I have been happily wandering the narrow mazed streets of Stone Town in Zanzibar. It is pretty rare for there to be a footpath, so you have to watch out for the cars, bicycles and motorbikes, which dont take much notice of the concept of one way streets, indicating or any other pesky road rules. Apart from the cars it feels pretty safe for me to stick my nose, and camera into the various narrow twists and turns of this somewhat dilapidated but very lively city.
I walk around being fascinated by crumbling stone buildings and the sparkling sea and the locals walk around fascinated by me. The local men who speak to me fall into about four categories:
Those who want to sell me something
Those who want to take me somewhere in their taxi or boat
Those who just want to say hello (‘Jumbo ’ in Swahili)
And those who want to talk about my shoes.
My bag being the weight that it is, and my unlimited adventure having limited funds I am not particularly keen to spend my money on souvenirs. My plan is to invest in experiences, food and beds rather than stuff. And while this does not make you particularly popular with the spruikers, its ok. I am pretty good at saying ‘no’. I cannot say it in Swahili but I am happy to say it in English as many times as it takes for the salesman to go away.
I am happy to invest in transportation when necessary but nothing makes me a more determined walker than being hassled to get into somebody’s taxi. I could not swim to Prison Island (too far and girls in bikinis are frowned on when you are that close to town. So I took a boat. After a cheery history of housing slaves suffering awful punishmentsand sufferers of contagious disease; today the island is a protected habitat for giant land turtles. Though they are not Flamingos they are still pretty high up on my favourite animals list. Complete dinosaurs of animals they live up to 200 years and will chase you down at a fairly good speed if you happen to have spinach in your hand. So following my rule of experience over souvenir the $10USD that could have gone to a young man selling quite nice paintings of Masai went instead as a donation to feed the turtles. Which is not necessarily an animals over people preference -as I imagine a person will have to grow the food for the turtles and thus eventually receive my dollars.
I like saying ‘Jumbo’ to people as I amble about, but you do tend to be waiting for the sales pitch most of the time. Thats why I think the shoes work so well. My very shiny, very bright orange Melissa sandals are loosing some of their bubblegum smell but none of their ability to make me and other people smile.
It is nice to interact with people on the basis of curiosity and amusement rather than merely commerce.
And with the shoes it is not only the men who respond. It is fairly rare to get much more than a shy smile out of the local women- but I get a kick out of watching them react to my footwear.
Being stared at for the colour of my shoes rather than the colour of my skin is definitely preferable. And while I know it is most likely wishful thinking to say that it is only the shoes in the small smiles (women) and loud shouts (young men) it is not such a bad wish to have.