“Zanzibar refuses to be ugly”

Written by: Tonni Brodber

The older I get the more I see that countries are like people. In many ways they very literally manifest the general personality of their population. And…you meet their representatives first. The suave, funny, well dressed, knows what to say, rarely awkward Dan(a) Gorgan. Then after a few meetings that particular face starts to slip and whoever greets you shows up, Messy, Itchy, Needy or Grumpy. Same thing with countries; whether the country is in the Caribbean, the Pacific, Europe, Africa, usually when tourist-ing it is hard to get a glimpse behind the beautiful ‘quaint’ buildings oh so full of charters you say to yourself, anyone around who will listen and social media. The people seem so happy to be helping you out with directions or a recommendation, or getting you a drink. (*Except Barbados…really lovely people but after so many years on the plantation rarely do you find folks content with the service industry). Then after a few weeks or months, you start to see cracks. It is not that the representative isn’t real, it is just one of the many faces.

Be warned… there are countries, like people, who are so dysfunctional that they can’t muster up a half decent representative.

Throughout most of my career when I moved, I’ve been lucky enough to be introduced to the country through its representative. Oh how charming this neighbourhood is! How wonderful and happy the people are! Well being a volunteer is a whole different ballgame. In this case I met almost all of Zanzibar until, I bucked up on its representative almost by accident.

I live in a lovely village about 10 minutes across a playfield and a few school grounds from where I work. It is where people live. The village has embraced me. They check in on me sit with me, stare at me and practice Swahili with me. Mama who cooks for me looks wounded when I am full without finishing the meal or *gasp* I ate out. Mama’s son is 7 and he works with me on my Swahili and I work with him on English. The people are probably Zanzibar’s best face; they are that increasingly rare combination of genuinely warm and friendly, curious but never cynical.

However, there is not much to see in my village and district except people, houses, dust and not properly disposed of garbage. I sidestepped a razor the other day. In all of that, there is something I can’t quite put my finger on about the place. It is what it is and in spite of its blemishes it is comfortable in all its glory.

In spite of Dave Chapelle’s many warnings I’m trying to keep it reheaalll. So I keep trying to take pictures of the garbage and the dust clouds, to highlight the many faces of the space, but the camera catches it as flashes of light among the grass waiting to be found.

Zanzibar refuses to be ugly.

I met Zanzibar’s representative the other day. It began when one day my colleague felt I needed a proper tour of Stone Town. So our first stop was the former Slave Market now Anglican Cathedral thanks to Dr Livingstone, I presume. It was heavy and beautiful, I wanted to stay and explore but I didn’t want to share the space.


 After the tour of the Slave Market we just meandered through the ‘streets’ of Stone Town and it was like I was in a fairy tale. The buildings are stunning, even the ones that a faded are still more than just reminiscent of their former glory days. That glory seems seeped in the wood and stone and of course the sea. So it was a pleasure to get acquainted with Zanzibar’s Dan(a) Gorgan, Dan(a) Dadda, but by then I was already hooked, line and sinker.







Photos provided by: Amanda Armstrong, YCI Staff


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