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The Things I learned in Unguja

This wasn’t my first time in Africa. It was my first time in Africa on vacation, though. And it was my first time on this side of the Indian Ocean. Oh, and it also was my first time below the equator (Singapore and Indonesia missed it by a stone’s throw). Lots of first times, as you […]

This wasn’t my first time in Africa.
It was my first time in Africa on vacation, though.
And it was my first time on this side of the Indian Ocean.
Oh, and it also was my first time below the equator (Singapore and Indonesia missed it by a stone’s throw).

Lots of first times, as you can see.

First time in Unguja, of course, one of the islands that constitute what we call Zanzibar. It’s a popular tourist venue, not a place I would have picked by myself, but I was glad to tag along my very good friend Germana. Did I enjoy myself? Of course. Was it interesting? A lot. So, as it’s tradition of this blog, there you go: the 5 things I learned in Unguja this March.
No secrets will be revealed in this post. What happens in Zanzibar stays in Zanzibar.

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1. Fresh nutmeg won’t kill you

We did something called “The Spice Tour” where they take you to see a fake spice plantation, more like a botanical garden, with the different varieties of spices growing in the island and, most importantly, on the nearby island of Pemba. It was a really cool trip and I understood I actually know a lot about spices as it is (maybe because I have quite a hardcore spicy cook, at home, and you know if you have ever been dining at our place).

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Still, there were lots of things I had the delight of discovering, during this trip, such as:

  • cinnamon: its perfume, when fresh, really kicks your ass;
  • henna is boring, even when is fresh;
  • cardamom, not my favorite spice, is actually good with coffee;
  • the Jackfruit, something I had never heard about, smells horribly but has an amazing taste;

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  • pepper is messing with us, just like tea: there’s no such thing as white, green, pink or black pepper (this I actually knew beforehand, but it’s nice to have confirmation);
  • cloves are worshiped, in this place: they make for most of the income of the nearby island of Pemba;
  • vanilla is supposed to be used whole, and not just the seeds: years and years of beliefs were shattered just like that;
  • soursop is either out of season in March or not for tourists, because we didn’t taste it;
  • the color from the lipstick tree is very durable and if you’re a lady you know how to apply it (I’m clearly not a lady);
  • tumeric‘s color will never leave you (and this I already knew thanks to my friend, who of course was picked as tester to be stained forever once again).

Most importantly, fresh nutmeg is really beautiful and you can eat pieces of it without having a heart attack. Do not do it with the dried one. You might actually have a stroke. Ask my friend Gabriele. Do not worry: I brought you some.

2. Baobabs kick asses

There’s a fallen baobab, on the island of whatever (I lost track of all the places we’ve been, especially if what I have to remember it is the fact that there was a beach). Thing is, this baobab has indeed fallen but that wasn’t enough to stop her (because something doing that is bound to be female): she simply started growing in a different direction. You can see how this was of inspiration to me. Thanks, baobab.

3. The Starfish breaths

I’m a city girl, I can’t swim and, as such, my interaction with starfishes have been very limited, up until now.
During a boat trip, some of the locals dived into the sea and collected some starfish for us on the boat, while the others were snorkeling around. Don’t get me wrong: I would have gladly left them alone. When it was time to throw them back to the ocean, I took one in my hand and I was struck by the most delicate and unexpected surprise. I had always pictured them as something closer to coral, but it was softly moving. A calm, soothing pulse, more than a movement.
Apparently, there’s no need to get upset, even if someone rips you out of your natural environment. Good to know.

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4. Teaching can be tough

Of course this came as no surprise, but still.
We were lucky enough to be allowed inside a local school and I got a chance to see a class assembled.
Both girls and boys, which of course is bound to be an issue when on the blackboard you’re teaching the Qurʾān.
Very few equipped with a notebook and a pencil, which of course is an issue if you want to teach them to write.
Students spanning from 5 years old to 15 in the same class.
And a fucking lot of them.
It’s a miracle if you can manage to teach them anything, in those conditions.

Between that and other understandable reasons, the teacher was far from being happy to see us. I honestly can’t blame her and I would have liked to be able to apologize properly for the intrusion. Alas, my swahili really sucks. I should have watched this before leaving:

 

5. Asbestos is still a thing

I shouldn’t have been that surprised about this, but it has been a while since I encountered that issue and my mind kind of put it inside a sealed drawer. Up until we took a stroll to the nearby fishing village. I would wager that the material was sold from Europe by someone who took money to dismantle it and then took money by selling it. Because people can really suck, especially when it comes to money and power.

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