Readers, I didn’t blog for the whole month month of March, and now here it is halfway through April. Work has been busy and I’m acutely aware that a two-day weekend is just not enough time to get done all the things I want to do. Let alone blog about all the Algeria places, as we have less than three months left here! But I’ve been wanting to share a few stories from our January Zanzibar trip for quite some time.
So to bookend our safari in Tanzania, we were in Zanzibar, which is an island in the country of Tanzania. We flew from Algeria to Qatar to Zanzibar, landing in the early morning. I was so terribly tired when we arrived and not ready to argue with the taxi drivers who seemed primed to rip us off for a ride from the airport to Stone Town, where’d we’d stay for a few nights before flying to Arusha to begin our safari. We arrived to the Jafferji House Hotel and the front desk staff were not at all sympathetic to how desperately tired I was. It was unclear if they had a room ready or if they were just sticking to the arbitrary check-in time because rules. Anyways, after sleeping at a breakfast table on the very pretty rooftop, we finally we got into our room, I slept a bit more and then we explored.
I really liked the look of Stone Town. Most of the structures are from the 1800s, and it reminded me of India, with colorful doors carved with lotus flowers and lattice wooden balconies, but also unmistakable Arab elements like Quran verses carved into doors, half-moon-topped minarets, the call to prayer wafting over domed rooftops. Stone Town is actually a mix of Omani, Persian, Indian, European (Portuguese and English), and African traditions and elements.
We toured the old Omani Fort; bought some beautiful pattered kangas that I’ve already been using as tablecloths; walked past the birthplace of Zanzibar’s most famous resident Freddie Mercury; bought some vanilla beans and spices; had a lovely dinner atop the stunning rooftop at Emerson on Harumzi, ate a great seafood lunch at Emerson Spice; and braved the crowds and haggling at to get some really good squid at Forodhani gardens on New Year’s Eve. (And then rather lamely went back to our hotel before midnight to watch an episode of Emily in Paris on Netflix).
Stone Town had both a flourishing spice trade (mostly cloves), a brutal ivory trade (the bigger the tusk the better) and an even more brutal slave trade. In fact, it was from Zanzibar where countless East Africans were held before being sold and shipped to the Middle East and other African countries. We visited the site of the old slave market and toured the sobering (and really informative and powerful) museum. Today, there’s a church atop where the enslaved people were held.
On the last day, we realized that $200 had been stolen from our safe and so had Adam’s Apple earbuds. The hotel staff, whom we already found not super hospitable, denied anything had gone missing but not before calling in the cleaning staff in front of us for some very uncomfortable accusations. Zanzibar was also where I contracted COVID as I’d start having symptoms soon after we left.
Flash forward to about a week later. I was feeling much better after being rather sick from COVID. We were in the Serengeti sipping Safari beers, fresh from the will-they-won’t-they excitement of waiting for a pride of lions to go on a hunt, (Spoiler: They didn’t. Fine by me) when I noticed a message had come in on this blog. The sender, Michelle, said she and her husband John would be arriving in Algiers soon, and that they’ve loved reading my blogs to prepare for their move.
“Like you and Adam, we are both highly active in the swinger lifestyle/couples swap. Our good, long-term friend Sonia recommended we reach out to you to see how we should go about getting ‘plugged into’ this type of community in Algiers. From what John has heard in his recent FSI training, you guys are the ones we should be talking to!!! 😉 Please reach out at your convenience to let us know how we should proceed to enter your club. Kisses!!! 😉
My first thought was “what kind of prank is this?” But there were a few tidbits that rang true, like “FSI training” and I do actually have a good friend named Sonia. But come on, “plugged into” and all those winky faces? And would newly-arriving diplomats really be so out in the open about their great love of swapping sex partners? But Adam somehow convinced me this message could possibly be legit and so I sent a nice message back that was like “Sorry, you must have us confused with someone else. But I hope you enjoy Algiers! Best, Emily.”
While we’re definitely not swingers, Michelle’s message stuck with us and was fodder for some interesting conversations. I think it also colored how I saw Zanizibar when we returned again after the safari.
The plan was to wrap up the safari with a beach stay in Zanzibar and so we flew back to Zanzibar and checked in to the Sharazad Boutique Hotel in Jambiani Beach. Right away, I noticed how sexy this place was. Hot people lounging on beds overlooking the Indian Ocean, a supermodel redhead in an electric green thong bikini, an extremely good looking French couple in the room next to ours, and a surprising number of women there by themselves. Not to mention some likely sex tourism happening beneath our noses with all the 50-year-old women walking hand-in-hand on the beach with young guys dressed as Massai Mara. (I was told they are not Maasai Mara, a people known for their physical beauty, but they just dress like they are to attract women). Adding to all this sex in the air was that I’d nabbed the new Sally Rooney novel from a communal bookshelf at the hotel and holy moly, it’s a scorcher if you’re into cerebral depressives having really hot sex. So the blog message I’d received, the clientele at the resort, and a sexy book, and I was pretty convinced that we’d accidentally checked in to a swingers resort. And I couldn’t help but wonder, what if we actually are swingers?
Lol, I joke, I joke. Or at least I wouldn’t write about that here in this blog that is read by our colleagues and parents. But if I were to try my hand at writing erotic literature, I’d set my first story at a Zanzibar resort.
We’d planned to stay in Zanzibar for just a few nights, but there was a problem with the type of COVID test we’d signed up for and we actually ended up missing our flight back to Algiers and the next one didn’t leave for another five days. I felt no small amount of guilt being stranded on this sexy and seedy paradise island, but we made the best of it.
Each day fell into a nice routine of wake up, coffee, yoga, breakfast with lots of delicious fruits, reading, walks on the beach, fish or squid for lunch at a beach shack restaurant, nap, reading or writing, possibly another yoga class, piña colada, dinner, and the deep sleep of being on vacation with no cats sleeping in your bed. Adam tried his hand at kite surfing, and while he was doing that, I would go for a walk along the beach. The ocean has this crazy tidal system that means the coastline virtually disappears at some parts of the day and Zanzabarian women use the low tide to dig holes and plant sea grass, which will grow tall enough after a few weeks to be used in weaving mats and baskets. Then, they walk down the beaches with baskets balanced on their heads.
I enjoyed the resort a lot but I am not a beach person. I don’t understand the appeal of sweating on hot dirt and I was aware the of the poverty and possible crime that existed just outside of our protective resort bubble. Walking on the beach meant many locals approaching me with an “hakuna matata” and trying to sell me something and walk alongside me. I heard stories about people being held up with machetes nearby. Also I suspected Zanzibar was a refuge for anti-vaxxers. As more and more countries, or at least employers in those countries, began to mandate vaccination, Tanzania never required vaccination for anything, least of all for tourists. We suspected that Dutch family that was staying at the resort for months were vaccine dodgers. One of two of our yoga teachers also didn’t see the value of being vaccinated against COVID. Actually, on our last night in Zanzibar, we had dinner with this yoga teacher – who is French and had been teaching yoga on the island for several months – and she was detailing all the clubs and parties on the island, but noting most don’t get going until well after midnight. I interrupted her and said “Oh, we don’t party like that. We’re into a very specific type of party.” And I spit my wine out as I said it and let out a very loud Emily cackle. What I meant is that we’re into cozy dinner parties at home, or house parties where I mix drinks and we hire a local band. But I realized it must have sounded like the set up for us propositioning this beautiful yoga teacher, whom we’d invited out to dinner, our treat, to thank her for all the wonderful yoga. (And because it’s always nice when you’re a couple who’s been together for a decade to have some other people to talk to on vacation).
We went on a snorkeling outing on the last day in Zanzibar, and it was just wonderful. The pinks and violets and blues and lime greens of the coral and sea cucumbers I saw under the Indian Ocean will color my dreams (or home designs) for years to come. And eating a lunch of fresh grilled tuna, shrimp, and lobster atop a sandbar is of the best lunches I’ve ever had.
So Zanzibar: I think it’s a complicated place. The fun bustle of Stone Town, but also the guy who sold us on his street fish skewers, but after we’d ordered made us go stand far away by trashcans to make way for new customers and then tried to double the price once the skewers were cooked. Feeding part of our giant seafood feast to a stray cat at the party bar owned by a friend from our Yemen days, and then the cat promptly liquid shitting on our seats. Gorgeous fabrics and patterns and rooftop restaurants and fresh fruits, but also having things stolen from the safe in our hotel room. COVID infections, getting our noses swabbed in the sand, and people who don’t trust vaccines but also healthy food, tropical drinks, excellent yoga. The crazy tides that when they recede, leave the beach looking like a bomb scene scattered with wooden boats, but when they come, fill in that blank space with cool, clear water. The vibrant coral reefs, the luxury of the resorts, but that nearly everything we saw seemed to be just for the tourists and not enjoyed by the locals.
It’s a trip that will definitely stick with me.
And no couple named John and Michelle have yet to arrive to the Embassy.
To a swinging good time in Zanzibar 😉