Humans = pretty much my least favorite animals ever…
September 28, 2009
Another day in Zanzibar. It feels so strange to still be in the same place after the last crazy bout of travel!
This morning started with a lovely morning run through Stonetown with Alex and Laila (and lots of shouts of “mzungu, mzungu!” following us, of course). The highlight though was as we looped around the main square for the second time, a bunch of Swahili guys complimented us on our “polepole” (slow) running! After the run, Laila was civilized enough to take a shower, but Alex and I headed up to breakfast nice and sweaty and finally actually hungry.
This morning after a (supposedly) short lecture on the history of the slave trade in Zanzibar, we headed off to the Palace Museum, the old palace of the Sultan of Zanzibar that now holds a bunch of the original furniture and paintings and crap like that. It was cool, but I was satisfied after about five minutes – I guess I’m just not really a museum person, especially when there is such a lively and vibrant city right outside of its front doors. The only thing that really caught my attention was the saddle of the Sultan! I took a picture of it and will try to post it soon. It looked entirely illogical and very uncomfortable for both horse and rider, though it is quite ornately decorated.
Next we went to the cathedral that was built on the location of the former slave market in Zanzibar. For some reason, Daudi was today obsessed with the idea of the group behaving like tourists as if it were some fascinating anthological study and told us not to worry about covering ourselves enough to meet Muslim standards, made us walk really slowly, stop often to check for directions and generally be obnoxious. I hated it – Zanzibar is really not that difficult to find your way around in! Even the old German tourists in search of beer that is not Tusker manage better than we did today.
But back to the former slave market site:
Before the British were able to wield enough influence in the region to shut it down, the slave trade was the Sultan’s biggest source of wealth in Zanzibar and people were the island’s most profitable export. Once the trade was stopped, a British missionary arranged for the Anglican Church to purchase the slave market area and built a cathedral there in its place.
In my opinion the whole thing is a little morbid. The altar is located where the whipping post formerly was and it just seems strange to me to put something so beautiful (the cathedral is a work of art – incredible stained glass, paintings, etc.) where something so horrible once was. But perhaps it is seen as a memorial?
The tour guide also said that there used to be a well on the property which was where the slaves who were too weak to command a price at auction were drowned as a human sacrifice to improve the trade. Daudi later told us this was bullshit and totally made up in order to shock and scandalize tourists, but I guess he really did want us initially to have the full tourist experience.
We also saw the actual monument to the slaves, four very proud looking sculptures of East African people standing in a pit, wearing chains around their necks that had actually been used in the market itself. It was really one of those moments where you realize that art can say so much more than words.
After the cathedral we went into the building next door, which used to be a missionary hospital, but is now a hostel. Under the building is preserved one of the original holding areas where slaves where kept for as many as four days while they waited to be auctioned. The cave like rooms were tiny. We went into the one that had been used to hold up to 75 women and children. The floor and ceiling were so close together there was literally only about 3 feet of air between them. We were only able to stay standing up because we were standing in the two foot deep or so trench that ran through the middle of the room that used to be covered by an grate and served as the room’s bathroom area, as it was designed so that at high tide, the ocean would sweep in and wash all of the waste away. Width and length wise, the area was probably about the size of my bedroom at home. Many slaves who were kept there died not just of starvation, but also suffocation, as there were only tiny slits in a few places along the walls to let in light and air.
I felt like I was going to vomit when we all went in and it had nothing to do with the fact that I’ve been a little sick lately. Even with only 25 of us there was no space. I just can’t even comprehend how any human could do that to another. Some of the students went in to see the even smaller chamber meant to hold 50 men, but I went back up. I’m more ready than ever to start the biology section – different animal species have their different identifying characteristics – cheetahs are fast, elephants have incredible memories, dogs are loyal, cats are independent – humans are cruel. I’m ready to learn about some creatures who aren’t just devising new ways to torture each other generation after generation.
We were released for lunch after that and a pretty good group of us girls headed out in search of mzungu food. We ended up at a decent café that had wrap sandwiches. Though the prices did exceed our lunch allowance, we felt a they were worth it. For example, I paid 6,000 Tanzanian shillings for a falafel sandwich (somewhere between 5 and 6$ US) and our allowance is 5,000 shillings/meal, but keeping my tummy somewhat more happy seems worth spending a bit of my own money on!
Speaking of stomachs, the gross, puking, alien infested stomach sickness seems to be still working its way around the group. Claire and Rachel R. are the ones currently feeling lousy
The rest of the afternoon I spent writing e-mails, taking a nap, working on an essay for history and in the net café. After that I went back to the hotel for our evening class/lecture session. A friend of Daudi’s has a daughter who is currently going to the state university in Zanzibar to become a science teacher and she came to speak with us, along with one of her male friends about what being a university student in Zanzibar is like.
Mpagi (the university student), was very, very shy and though she spoke quite good English, wanted to speak in Kiswahili. She came wearing a beautiful bui bui, black but decorated with some lovely embroidery and a light but tightly wrapped and pinned head scarf, every inch the perfect image of a devout young Muslim woman. She often had a very serious expression, but when she smiled, she was so beautiful despite all of the fabric covering her. I was happy that I could understand much of what she was saying (the simpler sentences) before Daudi even translated them! She told us that she was only one of two girls from her primary school to receive good enough grades to go on to secondary school, and at the end of secondary school (through 11th grade) she was again one of two girls selected to go onto the pre-university years of study (12th and 13th grades).
After pre-university, she took the entrance tests for university, hoping to get into a program to study medicine. Her tests scores were not quite high enough for that, but she was able to get into the education program and receive a loan from the government in order to help with her expenses. She also said that unlike her other male relatives (who think she should be married already), that her father is very, very supportive of her education and even approves of her plan to continue on with some sort of graduate studies if she can gain admittance to such a program, even though doing so would mean having to go live and attend school in mainland Tanzania.
She does want to get married and have children someday, though she will not marry a man who will not allow her to work outside of the home. Her own mother plans to stay with the children when they are very small in order for her to be able to work.
Her friend who spoke wasn’t as interesting. He displayed the attitude I’m beginning to view as typical here – very dismissive of and demeaning towards women. He started off his talk by explaining that where we are from “ladies first, men second” might sometimes be the rule but that in Islam it is “always the men first, always!”.
I greatly admired Mpagi and her courage in speaking to us – it was clearly difficult for her to do, but I really learned a lot and her talk gave me a lot to think about. I realize more than ever how incredibly lucky I am in my own educational opportunities. All of my relatives are supportive of me going to college and studying science – not a one of them believes I should be kept in the kitchen and be producing half a dozen children to keep me busy. I also don’t have to worry about having enough materials, for example, in a science lab class in order to practice the necessary schools the way students in Zanzibar do if their government assisted funding isn’t paid to them on time.
A bunch of us then went to the market again for dinner tonight. I tried my first “Zanzibar Pizza”, dough wrapped around egg and vegetables (and meat or fish if you choose) and lightly fried (still too fried for me though) on a grill. Everyone else has been raving about them and while I liked mine, I wasn’t blown away by it. Though I still haven’t tried one of the dessert ones – which is banana and nutella stuffed - and I don’t think I will as that sounds a little too good!
A few last good things I’ve neglected to mention in previous entries:
1. When Rachel R. and her host brother were walking around together in Pemba, they came upon a goat giving birth and he informed her they were watching “Reproduction. Where one becomes two…reproduction!”
2. The man who came from the university to speak to us spoke of the difficulty of combining studies with “loving affairs”. (I think he would have just said “relationships” if he knew the words, but hearing the phrase “loving affairs” about fifty times within the space of five minutes was far more entertaining)
3. My current roommate, Kim, removed all of the hair braid extensions she got in Riruta tonight! She is really sad because she misses them and also because taking them out made an alarming amount of her real hair fall out too.
I get to go see monkeys tomorrow!