Zanzibar Day 4 >> Another Zanzibar market trip

Another trip to the Zanzibar market. This time, to practice my newly refined Kiswahili. After all, there’s no better way to practice a new language than to barter with shop keepers at a local market.

Zanzibar Market 1

Zanzibar Market / Local Oranges

Zanzibar Market / Narrow Alleys

Zanzibar Market / Butcher

Zanzibar Ladies

Zanzibar Market / Selling Fish

Zanzibar Market / A Giant Marlin

I’m the proud owner of several new kintenge (local batik-printed fabrics) and a few more spices to add to my shelves. Also, a bunch of bananas, but those were a little more short-lived.

ZANZIBAR DAY 3 >> Sugar and Spice…Everything Nice

cocoa beans

A visit to Zanzibar certainly wouldn’t be complete without a visit to a spice farm, now wouldn’t it?

On our bus ride to Abeid’s Spice Farm, I conjured up my own image of a spice farm in my head. What I saw was a Napa Valley-like setup, with trees and bushes planted in neat little rows throughout rolling hills. In my mind, this farm was perpetually fixed to one time: sundown.

bees, maybe?

Goodness knows what I was thinking. This is Africa, after all. So when we pulled up to a plot that could not have looked more uninteresting or unspectacular, and rather sparse, I was a little bit disappointed. There were trees, but they looked like….trees. There were bushes, but….they were just bushes. No neat little rows, and definitely nowhere near sundown, womp womp.

Our first stop out of the bus was to try a papaya. Great, I thought. This is going to be REAL exotic (cue eyes rolling to the back of my head).

Annatto- cluster

But from there, we moved onto a tree with odd clusters of fuzzy fruit pods. Annatto. And then I knew things were going to get better.

You see, I happen to know a bit about the annatto tree. I once worked in a cheese shop, and at this cheese shop we sold Beemster Cheese. Beemster’s XO Gouda is a typical dutch-style hard cow’s milk cheese, made by a co-op of small farmers and exported all around the world from the Beemster Polder in The Netherlands. This Beemster XO is not only made from happy and healthy cows, but it’s famously aged for 26 months. As a result, it’s deliciously firm and full of flavor, reminding me of a salty butterscotch or a good salty toffee (don’t knock it ’til you try it!)

But I digress. Annatto. The deep, saturated orange-ish color in Beemster, the one that most cheeselovers assume is due to its 2 years of aging, is actually due to a natural dye…called Annatto. Beemster orange. I’ve been enamored by annatto for quite some time, especially after learning that it’s a natural dye used in foods like cheese (one that I love so much, to boot), and a dye so vibrant that many women once used it to color their lips and cheeks.

Annatto- split and seeds

After the annatto tree, my worries of a boring afternoon were very quickly put to rest. From there, I got to taste pepper, straight from a tree- so peppery. I sucked on the bark of a cinnamon tree. Like, straight from the tree- into my mouth! I watched someone wash their hands with the berry from a tree that, like magic, lathered and cleaned like soap. I gnawed on lemongrass, sniffed fresh cloves and allspice, mashed curry leaves between my fingers, learned that each pineapple plant only produces a single pineapple fruit (and after 9 long months, geez), and unrooted bright yellow tumeric roots from the ground.


curry leaves


Though I imagine this would be an interesting trip for almost anyone, I gained particular joy from seeing where many of the spices I use so frequently in all my cooking come from. Spices that I am so familiar in their dried form, suddenly given life and a completely foreign appearance as berries, trees, bushes, plants, fruit.


In between this spicefest, we cleansed our palates by eating the papaya, gorging on jackfruit- a fruit that I swear tastes like Juicyfruit gum (and is now my new favorite treat), feasted on the fresh meat and juice from coconuts. We freshened our stinky bodies by rubbing ourselves with the ylang ylang flower. A flower that, I kid you not, smelled so similar to the beloved Chanel No. 5 scent. The farm keepers made the women bracelets and ice-cream-cone-like-baskets out of sturdy leaves and fronds (I was one lucky recipient of a pair of leaf glasses) and the men received sultan-worthy headcaps. We trampled around the farm like young girls and boys on an exploratory adventure.



It was like the Willy Wonka of farms, where everywhere you turned there was a bite to be taken or a lick to be had. I was just waiting for a river of curry to come bursting through, is all. More often than not, I would look down and find myself juggling a piece of some fruit in one hand, focusing my camera with another, being ordered to smell something that had been stuck under my nose, and trying to keep a collection of berries and leaves and seeds from being spilled. Somehow I also managed to take notes and snap iPhone pics too, and looking back I’m almost positive I won’t ever be able to multitask quite as well as I did on that day. I don’t think my senses will, either- by the end of the tour my head was dizzy from smells and tastebuds tingling from spice.



Zanzibar Day Two >> A visit to a village healer

Village Healers

Being of Chinese descent, I’ve got a bit of a handle on how other cultures deal with illness and health. Sometimes sensical, as exemplified through the use of herbal tea concoctions, acupuncture treatments, holistic diets, and essential oils. And then there are some concepts that might garner a skeptical eye in the western world, like the idea that sitting in front of an air conditioner will undoubtedly result in you catching a cold. Seriously, most Chinese would rather sit in a puddle of their own sweat rather than bask in the cool wind of an a/c.

One of the many great things about traveling to countries outside of my own United States is to witness these cultural beliefs and to learn about traditions relating to health and medicine, however silly. Of course, whether one decides to believe in these ancient methods of healing is up to the person – although I’ve never met anyone who discounted the magical healing powers of a therapeutic massage.

Consulatation areas Village Children

On our second day in Zanzibar, we set off to go see a group of local village healers. We exited the narrow alleyways of Stonetown and started down a long paved road outside of the city center. Just as I was about to doze off, the bus made a sharp turn into a narrow dirt road. After passing a group of schoolchildren and wildly growing trees, the road suddenly widened into an expansive meadow. Around the meadow were flat fields on one side, and all around in a large circle were a tall wall of palm trees.

If I ever imagined a place to visit a local village healer, this would be it.

Village Meadow

Most locals visit these healers to see about minor treatments – psychiatric consultations, dealing with problems with relationships and marriage. Some come with bigger problems, like impotence and fertility issues. Fevers and stomachaches also account for quite a few patients, but not as many as those with heartache. Then there are some who come with symptoms that are unsuccessfully resolved at the hospital, and are seeking perhaps not complete remedies but simply ways to cope with the issues at hand- AIDS, diabetes, cancer, and the like. These healers are, in fact, part of a loose association (though, alliance is probably a better word) that is actually recognized in some way by the government, so it’s not like they are just practicing mumbojumbo.

Healer Healer- Woman Healer- Apprentice

We spoke to the village healers under the canopy of shade provided by a large tree as a dozen little chickens (and one very ornery calf) clucked around us. The head healer sat quietly, stoic-ly in the background as the others spoke. His father had practiced before him, and who knows how many more generations before them. Each of the men (and one woman!) wore a red headband and red shawls, to signify their official status. After we inquired about their “uniform”, one said with a big smile (as translated to us) “this is just our work uniform. You should see us in our city clothes, we look so fresh, you wouldn’t even recognize us!”

Bushes, trees, and plants grew around the small hut of a treatment center behind us, where the source of all medicines came from. The healers pointed out leaves and roots, explaining how some are boiled down in water to drink while others only require the steam to help, for example, soothe a cough. Mnana for psychosis, making a hyperactive crazy individual dazed and loopy as if on valium. Mvudye taken for seizures, mchaichai in the event of yellow fever or dizziness, pambawake for women to drink during their menstrual cycle, msiatu for insomnia, and mvinte in soothing asthma. For each modern diagnosis, an ancient recipe was provided to aid it.

Healer- yai

Here, I witnessed one of the oddest juxtaposition of beliefs – a very strong Muslim faith mixed with an intensely spiritual calling. For example, at times, if a “sick” person goes to visit the village doctor, the patient will be asked to sit on the Koran as the Healer conducts his consultation, sometimes calling upon the spirits to speak through his body. Scripture is written with special red ink and then left to dissolve in water to drink as tea or medicine or to bathe in. Verses from the Koran are scrawled on a single egg, the broken in the case of trouble- a hearing in court, for example. Numerology is employed, but so are the fundamentals of Muslim faith. And above all else, these healers are only healers because they have been called upon by some spirit.

Children Watching

All talk of faith aside, both Muslim as well as spiritual, I find the herbal remedial properties that were shared on that day particularly interesting. Americans are just now beginning to catch on to the whole active culture thing with Kombucha. Maybe we can take a cue from this part of the world, and be a little – just a little– more holistic. After all, if the western world started to use more of that valium-like plant, I bet we’d all be a little better off.

At the market in Zanzibar

How many posts do you think I’ve got now, that are titled “at the market”? Probably a few dozen, at least. The Zanzibari market was bustling, busy, nothing short of thrilling, and unlike the Kariakoo Market in downtown Dar es Salaam, I felt like I could move around without being jostled or hustled too much.

Selling Fish in Zanzibar

Fishy As with most island cultures, fish reigns supreme. We saw only one butcher area – in the back, hidden from most of the front activity. Though, I suppose it’s a combination of this island culture AND Muslim culture, where strict butchering practices MUST be practiced.

spinach cucumbers and some feet. bananas The fruits and vegetables here looks ripe, plump, green, colorful, and healthy. Which begs the question, why can’t I seem to find these in Dar…? Also noticeably different was the lack of dust everywhere. At the markets in Dar, a thin blanket of rust-colored dust covers everything – people, animals, baskets, vegetables, shoes, and self. At the market in Zanzibar, they seem to have their dust under control!


Eggs Seeing this egg guy reminds me. Guys, our second chicken has finally begun to lay eggs! News of the month, surely.

These next two images were the most fascinating at the market in Zanzibar- set apart from the usual sightings of piled vegetables, rice, and fish. The first were these big drums of milk on carts. Coconut milk or goats milk, I still don’t know, but I’m almost (almost) positive that it can’t be cow’s milk. Poured out of spigots and sold in used plastic bottles, these guys were scattered throughout the strip of vendors.


Bread And then there was this. A mountain of bread, the size and shape of what we know as a pound cake. In case you didn’t know, the DiploMan and I are on the Whole30 diet at the moment (i know, i know, the most inopportune time ever. Tell me about it). So seeing these little golden loaf pyramids were like seeing bars of gold stacked atop one another.

I’m still not quite sure of how bread plays into the diets of the Zanzibarians, but seeing that there were almost as many bread vendors as vegetable vendors, I figure it’s something significant, and I’m dying to find my answer.

So there you have it, a market in Zanzibar. My collection of world markets is becoming quite numerous! To see recaps of my recent South African market experiences, click over to these entries: The Boeremark and The Hazel Street Food Market. Or to view a few other markets all over the world, go HERE.




Zanzibar Day One >> A Stonetown Tour

Zanzibar Building

Coming to Tanzania was the first time that I had such little knowledge about the language of a country. No grammatical familiarity, no knowledge of the language roots, no single words that I might know (well, aside from phrases and animal names popularized by the Lion King). It’s been slow going, on going, but I’m picking a few things up. I’m in Zanzibar this week on a language and cultural immersion program, and though it’s sometimes hard to concentrate on classroom learning when you sitting on a rooftop overlooking tin roofs and an ocean so blue that it’s almost neon (complain? me? never.), it’s been fun learning alongside a culture so rich in history and an island so beautiful.

Four Corners, zanzibar Town Center

Woman Sweeping

I knew about Zanzibar’s history as a slave trade port, about its significance in being the original “spice island”, but what was left out of my historical knowledge was the fact that Zanzibar is, boiled down, simply a melting pot of an ex-country, a mix various cultures that, over time, created the Zanzibarians. Arabs, Hindi, Spanish, French, Asian, African people trickled in throughout the centuries and made their homes here, as Zanzibarians. This mixing of heritage means, or as they claim here, that there’s no signature nose, no signature hair, no signature build, but there are the signature eyes- the kind, smiling, twinkling eyes, ones that would make Tyra Banks proud. And though I had to see it to believe it, there is tremendous beauty, dignity, and strength in the Muslim religion that reigns supreme here.

And can I mention how extremely photogenic this place is? Seriously, look at these photos. Everywhere I turn my head I’m rendered breathless for a short moment. Beautiful, looming, carved doors. Narrow, stone alleyways. Muslim women, with their head coverings waving like flags in the cool(ish) island breeze. Muslim men, sporting their signature caps, embroidered with such intricate and colorful threads.

Purple scarf

2 Men in Zanzibar

The nights here are my favorite- because of the close alleyways and oddly placed lighting, each street looks like it is a scene in a movie set. Getting lost in the alleyways, street lights dominate and the moon, however bright, is lost.

Street Scene in Zanzibar

Our first day was this Monday, and as it is in most places, I spent much of it attempting to find my bearings. Which in this city, mostly means being able to figure out where in the twisted maze of narrow alleyways our hotel lies. We also took a quick tour of Stonetown – where though a zillion and one facts were recited I’ve promptly forgotten most of them, and visited the market, where a zillion and one more facts were spouted at us but I was so busy snapping pictures that I didn’t listen to a single word. Photos of the market will, dutifully, be posted soon!


Two Girls in Zanzibar

School's Out


In the meantime, these photos are some of my favorites from Day One in Zanzibar, and I feel like give a pretty good idea of how beautiful this place is. Lots of pretty blues, greens, and greys around here, don’t you think? If you’re interested to see more, click on over to flickr where I’ve got a whole set of photos!