Happy Christmas everyone!
I hope you’re all safe from the floods I’ve been reading about. An extra-long message to make up for lateness, to cover three countries, to keep you entertained while you sit full of turkey… and because I have reliable, high speed Internet in Doha.
I spent about two weeks in Kenya, starting in Nairobi and basically doing a circle west to Lake Victoria, coming back via the Maasai Mara. I can’t say I didn’t like Kenya but I can’t say that I would go back. Most tourism seems to be big tour groups so I didn’t meet any other solo travellers. Everyone sees a tourist as a walking wallet which gets tiring after a while and you start to trust nobody. The highlights were cycle-herding zebra through Hells Gate national park, hiking up and around the hidden forest in the crater of Mount Longonot, an early morning boat ride bird-watching on Lake Victoria, planting a tree in the rainforest of Kakamega and watching a buffalo get devoured over 3 days by lions and vultures in the Maasai Mara. Lower points included getting lost on the bike in a thunderstorm surrounded by the true hell of geothermal power stations in Hells Gate… and the fission every time you get on a matatu, that you are not quite sure where it will take you.
I left Kenya very early in darkness and rain. I arrived in Zanzibar to humidity, heat and sunshine. After watching myself around people for so long, I was very wary of the manager (called Wadi) of the place I was staying at first. After we spent a great day visiting his friend’s spice farm by motorbike (he quietly advising me on correct tip and helping me bargain) then waiting patiently while I wrote postcards and sent Christmases packages in Stonetown, and charging me less than $5 for petrol, I realised what a lovely person he was!
The bungalows were in Bwejuu, a little village on the east coast. We saw so many things, taking trips on the motorbike most days: dhow builders in Nongwe, turtles happily swimming in the natural aquarium, the oldest mosque in East Africa built 1107 by Persians (Wadi negotiated so I could see inside), old bathhouses built by the Sultan… I went snorkelling on the reef and got to have a go on the tiller of the dhow. After I mentioned in conversation how much I loved crab, a huge one caught in the mangroves turned up for dinner. We spent evenings with him teaching me to play bao, the game all children are taught and you see old men playing in every piece of available shade.
The history of the island is just fascinating. On the last day, I did the “touristy” things in Stonetown, including the old slave market at the Anglican Cathedral. In the basement of St Monica’s hostel next door, there are two chambers said to be used for keeping slaves. There’s a low bench all the way around the walls and chains hanging from a post.
There are two slit-windows letting in hardly any light. The guide tells you one room was used for numerous men, the other for women and children. The problem with all of this is that I’d been doing my reading (one book about every country I visit) and had read that historians state these chambers weren’t used for slaves: they were used by the hostel to store medicine. I asked my nice guide about this.He said that the medicine story was all lies, that people (Arabs) were trying to cover up about the slaves, it was all a story spread by the first President who was in league with the Arabs (because he made it clear that the slave trade was all the Arabs, nothing to do with any European country or other African tribes…). Becoming a guide’s worst nightmare, I pointed out that his first president hated all foreigners including Arabs (lots killed in the revolution in 1964) and it was unlikely he was in league with Arabs. The guide clarified that he meant the other first president (?!) and that’s where the language barrier and politeness meant we moved on. It’s his history for him to tell.
I was terribly sad to leave Zanzibar but very glad to spend some time with Benjemi here in Doha. We met a few years ago when George and I brought a CD player to her school in Georgia. She’s been teaching here for almost three years. Qatar is an unusual place: it seems to be being built as you watch. I haven’t read my book on Qatar yet so you may have to wait for the next chapter for any insights! We went riding in 4x4s through the desert dunes (no photos to save Mum’s nerves) and swam in the Gulf. Its Qatar National Day on Friday so the whole place is covered in maroon and white (makes me feel quite at home- joke for Westmeath people) and they had a huge sort-of festival village we visited last night. Henna, camels, horses, karak, little boys showing off their army assault course skills, men dancing holding hands in friendship, a hall where you could practice your marksmanship with any weapon you could think of… great night. We’ve spent time eating hummus, considering whether to buy gold or falcons at the souk (or even a tiny white rabbit in a dress), and wondering why monobrows were ever a symbol of femininity at the Museum of Islamic Art.
However, I have mainly been submerging myself in the glories of a developed city: all clothes washed, resupplied with new sunglasses and phone from fancy shopping mall (complete with gondola), Hunger Games viewed. Now, with visas obtained, I am ready to fly to Egypt and start Chapter 4!
Its time to get back to real travelling.