Kendwa Beach on the northern tip of Zanzibar is a version of the Maldives for backpackers. The sand is as soft and dazzlingly white, the ocean as inviting, the sky as unblemished and blue.
It was a lazy few days. I sprawled on the beach, listened to the shushing of the waves, felt the sun warm my skin and watched the sailing dhows slide past. I walked now and then to the other end of the beach where the fishermen stretched out their nets on the sand to dry and sat in beached boats under canopies and bantered. I turned down a few dozen offers of snorkelling trips, and sunset cruises and bags of weed from the touts who worked the beach.
“Hey Rasta man,” they called when they saw my band. It is from Bolivia, not Jamaica, but it is the same red, yellow and green.
“Jambo. You okay for tonight brother?” He meant did I want any weed.
“Yeah, no worries.”
Another guy kept pace with me down the beach, trying to bully me onto a sunset cruise on a dhow.
“I’ll think about it.”
“Okay brother from another mother.”
Then he called out to the skipper of a dhow who was about to cast off and pointed to me and said something in Swahili.
“No, no,” I said, shaking my head and crossing my palms in front of each other; and he got incoherently angry.
“I’m a man,” he said, “but you make me into a woman.”
“I’m a Rasta man. Allah, he see everything.”
Don’t you mean Jah? I thought, but decided not to share it.
“I thought you were a good guy, brother. Not like the other white guys who promise one thing and mean another. Now you make me look bad.”
“I didn’t promise anything. I said I’d think about it. I haven’t made you look bad at all.”
“I speak to the captain. I told him to wait cos you were coming”.
“Well I didn’t tell you to.”
“You’re not in England now, brother. You’re in Zanzibar. Be careful brother. Be very careful”.
I knew he was just trying to get me to give him some money, but I avoided his end of the beach after that, and I was kind of glad to go back to Stone Town to get the ferry for Dar es Salaam.
I went up on deck and idly watched the crew loading cargo at speed. A guy who must have been a foreman – or thought that he ought to be – darted about shouting instructions, then slipped and fell on his arse. The other guys roared and he leaped up and silently loaded all the heaviest things at a hundred miles an hour.
Then after a sporty crossing, a walk and another journey across the harbour on the rusty old chain ferry, I was back where I had started three days before. I watched as hundreds, if not a couple of thousand, surged down the steps, along the ramp and up the road, as vendors threaded between them or shouted from stalls, and honking cars forced their way inch by inch out of side streets.
It was a mundane, everyday sight: the equivalent of a crowd descending on the subway in a European city. Yet the image will flash across my brain whenever I think of Africa, long after the big sights have faded from memory.
© Richard Senior 2015