Stories and Photographs of my travels, Tales of friends, family, animals and my life
Twice a day I would head out to collect shells to decorate the bungalows with. Low tide was normally the best time, when the sea had receded and left newly washed in shells lodged in the old reef. I never found such a variety of different colourful shells, large and small, on any other beach that I visited.
Before long my daily hunts attracted the younger village children who would accompany me up and down the beach, adding to my collection. The search invariably ended up as play time because they loved to be picked up and I loved to hear them shriek with joy. Using fishing wire I would string the shells together to make mobiles, wind chimes and shell ornaments.
The brothers who would never have admitted that they liked the decorations, often came to sit on the floor by the mobiles, listen to the shells making music as they swayed in the breeze and touch the strands in wonder.
One day I found the top of an old crate and dragged it back to make a table from it.
Watched by Mitch and Mr Money who seemed to lack any vision as to how my idea could be accomplished I cleaned, varnished, sawed and hammered until I had a table top which could be supported by two wooden fruit crates. Suddenly they understood what I was trying to do and decided to help. A little too late of course as I had done the hardest part already! Ame was very impressed and we put the table on the terrace of the second bungalow.
A few days later, Ame’s father and friends arrived for a village meeting, didn’t bother to say hello or acknowledge the work we had been doing, took over the second bungalow and demanded food. When they left there was food everywhere – including all over the newly made driftwood table, chairs and cushions.
Ame had had a particularly bad day with his brothers and the mess was the last straw.
“Ahhhhch.” he said in disgust as he surveyed the destruction ”fuuuuucking family!”
It was a turning point. Finally Ame was openly acknowledging the problem and ready help deal with it. Another positive move for the beach bungalow build.
It was Monday morning and we all had (to put it delicately) stomach problems. Sunday had been a day of partying, eating and drinking around the pool of Uprndo’s, the resort next door to Pweza. A famous English DJ called Pete Bones was staying at the Coral Rock where Mr Money worked and had come along for the ride. The younger clientèle knew who he was and fawned over him all day. Mitch and myself had never heard of the guy and didn’t really care, preferring to socialise with our friends and watch Man U play.
We all agreed that it must have been the food, but whilst the others recovered quite rapidly my stomach bug refused to go away. Having taken all sorts of pills and potions to cure it over the next few weeks, missed out on several outings, and many meals, I was starting to loose weight. Ame was worried about me.
|”I make you some medicine” he said after a particularly bad bout of sickness
“What’s in it?” I asked suspiciously
“All natural, but very very bitter” he replied “village people take for illness”
It sounded like a long shot but I was getting desperate and agreed to give it a go
Ame disappeared into the kitchen and started to brew up the concoction. Some hours later he brought me a cup containing a dark green liquid.
“drink when it cools down” he said “drink it all”
I took a sip and, as he said, it was extremely bitter. I left it to cool down but the taste just got worse the colder it became. After managing to get half the cup down I gave up.
Ame came back.
“You finish?” he asked. Then looked into the cup and frowned. “You must finish drinking medicine”, handed to cup to me and watched as I forced another few sips down.
Every half hour he came back, stood over me and watched me drink some of the medicine until the cup was empty.
It worked. The sickness and diarrhoea stopped and didn’t return. Ame looked on approvingly as I sat down for breakfast the next day.
“You see” he said smugly “You eat somewhere else and get sick. You eat here and never get sick”.
He had a point. There were several times over our stay when we had tried eating at different resorts often with bad consequences.
“We eat here from now on” I told him. He gave me a huge smile, went to make breakfast and came back with a massive plate of scrambled eggs, a loaf of bread, a plate of fruit, honey and rotis.
“For Mama Sue” he said.
Having cured me Ame had set himself a new mission…….to fatten me up!..
I heard the screams from my room. Outside there were children everywhere. A small girl was being beaten with a stick by an older girl. Sand from the beach was being brought into the compound carried by buckets or bags balanced on small heads and chucked in all directions. Osmane was lying down watching. I didn’t have to asked what was happening I could guess. Earlier in the week Mr Money had given cash to the brothers to cover labour for bringing sand into the compound. We were onto finishing touches. It looked like Osmane had recruited the village children.
Mitch strode over to the stick wielder, took it off her and threw it over the fence, He told her it wasn’t allowed and set her to work directing the sand bearers. He picked the victim off the ground and told her to put her hijab (headress) back on (reason for the punishment I presume). In the meantime Osmane had sloped off and left us to deal with the chaos he had created.
Since we had no one to complain to about child labour at that time, we pitched in, provided water for the kids, entertainment when they started to get bored, and supervision when any fights broke out and first-aid when one of the boys was cut by broken glass on the beach. There were at least 50 children and it was exhausting!
We made many small friends that day and whenever we walked into the village or along the beach afterwards we would invariably be accompanied by several of them all wanting to talk or play – without one single mention of money, sweets, water or photos. Acceptance is a wonderful thing.
One of the draws of the South East coast of Zanzibar are the stunning beaches with their powder white sand and crystal clear water. Village life behind the resorts seems unaffected to a certain extent by tourism and provides an insight to the everyday life of local people. Pingwe beach is one of the best, (although I heard Pongwe was awesome) but my vote goes to Dongwe beach. For those of you have been following my tales of the build and its trials and tribulations, you may have started to wonder why I stayed so long. Words cannot describe the beauty of this place, the fun we had and the friends I made so here are some pictures of some of the beaches around the area.
Pingwe beach with its iconic rock restaurant, colourful shells and ancient fossils embedded in the old coral reef comes a close second
Pajae is good for wind surfing. There are more restaurants and it is a little livelier at night.
Michamvie Kae is at the end of the road and good for sunset and a beer. The beaches are clean and sandy but the swimming is not so good due to being very shallow and there is a lot of seaweed
Jambiani was ok but not one of my favourites although it was good for photography
It was time for a break from work and we decided to check out Prison Island. Our first friend and guest, Anneke wanted to see a little more of the place and as the wind was not blowing, kite surfing was put on hold. I read up on the trip:-
Prison Island also known as the Changuu Island lies about 30 minutes by boat from Zanzibar.
Prison Island was once used by an Arab slave trader to contain the more troublesome slaves he had brought from the African mainland to prevent their escape before shipping them to the Arabian purchasers, or for auctioning in the Zanzibar Slave market.
In 1893, Lloyd Mathews built the prison. The prison idea was to send violent criminals from the Tanganyika mainland to the Prison Island. However, it ended up being used as a quarantine center, instead, for yellow fever epidemics that once raged through the region. The old prison’s can still be seen on the island.
Giant tortoises which are conserved upon the Prison Island – they are not indigenous but were brought in from abroad.
The island is small and will only take a 45 minutes maximum to see the sights. However you should linger on the sand and swim in the crystal blue waters before leaving.
It sounded great so we priced the trip up. The beach boys were charging at least 90 dollars for three people. The hotels weighed in with a hefty 80 dollars per person. It sounded like a lot of money so we talked to our friend Jimi who used to be a tour guide. He had a friend who would take all of us in his boat for 30,000 Tanzanian shilling (18 dollars) and Jimi would come along and give us a guided tour. So in total with Dalladalla to town and back, boat and entrance fee we were looking at 15 dollars each plus a tip for Jimi. Bargain!
It was a great day, despite the 1 hour bus drive each way and 45 minutes spent looking for Jimi in town and ending up in the tacky Freddy Mercury Bar waiting for him to find us.
It saved us at least 45 dollars, we had an interesting full day out, political talk with a Massi Warrior on the bus included, met some great people, did some shopping and got home in time for dinner.
Osmane was stoned. Lying on the concrete bench at the front of the restaurant, half naked, his pot belly sunny side up. The keys to the fridge, where the beers were kept, next to him. Mitch picked them up, unlocked the chest, helped himself, locked up, put them back. Osmane never stirred.
Ame often went to town to buy supplies or see his wife and baby and had to leave his brother in charge. But instead of encouraging passing tourists to pop in for a meal or drink Osmane took the opportunity to have a few friends over for a pot party. Sometimes he would disappear altogether on ‘other business’ leaving the restaurant unattended and there were occasions when I found a beach boy or fisherman minding the place. A huge row normally ensued when Ame returned and found out what had been happening.
Prior to the build the restaurant had been frequented by locals and it was proving to be a challenge to get the villagers and the brothers to change their habits. At night they would gather and drink, watch us eat or fall asleep on the bench. Ame said he had tried but the locals ignored him and his brothers just encouraged them. One night it all came to a head. A ‘brother’ was drinking with a friend and two tussies (village women) when a row broke out. One of the girls poured her drink over him and then stormed off into the night while the other continued to screech at the men. Osmane didn’t have the courage to tell his friends to move on so we left instead. Luckily Phil and Ame and one of the more sensible brothers, Winne, saw it happen. The incident validated what we had been reporting and meeting was called the next day to thrash out the issue out.
New rules were instigated. No walking around half clothed. Entertaining of friends and family to take place away from the restaurant. No sleeping on the job. No locals allowed in unless they purchase something. No walkabout and leaving strangers managing the bar. No more money spent unless the compound and beach were cleaned every day, rubble removed from the build, gates and fencing around the enclosure completed, tiling and plumbing sorted out, rooms cleaned and laundry changed on a regular basis. If the rules couldn’t be kept then someone more reliable would be found to do the job. It was the first strategic move to remove Osmane and Mohammed from the project. The brothers were on notice!
Sitting on the bungalow balcony one night we noticed a couple lurking in the compound. A camera flash went off several times as they took photos of the half-finished buildings first, then us.
“Hey, what do you think you’re doing?” I called out to the retreating pair who, when confronted, refused to talk to us.
“What’s going on? Mitch asked
“They’re at it again” I replied
Several times over our stay the brothers had shown tourists around the build, giving us some rubbish about them wanting to move in. Of course, what they were really doing was trying to get more financial backing without telling Mwamba.
“Mwamba” (Mr Money) was the nickname for Phil who was lending the brothers cash for the beach bungalow build. Phil ploughed all his earnings from other work into the project – something that the brothers didn’t understand. I often thought that they might as well have called him fedha ng’ombe (cash cow) for all the respect that the nickname inferred.
Because he had to earn before he could buy for the build, things weren’t moving fast enough for the brothers so they took the matter into their own hands.
“Have you told them about Mwamba?” I would ask each time we found tourists being given the spiel about what a wonderful place the bungalows were going to be and how they needed more money to finance it.
Of course they hadn’t. After several conversations about the seriousness of not informing the potential investors or Mwamba about each other (It is rumoured that Mafia money is not uncommon in this area) I gave up. They nodded and agreed, said they would talk to Phil then showed more people around. In the end we just phoned Mwamba whenever it happened.
One day Ame came to us
“Ohhhh I have big problem”
“What’s up?” we asked
He borrowed a substantial amount of money from someone when he first set up the business. The agreement was to pay the loan back over a period of 3 years but when the business went downhill payments stopped. The contract was due to expire and the loaner had heard that Ame was now doing well and wanted all his money back………. or else.
“How much?” we asked
Ame named the sum. It was a lot of money.
“Did you tell Phil about this when you made a contract with him?”
“No” Ame admitted
“Yes” he agreed
“But is my problem. I will sort out”
“Do you owe money elsewhere?” we asked
“Are you sure?”
After talking to Phil and realising that Mwamba was not going to bail him out Ame found the money .
Later on we heard that he’d borrowed some of it.
But it seems Ame learnt a valuable lesson. He paid the money back out of profits and, to my knowledge, is loyal to the one guy who has stuck with the project throughout – Mwamba.
“What have you been doing?” asked Phil as we surveyed the second broken toilet seat in the space of 6 weeks
“Bouncing up and down on it” I replied answering the ridiculous question in kind.
“and I’m light weight.” I continued “can you imagine the amount of times you’re going to have to replace the seats when heavier people stay.”
We were beginning discover that a lot of the cheaper goods made in China and exported to Africa were not built for durability and broke easily.
This was the latest in a recent spate of breakages. The last one being a brand new roller loaded with fresh paint which snapped at the handle when applied to the wall and then fell on me.
“Aaaaahh” said Ame in disgust when I waved the two pieces around “Kichina Takataka!” (cheap rubbish). “I fix it like new”.
He headed off with the offending object and returned some time later with the roller taped to a broom handle.
“Excellent. Now I can reach the ceiling” I said eyeing up the wobbly chair perched precariously on a small table that we had been using, the ladder of course, having gone missing.
Takataka is a real problem on the island. Despite Zanzibar having a policy of no plastic bags (only paper), plastic bottles litter the ground, cardboard containers tumble in the wind, discarded ripped clothes hang from thorny bushes, broken glass glints on the shoreline.
Getting the brothers to understand about recycling and rubbish removal was a major headache for Phil (manager/financer). Out of sight out of mind was the mantra. Unfortunately, out of sight meant the unused piece of land in front of the bungalows outside the compound. Villagers and brothers alike would dump their rubbish there on a daily basis. The problem was that although they might not be able to see it, potential customers walking down the beach certainly could.. Sometimes Phil would instigate a major clear up and the land would remain relatively clean until the takataka started to accumulate again.
One day, fed up with the amount of rubbish blowing around the compound Phil asked the brothers to clean up.
“Don’t dump it down on the beach” he said
“We bury” they replied
“OK but don’t bury it where we’re going to build” he responded then headed off back to his day job.
Several days later the job still hadn’t been done
“No more money until the rubbish is cleared” Phil threatened down the phone to Mohammed. They started work.
He visited us later
“I see they’ve got rid of the rubbish” he said
“Yes, but guess where they’ve buried it”
“Where we’re going to build?”
Phil sighed, shook his head and opened another beer.
Close to the centre of Pingwe village, past the heart of the village – the football ground, lies Ali Barages Emporium. Walk behind the severe grilled frontage, up the concrete step, past the wooden counter, high enough to keep small sticky hands out of reach from its sweet treats and essential pulses, into the dim interior and you will find dizzying choice of goods for sale.
Ali’s son will peel himself off the wall outside where he has been sun-baking with his friends and come and serve you. Always patient with a willing smile and a real appreciation of any attempt at Swahili he does his best to find what you need. It’s not hard. The shop seems to have everything. Flip flops, toiletries, kangas, food, drinks, hardware, huge bottles of drinking water, string, fishing equipment, hammers, nails, saws, buckets, nails, screwdrivers, saws, rakes, spades, buckets, washing powder, condiments, electrical goods – the list is endless. We seemed to spend quite a lot of time in the shop buying items for the build. Luckily prices were reasonable and because of our regular custom we were often given discount. Once he gave me a load of coat hangers for free. What a nice guy!
Obtaining tools from the brothers often proved to be an impossible task as they either didn’t possess the item, had lent it out (more likely rented it!), or it was broken. We could wait hours for a screwdriver, hammer or nails to turn up. Invariably we ended up buying it from Ai Barages for a couple of dollars. Recounting our purchases to Mr Money (Phil who was funding the project) he would ask.
“What happened to the rake I bought?”
“They lent it out to the charcoal burners who then broke it” we would reply (substitute rake for any number of items)
“Where’s the saw/screwdriver/etc etc I bought them?”
“They don’t have” we would reply
But the one thing that Ali Barages didn’t have and Mr Money hadn’t bought the brothers was a Swiss Army Knife. But we did and they coveted it. Often I would see the knife being picked up and fondled lovingly by one of them. Soon they were borrowing it and forgetting to return it. One day after using it to open bottles in the bar (the bottle opener had gone missing) Osmane picked it up, slipped it into his pocket and vanished. After numerous attempts to track him down, he finally turned up.
“Where’s my knife” Mitch asked
Osmane made a great show of patting all his pockets and then shrugging his shoulders’
“If you’ve lost it you owe me 60 dollars ” Mitch said
The knife appeared
That night Osmane tried to borrow the knife again.
“how can you run a bar without a bottle opener” we asked in exasperation
he shrugged his shoulders
We went to Ali Barages and bought him one.
“Hey Fundi” (hey workman) the villagers would call out to us as they passed by giggling with laughter at the sight of two white people actually working instead eating/sunbathing/drinking.
Waving cheerfully with a decorating implement in hand, we called back
“Jambo. Habari?” (hello. How are you?).
Which was the signal for them to wander over, inspect our work, then sit down for a chat.
The Auntie’s were our biggest fans and several old ladies would visit us during the day. Toothy grins flashed, compliments on the work given, opportunities to hold hands with and pat a white woman encouragingly, taken.
“Hey Fundi” became a standard greeting from the Pingwe residents when we walked through the village. We became an attraction in our own right. Tourists would stop and watch, friends and family from different villages would visit, children would hang around outside the compound and stare.
Word spread along the coastline and it became much easier to negotiate payment closer to local prices. Beach boys generally left us alone or backed off when we told them we weren’t tourists but helping a friend out.
“Ah that’s right” you stay at Ame’s for long time” “you paint and decorate” one of them said when I told him I had no money to spend.
Even in Paje (40 minutes dalladalla ride away) the rastas had heard of us.
“Where you stay?” one of them asked
“with my rafiki (friend) Ame” I would reply
“Ah yes I’ve heard about you. OK I make cheaper price. Not tourist price, fundi price”.
The only people who seemed unimpressed by our work were the brothers who would call out
“Hey fundi – you need to start work”
“Hey fundi, When do you finish painting?
“Hey fundi, why you stop?”
One particularly frustrating day, the paint ran out, the plumber hadn’t turned up, the tiles for the bathroom were still in the shop and we still had no water for showering. All down to the incompetence of the brothers. Osmane and Mohammed started to pester us to finish the job.
“How?” We have no paint and can’t finish until the plumbing and tiles are done” I said
“Ah but we have a friend coming to stay. If paint comes later you can finish today or tomorrow ”
“It’s my birthday tomorrow and I already told you I am going out for the day”
“but what about the painting?”
“That’s it, I quit” I said. “I’m not doing any more for the next two days.”
“Mama fundi is finished”