Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Trip to Zanzibar – Easter Weekend

It is virtually a given: traveling to beautiful locales requires frustration. Without a little struggle, one simply does not deserve to walk a desolate beach or swim in azure waters. We had decided to spend four days in Zanzibar for the long weekend. This is usually a snap trip from Dar – a quick hour and a half boat ride. Hillary was meeting with a team from Google.org on Thursday from noon to 4 pm, an important meeting for her focus on expanding entrepreneurial activity across Tanzania. However, the last boat from Dar to Zanzibar leaves at 4 pm. Hillary was caught between a real opportunity at work with a significant funder who was departing Tanzania shortly, and a cranky husband eager to get started with the vacation from, well, his hiatus. While I didn’t envy her position, I knew that if I showed too much empathy, we’d have left a day later. I did the arms folded across the chest, foot tapping, “I’m fine – you just have your meeting” routine pretty gracefully.

The taxi driver, slated to pick us up at 3:15, the very last minute so that Hillary could finish her meeting and we could squeak on to the 4 pm boat departure, still hadn’t arrived by 3:30. I tossed Bodie into the car and raced to Hillary’s office. A very stressed Hillary, slightly cranky Bodie and I grabbed a taxi, expedited the generally protracted negotiation process for a trip, and raced to the Ferry terminal in downtown Dar.

It quickly became clear that mzungu’s last minute efforts at navigating the ferry system were familiar to the locals and presented a clearly identified opportunity to quickly move cash from our pockets to theirs. A broadcast message must have preceded our arrival for as soon as the taxi pulled up, we were swarmed by men grabbing our bags and racing us to the ticket window. At least a dozen men were the only ones to know the secret way to get a ticket, even though the boat was ostensibly sold out, and get us on the boat that was leaving in minutes. Hillary had two people who were “helping” her at the ticket window, I had two additional porters “helping” with two bags while I held Bodie. After Hillary’s helpers miraculously managed to secure tickets (with much consternation and reporting on how difficult it had been and how lucky we were), we tipped them and raced after the porters with the bags.

The boat horn had sounded, and the boat was loaded. As the ticket checker looked at our tickets, he asked for passports to verify that we were indeed residents. My passport has yet to have the official resident stamp, so the ticket checker said I’d have to return to the ticket window to pay the nonresident rate, which happened to be more than double what we’d already paid. The boat whistle, the last boat whistle of the last boat leaving for the day, sounded again. I reached out and passed a wad of bills to the ticket taker. The porters raced onboard with our bags. When I went to hand them the equivalent of $4.00, they said, “that is small money, we need big money.” I may be cheap by nature, but I know that $4.00 is a decent day wage here, much less fair compensation for 10 minutes work. They said they needed $10 each for carrying two bags, and stood by Hillary and Bodie. I wanted nothing more than these two extortionists to be gone, so forked over another $4.00, fuming. They left, saying “hakuna matata”, which translates to “no worries”.

The boat was a relatively modern high-speed catamaran. We grabbed seats outside on the rear deck and watched as it pulled from the dock and Dar started to recede behind us. Suddenly the boat slowed. Dar stopped receding and kept kind of bobbing right behind the stern. The boat was moving at a crawl. The catamaran is designed to be very stable in the ocean at speed, but wallowed in the rolling sea swells. The smell of diesel wafted across the crowded, windless back deck. What was supposed to be a quick 90-minute trip to Zanzibar took almost four hours. As we saw the lights of Zanzibar and knew we were soon to land, I was holding Bodie, who suddenly was warm, damp, and sticky where I was holding him. A volcanic diarrheic poop was the appropriate and perfect coda to the journey.

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