There is a road in Stone Town, Zanzibar. It is a big road, compared to most of the others, and on that road there are many big hotels.
This road marks the edge of the most touristy part of an increasingly touristy town, cross it, and prices triple—or quadruple—loitering groups of young men disperse and much of the decay and jumbled details that lend the rest of Stown Town much of its charm is conspicuously absent.
This is where the tourist things are.
Not that you won’t find tourist things elsewhere. You will.
The same painted bowls and beaded bracelets, colorful print shirts and cleverly packaged spices, are quite nearly everywhere. But not in this concentration.
This is where the human tourist things are, too.
Faced with so many wazungu (foreigners) in such high concentrations I find myself at a loss. Next to my quiet neighborhood interspersed with local cafes and dukas (small food shops), such foreignness is jarring.
Yes, I know, I am a tourist thing too, and no one would let me forget it. But the groups of backpacked, sneakered oddities nonetheless throw me off. They happily pay two dollars for a mango or fifteen for a kikoi (sarong), making it all the more difficult for me to obtain fair prices. They meander in groups of five or six, shoulders bear or covered heads incongruously juxtaposed with short shorts, and no matter how I dress or walk or talk, I am just like them.
And yet, I am comfortable where the tourist things are. No one looks at me as they would an alien invader. One of many, I do not attract the same attention I do in residential neighborhoods.
Here, on this side of the big road, surrounded by other white faces who will never blend in, no matter what, I fit somebody’s paradigm, if not my own.
Oh yes, I could stay where the tourist things are, surrounded by other tourist things “like” me, but I don’t want to. I will go back to my room at the edge of this quickly changing, quickly gentrifying center and cook maharagwe on a kerosene burner. I will take off the extra layers of clothing I don in a futile attempt to deflect attention. I will finish writing for the day, and I will live the life of my making, uniquely between the tourist things I don’t want and the local things I could never be.
That is where you will find me.
(Update: Irony of ironies, you will in fact find me ‘where the tourist things are’ beginning late May. Earl and I will be working at a boutique hotel in Michamvi, on the southeast coast of Zanzibar, for the next 6 months! More to come on this soon.)
(Stay tuned for pictures. The rainy season does not lend itself to photography.)