by a bunch of locals and a dutch women who speaks perfectly fluent swahili (and is the coolest woman I've ever seen).  We are given a brief tour and aftwards settle on two air conditioned thatched roof lofts over looking the vast expanse of open sand and water in front of us.  After quickly unpacking and changing into our swim suits (the only articles of clothing we would wear the entire weekend) we make our way down to the nearly empty beach front.  We are greeted by vacant thatched beach chairs under free standing thatched huts for shade.  There is a ship wrecked on the beachfront, speckled with locals and tourists alike lazing about on its fading wooden decks.  The water is clear crystal green/blue and streches for miles.  Hand carved wooden fishing boats are tethered to the shallow waters and float weightlessly in the surf.  White sand crabs and hermit crabs scurry by as we walk down the beach and locals meet and greet us in friendly fan-fare.  Children play noisly on the beach, chasing eachother with fists full of sand.
The place is the stuff dreams are made of.

We enjoy cold beers by a bon-fire at night and chat as best we can with the locals.  A friendly game of volleyball is played a dusk (which leaves bruises on the inside of my arms - I'm such a wimp!) and a massive football game ensues on the beach.  The sun goes down, the day grows dark and we congreate under a huge thatched enclosure for some well deserved dinnner.  They serve pizza and burgers but the menu is also riddled with butter chicken and vegetable curry dishes.  Rice, chicken, calamari, seafood and shrimp make our mouths water and our bellies groan with the pains of over-eating (again). In the morning, included with our accomodation cost is a meal of fried eggs, fresh bread and fruit.  Spiced tea and coffee are served and we are ready to spend the day in the sun. 

The day is long and lazy but none of us mind.  We devour pages upon pages of our well thumbed books and break the day up by swimming, kayaking or just simply wandering down the shorline.

This place was truly magical and I am considering another trip there before my time here in Africa is over.

As an additonal note, Kim and I visited Amose and Happiness again this morning.  We learned of Happiness' worsened condition but were able to spend more time speaking with them about their situation.  I took more pictures of their house and surroundings and am working on writing a newspaper article about them.  (The Burlington Post has kindly offered a 700 word piece to me in their travel section).  I am struggling to put into words everything I've learned about life here, and the situation that HIV/AIDS patients are living in.  My mind toils over how to express the pain and suffering that some poeple here are feeling every day.  I continue to work on this 700 word story but am worried it won't convey all that I've experienced here.  I will continue to work on this peice in the next couple of days and hope to send it off by the end of the week.  I hope it makes it into print and that more people at home are exposed to the situation here in Tanzania.  I only hope to inspire more people to reach out internationally.  If one person is changed by it, I've done my part.

Lots of love from East Africa,

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