August 19, 2011

Hakuna Matata

Zanzibar. Few names ring as magical and so full of mystery as Zanzibar. It makes you think of spices, Arabs, sultans, explorers, and all of 1001 Nights thrown into the lot. Noisette and I thought that while we're living reasonably close, visiting Zanzibar was too good a chance to pass up.

So off we went to this exotic land at the start of the  kids' August term break. There is a direct flight from Johannesburg to Zanzibar on 1Time, if you don't mind the rather rickety plane (before moving to Africa, I always had pity on those poor people having no other choice but to fly with such outfits as Congo Air, but let me tell you, our plane was not much above that). I've already told you about our arrival and visa odyssey, but now I'd like to talk about Zanzibar itself.

Waiting for the bus

Zanzibar bus/taxi

As always, reality puts a cold damper on your imagination. What seems incredibly exotic and vibrant and beautiful in your mind invariably suffers from the harsh realities of life, namely poverty, dirt, and a bad smell. Still, I would say that Zanzibar has a very special charm, not so much stemming from its illustrious history (more on that in my post about Stone Town) but from the friendliness of its people.

If there is one phrase that encompasses the people of Zanzibar, or the entire Swahili culture for that matter, it is Hakuna Matata. It means something close to "no worries," as immortalized in the movie The Lion King, but until now I didn't know that these words were actually spoken by real people.

Bikes are central to the Zanzibar economy

You really don't have to know much Swahili to have a conversation in Zanzibar, which would typically go something like this:

- Jambo (how are you?)
- Sijambo, wewe? (I am well, and you?)
- Sijambo. Hakuna matata

Every encounter ends with Hakuna Matata, and coupled with the brilliant smile most Zanzibaris will offer you, it really starts to seep into your psyche. There is no reason to worry! Life is great! Everything will work out!. Of course it helps when you're at a 5-star resort with free round-the-clock alcoholic drinks to your heart's content, but still. Montaigne once said that "The pleasantest things in the world are pleasant thoughts: and the great art of life is to have as many of them as possible." If anyone has taken this advice to heart, it is the people of Zanzibar, and by extension the rest of Tanzania and Kenya - which we have yet to see - as well. Hakuna Matata goes a long way towards keeping pleasant thoughts in your mind.

Local market in Zanzibar

Most of Zanzibari life revolves around the sea, coupled with some farming. The freshest fish is always on the menu, and wooden dhows gracefully glide along the coastline all day long. They are built today just as they have been built for hundreds of years and there are several dhow making centers along the Zanzibar coast where you can observe the skilled craftsmen at work on these ships.

We all loved Zanzibar, and even though our kids would argue that we could have done without the trip to Stone Town, I think that it was important for them to see such a different world and I hope it will leave an impression somewhere in the recesses of their minds.

Hakuna Matata, everyone!

More on Zanzibar:


Miss Footloose | Life in the Expat Lane said...

Jambo! Love your post and pictures! I lived in Kenya for a couple of years, a long time ago,but missed going to Zanzibar. Would still love to go, and you give such a nice description of it.

Yes, poverty, dirt and smells are often a part of life in many poor places, but there is so much more and it is important to look beyond it, as you did.

Hakuna matata. This morning I needed to hear that ;) and I'll make a sign and hang it on my wall.

cat said...

Looks like a wonderful holiday - a trip there is certainly on my wish list.

Sine said...

Thanks Miss Footloose, I'm glad I struck a chord. We too often forget these things. How is Moldova? I just read your minibus-peach story and laughed out loud!

Maria said...

I learn so much from your blog posts, and this one was especially fantastic. Of course, now I'll be singing Hakuna Matata all day....

Sine said...

Thanks Maria! And cat - hope you get to go to Zanzibar soon. In the meantime, I'm glad I was able to bring it a bit closer to you.

Sine said...

BTW Maria, the same goes for your blog, it is so well written and I enjoy all your insights and descriptions! (for those of you who haven't seen it, visit

W. A. Jeffrey said...

The poverty and smell will eventually change the longer the country can remain stable and if the economy grows enough. You just need proper sanitation and hygiene and the smell will recede. Sadly, so much of the 20th century was wasted on strife that these places have so much farther to go.

That said, provided they can keep Islamic terrorism at bay I think Zanzibar would be a wonderful place to visit someday.

Sine said...

You know, in hindsight we have been so lucky w respect to terrorism in all the places we traveled. No problem either in Zanzibar, even though the proximity to Kenya, and also no problem in Egypt July 2011. Probably the most peaceful time we could have been there. Not sure I'd want to go now.

W. A. Jeffrey said...

I have been wanting to go to Egypt for years now but they never seem to have things calmed down enough that I would want to go there. I might go to Tunisia someday though but will just have to wait and see.

Sine said...

not sure I'd say I enjoyed Egypt. It's one of those places where it's nice to HAVE been but not so nice while you're there. All the haggling and tugging at your sleeve and taking you to the "one and only papyrus museum" gets on your nerves. But I like having photos at the pyramids sitting on a camel. That's about the only thing Egypt has going for it, and it is such a racket seeing those pyramids, totally lawless, no official ticket selling or anything. Didn't enjoy it much, so sad that they don't do more with their artifacts.