Zanzibar part 4: Call me Ishmael

In the morning we bade goodbye to Morton, after nearly a month travelling together. We were on the road again, but this time, for the first time since Cape Town, I was doing the driving. We had hired a small Suzuki all wheel drive, which would be perfect for purpose.  Travelling north out of Stone Town,  finding a petrol station proved a challenge, given the African penchant for vague directions.

‘Yes, turn left down there.’ (A wave off into the distance)

‘It is some kilometres.’

‘Yes, we have one, it is close around here.’

The driving was also a challenge. I had to think like an African driver thinks; momentum rules. C=MV. I commented to Naomi I was probably going to be the biggest wuss of a driver in Zanzibar; basically my plan was to give way to everybody.

Unshackling the urbanity of Stone Town, we headed north through coconut, banana, avocado and jackfruit, the latter’s bulbous forms hanging heavy on the branches. Rainstorms and bleaching sun reminded us how close we were to the equator. Young schoolgirls walked past in their matching veils, drenched but unfazed.

We approached the north tip of the island, when an interesting looking beach appeared on our left and I swung the car off and stopped. A young lad, probably close to Sam’s age but half his weight, standing tall in a buttoned shirt, stepped forward and formally offered his services.

‘Sir, I am Ishmael. I would like to act as your guide, if you would like. There are some nearby historical ruins.’

‘How much?’

‘Two dollars, but if you don’t want to pay, that is alright.’

I was stumped by Ishmael’s honesty.  Meanwhile his friends were mocking and imitating Sam, who was excited and flapping a bit. I became irritated until I realised they were imitating all three of us. I guess we were novelties after all.

Ishmael walked us down the beach and then across to a nearby decaying old coral stone building. To my astonishment the boy revealed its history. ‘This was a house built by Portugal’s traders in the fifteenth or sixteenth century. They lived here for a few hundred years. They traded metal materials for spices and ivory.’

His recount was backed up by some official signs around the site. I was not only impressed by Ishmael’s English and his knowledge, but his delivery; he was a bright spark alright. I was also impressed by the ruins, and tried to relay what we were seeing onto Sam.

‘Imagine, Sam, living back here in the sixteen hundreds, where the only people you would know would be in this house, and it would be years and years before you would see any of your own people.’

Sam looked out the corner of his eye in his enigmatic way. ‘Yeah.’

On the way back to the car Ishmael told me he wanted to be a doctor. ‘I want to help people. I want to help women and babies who are dying when they shouldn’t be dying.’

‘I am a doctor.’

‘Oh, really? You have studied mathematics, and physics, and chemistry? These things?’

‘Yes, sure.’

‘Oh, I want to study these things.’

‘I really hope you get to do this, I think you would make a good doctor.’

The next day we cruised further down the east coast. Magnificent beaches, picture postcard perfect with beach side lagoons reticulated with swirls of seaweed that was being harvested by local women. Distant reefs were marked by breaking surf, coconut palms swayed in the zephyr, and time slowed, defined merely by the inclination of the sun.

Further south the lagoons disappeared and the gentle surf splashed onto the beach. After stopping for a coffee for me and a Sprite for Sam at a particularly nice five star hotel, perched on a giant coral rock hanging over the creamed honey shallows, Sam decided he liked Zanzibar. So did I.