Letter #6

February 19, 2011

Hi all,

Today was a reorganizing morning, taking stock, looking to see if there's any way I can put off laundry till Cape Town (almost everything I wear now is laundry because it's so blinking hot). The prospect of doing laundry in a 4-story walkup has no appeal, even with a breeze. It looks like I can squeak through to Monday. But I'm definitely ready for a recharge-electric toothbrush, and more.

It's amazing how much time such little decisions take. Even just counting money, remembering that 1000 shillings is about 65 cents. Lunch my first day was $4. In shillings (4 x 1480 = 5920). Now how long does it take to figure out how many dollars 68,000 shillings (lunch for two at the Hilton) might be? You don't want to know.

Salum, Lourence's friend, changed his mind and decided to squire me around himself with Ali the driver today instead of tracking down a guide. Or maybe that was the original plan and I missed it because there weren't any "r"s in what he said. That's one of the main missings for TanZANian English: terminal R's. They use r's clearly at the beginning of a word, as in rat, but drop the ends, so birthrate comes out bethrate, park comes out pack, hurt comes out something closer to hat, father comes out fatha (actually it comes out fazha, a kind of soft z. Add cell phone inconsistencies and you have a recipe for certain misunderstanding. I've found if I ask them to slow down so I can at least tell which word I don't understand, I do better. (Listen to Audio file)

So off we go to explore the coast, the spice plantations, and the turtles. As in many third-world nations, the beaches are occupied by a narrow, single row of hotels, bars, etc. We enter one, the Hilton, to find their polished and policed property looking refreshingly snappy. In examining the contrast between that and the rest of the world, I realize something that's been tugging at the edge of my awareness: There's hardly any paint in Zanzibar. Cement buildings are cement. When the lime of the original construction starts showing signs of aging, they simply let it. My guess is that paint doesn't fare all that well in the sun here anyway, but it sure does spiff up the place

The other thing that came front and center is the phrase, "dirt-poor." It didn't really register until now. The earth in Tanzania, including Zanzibar, is bright rust-colored. And it's everywhere. Everywhere. There are no sidewalks, even in most of the city. Many of the houses have nothing around or in them but dirt. And the stuff is so ubiquitous that it filters into houses relentlessly, whether they have floors or not. "Shake the dust from your feet" didn't have a context till I saw it here. It's less fully airborne than it is on the mainland, because Z so incredibly humid here that keeps it down somewhat.

But , Whooops! Now there's a turn of events. All the power just quit-along with the FANS, while I was standing in the altogether about to get ready for bed.

Could credit on the power card be exhausted? (We bought prepaid cards for the electricity, and but in an everypennycounts way, they also make it possible for you-if you pay attention-to have what you need for a reasonable price.) No, I discover, it's not the credit level; the power has failed on this street, at least I think so. Thank goodness for those little headlamps that are supposed to last forever-I'll never go anywhere without mine after this trip.

One of the stores in this building and some apartments still have lights. I go down four flights to find out. The night watchman says the lighted places have generators. The lights are well and truly out, but I should go over to talk to Mr. Bachir, who happens to be the proprietor of the supermarket downstairs, and is chatting with two buddies in the faint breeze. As I'm speaking with him, the lights come on-across the street, but not here. He assures me that I am safe anywhere on this street at any hour, so whatever I need is available. I ask him about Cipro, as I've reached the last dose for tomorrow a.m. and am still not entirely clear of this bug. Is there any place that will fill a prescription on a Sunday? He points me toward the Zanzibar Pharmacy further down the street.

With nothing to be done about the lights, I decide to walk down the block to the pharmacy to find out if they can fill my prescription. It's an interesting experience to be walking along a street with no sidewalks, intermittent lights, lots of dirt, lots of unfinished construction projects, with mostly young men scattered around doing pretty much nothing. Not the kind of scene I would venture into in the States. But as I returned polite greetings (jambo means hello in Swahili) I become aware that in Zanzibar, this is the way an OK street looks. I'm so programmed to expect sidewalks, window boxes, freshly painted fences, and the like, that I get nervous and start telling myself stories about being in danger when I don't see them. We're talking about a different standard of living, not a different kind of people. And furthermore, I muse, Is dirt actually dirty? Or is it simply earth? For all I know, this rusty dust has magical properties and we'd do better to get closer to it.

Anyway, long story short, I'm back up in the room. I'm sitting still in the altogether and running with sweat. I pop in and out of the shower and then just let myself evaporate, and I yearn for a proper wind to sweep through. My laptop, faithfully records these musings until this moment, when sleep overwhelms even the heat.

Thinking fondly of you all. Thanks for your replies. It feels good to be connected.

Love, from Zanzibar,

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