After a long day of touring ruins of royal palace, spice farms (in which most of the time I felt so damn touristy despite this being an educational tour as part of my study program) and a local NGO, I was more than happy to just sit and watch a festival movie. But before I could sit and watch a movie, I had to fill my stomach with some spicy food; in this case, a Zanzibari pizza and sugarcane juice sold outside the festival venue. Seafood dominates the long stretch of food vendors in front of Beit El-Ajib (or House of Wonders) and Old Fort (where most of the films in competition are screened). Here, one can find any (I do mean ANY) kind of poor sea creatures on display – ready at your disposal – to be prepared and eaten mercilessly. There are variety of foods to satisfy everyone but I settled for the Zanzibari beef and vegetable (one) and a vegetarian (one) pizza (yes, I did write a post knocking down vegetarianism last year….oh well!). It tastes great, yet it is cheaper than those mind-numbingly expensive restaurants that cater to mzungo (European) tourist, plus the opportunity one gets to have a good conversation with the indigenous population that reveals much more than the guides and tours. In fact, while waiting for my vegetarian pizza I managed to have an interesting conversation with the chef (who, after finding out that I’m Somali, tried to say the only two Somali words he learned while living in Mombasa, Kenya in the early 1990s) about the state of the island.
In particular, the positive and negative effects tourism has had on the island – a question that has been bothering me quite a lot since I have arrived on the island – over the years. Indeed, the answer he gave is exactly what I have observed myself; mainly that tourists come here, “have fun” the week or two weeks they’re here by exploiting young men or women eager to earn some money. Perhaps I should be more explicit about the nature of the exploitation tourists bring here. The disturbing fact is that many tourists (mainly from Europe – I don’t want to generalize but this is a consistent occurrence unfortunately) come here and rent “guides” who are nothing more than sex workers. Most of the sex workers, believe it or not, are young men, who have no good education or job prospect. And it is the women from Europe (mostly) who come here to have fun with these young, hungry men. If pedophile men from Europe and North America go to Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam to have sex with children, women from Europe and North America come here to Zanzibar to do the same (although technically consensual) thing. You know that shy woman (perhaps her name is Cheryl) sitting in the next cubical workstation who seems to avoid humanity is not so shy when she takes her vacation in Zanzibar.
If Zanzibaris don’t find a way to preserve their island’s uniqueness from tourist’s thrash, they are in a deep shit.