Reasons to be excited about being back in Zanzibar, pt. 2

1. The cake lady

The cake lady might arguably be recognized by all westerners in Zanzibar as a “game changer.”  She opened shop a few weeks ago and sits often by her open blue doors, inviting customers in.  She sells cake and coffee for 5,000 shillings, or about $3, and bakes fresh cake, cinnamon rolls, and cookies every day.  The cake lady is from Denmark and she has made a collage of Danish/German/other postcards on her counter—these are the kinds of cutesy/artsy/silly postcards you can find in most any German shop and so they remind me of cool, German fall and winter and times in Joanna and Kirsti’s apartment in Bonn, since Joanna from Amsterdam had lived there for a while and had covered their otherwise plain white walls with these cards and it became such a fun, bright place, especially in the spring and summer, during the period of 8-9 pm sunsets, when I started to escape our quiet apartment with the unclean stove and reclusive roommates.  So I have felt pretty comfortable at the cake lady’s, and she’s just around the corner for me, so that helps too.  So far I’ve had her chocolate/orange cake and a cookie with almonds and peanuts.  I learned she gets her cocoa imported from Kenya and her coffee beans at the market, but she won’t go so far as to roast the beans herself.  All of this confirms what I knew all along to be true, that I should live in a Nordic country…


Papparaziing the cake lady…

2. Mama mchawi

On Thursday we watched an improv troupe perform.  The troupe’s director described the theme of their plays as “Zanzibari life.”  They acted out a few different vignettes, including a young boy neglecting to carry an older man’s bags because he was occupied with his soccer ball; the mzee, old man’s subsequent wrath; a wedding and “uncovering” of the bride; and infidelity in a marriage/engagement, which is where mama mchawi comes in.  In this piece, a young woman is driven away from her fiancée because she is found with another man; she goes to her mother, who is at the same time sympathetic, but also kali, hard/fierce.  Mama goes to the fiancée’s house, breaks down the doors, and exchanges “words” with the fiancée’s father, who calls her and her daughter “prostitutes,” among other difficult to understand inflammatory Swahili word ammunition.  We learn that mama is also an mchawi, or witch.  She summons her fellow wachawi, or witches, to “do some work,” that she wants done “without any glitches!”  So they visit the old man while he is sleeping and do their magic, which I really can’t do justice to.  But the portrayal of “things witches do” was pretty remarkable—they dance (dance is an underwhelming word here), they make faces at you, they sing, they blow into their horns, and then, in the end, they change your mind.  Mama mchawi was the scariest/most interactive, and in the end, I got a picture with her.


With the company
Photo credit: E. Chacha


With mama mchawi
Photo credit: E. Chacha

Overall, the plays really made me feel better because they showed so obviously how Zanzibari culture really is overwhelming…to see it acted out is a helpful reminder that I’m not a complete basketcase for struggling with basic day-to-day interactions and sometimes minorly freaking out when people act what feels like really weirdly towards me, but I know is tapping into a lot of things I can’t really see.  And certainly wanting to deny that it is “the way it is,” however exactly it is, is not helpful either.

Since coming back, I’ve had some pretty habitually good interactions too.  When I go to buy my egg, for example, it’s good, and I’m making up vignettes in my head about all the Lukmann’s guys and how they are so unique that they might as well be prototypes, like the one who looks very comfortable in faded jeans and like he is probably the favorite uncle somewhere and the one who is really happy to see me in the morning and says “ndizi!” when he sees that I have a banana.  And when I buy slices of pineapple from this guy outside of Lukmann’s, near my house, in the evening because now he’s started to expect me too.  Beyond providing a prominent point of reference, the plays also gave me some great discussion material to mull over with my host family.  Talking with them, I learned that witches’ colors are red and black and more importantly that my host dad’s dad had 8 wives (outside of the law) and 42 children, 4 of whom were delivered (by different wives) within a span of a few days in the same hospital—“it would make a really good movie!”

3. Bikombo says she didn’t laugh for a month when I was gone.

I’m not sure if this is really inherently a good thing, but it basically means that Bikombo, my language partner, is still pretty funny and communicating with me in really dramatic ways.  When I suggested that I wait to get hina until right before I leave, and I asked her if she would mind meeting after our last official day, she responded with something like, “A chance to meet with my friend, Sarah—how could I not do that?  It’s not possible!”  (And then I was like, um, can you repeat that?)

I went to her house in Mpendae, outside of town, which she tried to intensely prepare me for—“There are some men working to fix the water pump outside of the house, don’t worry, they are not vagabonds” and “People might yell mzungu! at you when you get off the bus, but don’t mind it, they don’t know any better.”  She worries about everything, every time we cross the street or get too close to a motorbike.  At her house, we had rice, beans, salad, fish, and delicious juice that they kept telling me was prepared “kwa ajili yako,” or literally, for the purpose of you, so I didn’t feel bad drinking the whole pitcher because they basically ordered me to.  We watched a Swahili drama called Johari—in sum, Johari, the main character, was a hot mess, and part one, which we saw, was already three hours.  A lot of themes were packed into the movie—AIDS, listen to your parents, the deception of wealth, Christianity, unrequited love, and the importance of education.  Oh, Johari…you worry me.  What is to come for you in part two???


Johari’s a hot mess

4. On my to-do list before leaving

Go to yoga, have a dress made, memorize all the random vocabulary I’ve written down, buy avocados at the market…

I really don’t know if any of the above will happen beyond the avocados and maybe the dress since I’m really far from being in a mood to accomplish things.  I’m more in a mood of doing one or two things list-type things every day, and those things are often more along the lines of “clip my toenails” and “put a band-aid on my leg.”  (Sometimes I feel I spend most of my time loading news articles.)

I’m still struggling with having chronic pain abroad, which I can address from time to time by ironing out my TFL and glute min. with a foam roller/lacrosse ball, but at times it still feels hauntingly mysterious, the reasons that I have good days and the reasons that I don’t.  It usually helps to try to flush the pain out with self massage and then wait for the inflammation to flee, but I have to pay pretty close attention to the way my muscles fatigue and overcompensate.  All I can do really is try to watch it and make space to deal with it, usually in the morning and later at night and at times throughout the day, without freaking out too much.  I may get a massage soon.  Otherwise, I could probably start my own private consultancy regarding SI joint pain, gluteal tendinopathy, and overworked TFLs.  I should probably get a massage…


Sometimes I feel like I spend all of my time doing this.

Relatedly, because I’m listening to it all the time, Lily and Madeleine have a new album out, and if you don’t know who they are, maybe you should listen, but I’m not sure.  They sound so youthful but at the same time, really great, not that those things are so mutually exclusive.

Thinking towards America—I want to go to pilates classes, eat small amounts of high quality ice cream, make smoothies, and sink into a couch.  I really am such an American, though maybe I could pass for a Swede.

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