Making Friends in Stone Town

By: Vanessa Murphy

Vanessa Murphy - Old Fort

Vanessa in Stone Town, Zanzibar

There’s a difference between travelling somewhere and living somewhere. Walking around Stone Town, Zanzibar, it’s very easy to see these differences amongst foreigners. The more I settled in to my life in Stone Town, the more I began to love my time there.

During the summer of 2014, I worked for YCI at their office in Mwanakwerekwe, Zanzibar, teaching a class to young people interested in working for NGOs as part of the Emerging Leaders Program. Stone Town was only a 20 minute dalla dalla ride from where I lived, and my contact point for the rest of the world. Mwanakwerekwe is a bustling market area for locals on the island and a truly authentic Zanzibarian cultural experience. For those times I needed a little more quiet and a break from being the only ‘Mzungu’, I would head into Stone Town to sit by the beach, drink a coffee, or do some shopping.

On my first few visits to Stone Town, I was hassled just like the other foreigners walking into the city. I was asked to ‘just take a look’ in the shops; questioned about what activities I would like to do that day; offered Henna painting and cheap Indian-inspired Ali Baba pants; and challenged with a wide array of Swahili greetings. This meant I was new.

However, the more I ventured into Stone Town, the more Swahili I returned the challenges with, and the more I joked with those approaching me, the faster I began to fit in. Being a ‘White Rasta’ helped me stand out and be remembered of course, but generally relaxing and speaking to people is the fastest way to turn from a money-toting tourist to a Swahili Rafiki.

Vanessa Murphy - Faki at Forodhoni Market

Faki at the Forodhoni Market

Zanzibarians are always looking for a joke, always looking to chat, and love making new friends. This is what makes the island the paradise it is. By the time I left Zanzibar I had friends all over the island, but the ones I had met in Stone Town were an interesting group…

Emmanuel, a young guy in the Old Fort who works selling tourist wares. He first wanted me to buy jewelry but in the end, he took care of my kitten called Moose and made sure he was fed and safe.

Okey Dokey, a fun-loving Rasta with big thick dreads who knew everything going on and every tourist in the area. No matter where I went on the island, he was there.

Big Mama, who first ripped me off by over-charging me for Henna painting, soon became a friendly face around town yelling ‘Vanessa!’ in crowded markets and along the street.

Faki, a past student of YCI’s with the biggest smile in town. He ensured I was well fed at the Forodhoni Night Market where he ran a table selling mountains of sea food, breads, and samosas.

By the time I left Zanzibar, I couldn’t walk into Stone Town without seeing and talking to someone I knew every 10 meters. I was no longer asked to buy things, but instead was asked how my day was. I was no longer offered Henna, but instead offered tea. I was no longer challenged with Swahili, but conversed in it. I was a friend in Stone Town.

Vanessa Murphy - Sun Setting in Stone Town

Sun Setting in Stone Town, Zanzibar

Vanessa Murphy was a YCI Youth Ambassador working in Zanzibar, Tanzania.

To learn more about how you can get involved with YCI’s projects abroad, and to view current opportunities to become a Youth Ambassador, click here.

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