Tuesday, August 9, 2016

July29 Yoga and Hakuna-Matata!



 "This is the end, beautiful friend" , Jim Morrison could have sung this about Zanzibar. I am packing and helping dad who is unfortunately hobbling around on his feet and somewhat stressed out about the next 24 hours of almost continuous flying. 

friday at znz airport
We wait for our small plane to be announced in the one room domestic departures terminal at ZNZ along with an eclectic and al-ajeib bunch of fellow travelers this morning. One african lady, large personality with a hefty smile is dressed in a beautiful shade of mango yellow. How is she going to negotiate the metal detector, we each ask ourselves. Her dress from side to side and from her shoulder to her knees is embelisshed, decorated and laden with gemstones, pearls, ornate metal beads and designs of fine and bright metal thread. This much personal decor and weight would burden a lessor being but this is a ‘Mufasa personality’… a queen-Latifa like presence, with a swagger and a smile that people step-aside for. And so it happens that after 2 tries thru the bell ringing metal detector handled with nary a crease upon her brow, they waive her thru for a pat down! Yes a pat down… There is no way that anyone is going to pat our Queen Latifa down I think. But to my amazement and admiration a smaller security guard steps up and does the needful, before she sways and smiles her way into the room lighting it up like a Christmas tree…  I conclude thus: Not only do some people not sweat the small stuff but they do it with style.   
In another chair sits a graceful lady who Ali and I believe could be an Indian movie actress. The way she smiles into her cellphone and dismisses the room, she must be special. Based on the languages flying around we have Germans, some Frenchmen and South Africans. They are all first worldly and boring like us… fed by white headphones, iPads and iPhones. I suspect they’ve either had too much of this culture and country and are looking for comfort in familiar media or living in a bubble. The world outside our skins here in this terminal room is far to exciting, new and noteworthy not to notice. 
Finally I must cover the traditional Muslim family in the second row of this room where all rows face one wall. The father in his Gujarati topi and thobe, the mother in an abaya and likewise the daughter who's probably a 20-something. The mother takes a corner seat and finds enough cover to redo her hijab. One furl by next he carefully unwinds her head covering and then starts rewinding, sticking back pins she’d removed along the way. Ouch! She sticks herself in the head with the next pin, grimaces, closes her eyes and bites her lips. OOOuch I want to say for her but she collects herself, opens her eyes, dignified and unperturbed. No kicking the tires, no tears … only patience and serenity in her eyes! Wow. 

Dad waits in a wheelchair at the end of my row. This cannot be but the first time he has ever asked for a wheelchair. The pain must be severe. He rejects my suggestion that he stretch and take a short walk if only for me to see what he’s really feeling. His refusal is my answer, not the one I wanted but I know now that this long journey with three back to back flights is going to be tough. God willing we make it to JFK as planned. I look for my prayer beads….

yoga by the surf
"Oh no another guy trying to sell me stuff"…that is my reaction as I walk the lonely beach of white Zanzibari sand. I was out for my farewell walk with Zanzibar. Talking alternately to the creator of these incredible sights and then to creation itself I thank both for the good time, the safe living and the unanticipated good fortune of being here. Interrupting my thoughts with a big smile and handshake he sells me snorkeling, diving and fishing adventures. Unhappy to have my farewell meditation broken I wave him away dismissively and move past. Next, there are kids playing a game of beautifully athletic and almost violent beach soccer. Shining muscled bodies diving, stretching, heading, kicking, twisting and performing a soccer coreography uninhibited by pain and caution. These are local teenagers on a chalk white Zanzibari beach doing what my teenagers do in the gym at their schools in Bergen county, USA… drive hard on the playground.
I fiddle with my camera settings and capture some images. They fail my review test. No mid-air action or anguish shots…nothing that will tell this story later. The humanEye camera is still undisputed in its ability to retain not just the moment but the experience. I start to retrace my path back…  I turn the corner  and my salesman and his friend are doing pushups on the beach against a backdrop of coral cliffs draped with their colorful African paintings. This time I jump in… we are sportsmen, need I say more. His feet perched on a coral rock, black muscled arms chisled by genetics and practice push the damp white sand as he smiles past his Tom Crusie aviator sunglasses. Happily interrupting his workout he invites me so I hit the ground and instead of pushups I execute a ‘crow pose’. “Can you do this?” I ask with both eyes and words. They are hooked, we are friends. Camera equipment put away I show them the construction of this yoga move and they love it…all giggles and awe. I spend 10 mins showing, practicing, connecting …no words, the language we have in common isn’t wordy. With a flip of my hand I ask if he can do a headstand. He shakes his head sideways so I execute a headstand slowly. Big grins are all around…he wants to learn this. So I teach him to go from up-dog to crow and then the transition into a headstand and back. He promises he will practice it every morning when he is out there. We shake hands, bump shoulders, say Akuna-matata and I walk back thinking….’this is what my last walk was all about’. It started with me trying to grab and grasp what my senses could collect and stow, so that back in my life I could revisit this place and enjoy it. What transpired is that I left behind a piece of me, if only in a yoga move, which the white sands and seashells would see replayed for as long as my friend sold his excursions upon that Zanzibar shore.


July28 Fish, Tamarind and boatbuilding

 Ali, Fern and I left early to tour a fishing village and photograph the fish market as the morning's catch was hauled in off the shipping boats. A boat building cottage industry by the water fascinated us in how antiquated tools and methods continue to produce perfect sea-faring craft
 even in 2016. The  Ras Nungwi resort is amazing and the service is top class. Dad got some rest today because we are getting ready for the long cramped flights back to the US and hoping for a minimal recurrence of his sciatic nerve pain. 

Yoga, tamarind, fish and boatbuilding
Susan, Ali, Fern and I were at the meeting place an hour before sunrise. This was the much anticipated sunrise, for the capture of which we had trained much and brought along our tripods. Shooting Av mode, ISO 100, Fstop 8 or lower, 2 sec delay timer, tripod positioning and shutter speeds of 5-10 seconds…we were ready. And then a funny thing happened on the way to the sunrise shootout…clouds rolled in and the first light of day bounced not toward us but off the back of those black clouds and into a universe removed from our lenses. So we made the most of it and did dry runs. "What’s setting will make the water smokey?” asks Ali. Susan I are scramble for the technical response. “How can we use that rock or outcropping in the foreground?” challenges Fern sending Sue and I into re-positioning our tripods. 
I wade deeper into the water I inadvertently become their foreground subject. So I did want any good man would do and put on some yoga moves. A lotus squat in waist deep water, arms outstretched, fingers pointing is held for 60seconds to screams of ‘don’t move, don’t move its a long exposure" or "the shutter is open, be still”. Since I am showing off anyway like a Sports Illustrated model that controls the rapt attention of a semi-automatic photo-trigger, I follow this move with a headstand on a rock surface just below the water. Thankfully the headstand sticks and I didn’t spill backward. Later, I glanced at some of the pics from my SI photoshoot and I can’t wait to get them asap (next month or next year perhaps as soon as they process their 10000 images of this trip)! I have waited 5 years since my personally iconic yoga pose (if I may say so myself) on the Ganges with the Himalayas as the backdrop, to finally get another that can be my Facebook profile picture. In fact I've had to come to Africa to get it…such as you all know are the demands of a Facebook presence! 
After breakfast we head out to a fishing village to take pictures. Sending a mini van for this drive is a complete miscalculation by someone! It bumps its fuel tank on rocks and its midsection scrapes dirt until some of us have to alight and let it travel the last half a mile. There are so many resorts and upscale hotels on the northwest and northeast coast of the island of Zanzibar. How we wonder is it then that no one has paved the road that leads to them? I don’t have the answer to that and will reserve my criticism for another day and time.
The sights of fishing boats leaving, returning, idling or simply resting after a hard night’s work is candy to the camera! We find unusual angles, compositions, action, plays of light, agreeable subjects and uninterested people as we click our way thru the village. One old man sells little pyramid-shaped stacks of small tomatoes on one cart and fresh green tamarind on the other. I smile, he smiles and we connect. So I buy some of his tamarind and take a selfie with him. The tamarind trees of my youth were huge trees with limbs and fruit 20 or more feet up on the air. More often than not, our stone missiles missed their target and seldom if ever, broke off tamarind for hungry us.  Fishermen are bringing their fish to the market, which is a large dining-table-like slab of concrete where all the day’s catch is displayed and auctioned. Fish come in on hooks, in pails, on strings with dozens hanging from the same loop and in small fishing nets. I introduce Ali to fresh tamarind and Fern appears to know what it is. Our next stop is one known for its boat (dhow) building cottage industry. So camera in hand we set out to hunt these boatbuilders. There are several boats in a row, in various stages of completion about 100 feet away from the shoreline. One artisan is using an old violin like tool to drill a hole while 9 others sit in a ring around him and watch. No sure how that works. We got a lot of good pics and moved on…



July27 Goin' deep in Zanzibar


The island Zanzibar was our park today and we drove all over it. We toured villages for culture and photographs, had lunch on a deck by the Indian ocean in a remote village, dad and I prayed in a tiny congregation in a tiny village mosque while the rest consulted the village medicine man and finally we made our way up to the Ras Nungwi resort on the NW shore of the island. 

Last night we took a walk thru Stonetown, Zanzibar which is the old historic city. Only one single distinctive feature separates old town Zanzibar from old-town-india or old-town-most-3rd-world-oldcities. The doors. The entrances to many ordinary homes are of beautifully carved wood with depictions of gardens, flowers, animals, crests, symbols and Arabic prayers. There are metal plated knobs on large doors to prevent them from being rammed by elephants. These were created by Indian artisans who didn’t know that Zanzibar had no elephants! In fact some of the homes are old, broken-down and decrepit
but their grand front door still stands erect faded but stately, timeless in its beauty. 
However the thing that hit me hardest was the material poverty of these people. As we walked the narrow stone-paved alleyways, there were living rooms and kitchens in plain view and it didn’t take much to see that neither money nor comfort was making it into those lives. Kids smiled and appeared to be innocently leading a communal battle against hopelessness. Our eyes and cameras captured laundry drying, furniture staining, grain being sold by the gunny sacks, tea shop displays encroaching upon the small alleyways, garbage waiting at corners for pickup, cat-fighting, a motor being disassembled, a coil being wound, fritters protesting in hot oil, women in niqab buying Qurans and lots and lots of children posing for us with big uninhibited smiles while a few shied away. Old city Stone town in Zanzibar is like inner Ajmer, Hyderabad, Jaipur, Karachi… a deep and layered display of life and people…one that is great for the camera shots and National Geographic and even for the movies. But none of this poverty, inadequacy, impoverishment, limitedness, paucity … lack of the necessary minimum ’stuff’ to live-by is good for those who are living it. Kids, animals and adults all stunted by this deep poverty. I can’t photograph this. 

Zanzibaris are a little different from their mainland Tanzanian counterparts in that many more of them are muslim. Zanzibar is a muslim city. The Adhan (call to prayer) is spilling out of mosques along our route, multitudes of Hijab wearing women and children are swarming in and out of schools along the way and the greetings of salaam-aliakum are exchanged at every introduction. This is very interesting to me, because the moment we say As-salaam-alaikum to one another we proclaim a spiritual brotherhood, we establish the baseline of respectable interaction and open this wifi connection that wasn’t there previously. The shy start taking, the intimidated find courage and the uninterested are suddenly mindful. They want to know who and how this foreigner looking person shares their faith. Most are gleeful and happily shocked at this new I-just-found-the-wierdest-thing happenstance.  
One such emaciated old man (must have been my age) told me he had typhoid several years ago and asked for my money and prayers, a street sweeper looked up and shook my hand as the dust of his disbelief settled, two schoolgirls looked the other way perhaps recognizing it as a pickup line and a few looked at me with their I-know-that-gimmick expression. I felt at home in Zanzibar in that once introduced I felt safe from getting ripped off in any exchange.  Not logical…just a blind faith.

Coconuts rule 
At dinner last night on the rooftop of the double tree hotel, Chef Shafeek surprised us with a coconut soup that was out of this world. Crab meat had sunk to the bottom of the coconut in which this lovely elixir was served. I was happy, a meal that starts well has at least one good course! Next came the Zanzibari Fish curry loaded once again with coconut and spices. It felt like a bit of Indian cooking blended with a little Carribean flavoring, a pinch of Spanish spices and some African herbs and masala. Superb. 
Dessert this afternoon on the shores of the Indian ocean was served on the 2nd floor of the ‘Peace of Mind restaurant’ on the waterfront of the most rundown seaside village you have ever seen. Yes this overripe plantain covered with coconut milk and little bits of magic was by far the culinary home run of Zanzibar! I can only imagine what Anthony Bourdain would have proclaimed after eating this beauty!
Mr Haji our guide then took us to his home where 5 photographers crowded at the base of a tall palm tree pointing their lenses upward like hounds pointing their snarls and fangs at the mountain-lion they had just run up the tree. A young boy was climbing the tree and I am not sure if the photos of his athletic frame sliding up the tree or the coconuts he threw down were the real attraction to the the crew assembled below. Nevertheless Mrs Haji shaved the coconut from the shells and passed around the fresh coconut water to drink and cream to eat. Heavenly! I must get more tomorrow before the clock strikes midnight.


July26 To Zanzibar and beyond...


This morning 10 of us got in a small plane bound for Zanzibar. There were only 12 seats on this single prop craft so it was for all practical purposes a charter flight! The weather was serene and I sat beside Jim and alternatively chatted and blogged. Mount Kilimanjaro played hard to get off to the north hiding its snow capped peaks in white clouds. 
In Zanzibar we drove to the old-town also known as Stone town. In the evening we walked the alleyways of this old city mired in its traditions and culture. There was much that fascinated the camera but there was also too much sadness and poverty that my hands were unwilling to direct the lens at. Much like India..once again. We witness the sunset from a beautiful boat (a dhow) accompanied with local music, food and impromptu entertainment by the staff. A stunning tropical sunset over the Indian ocean. 

The boarding shed is in the shadow of Mount Meru. The chairs are appropriately upholstered in Masai shawls or broken. Everyone waiting for their small plane is a Caucasian. There are no brown or black travelers. It is worth a thought that of all the guests in the hotels, travelers on local planes and people with apparent wealth that I have seen there are none that are African blacks. Of course my experience is one of a typical tourist, however I notice that most medium sized businesses like grocery stores, gift shops and restaurants are owned by another minority…people of Indian descent. So after freedom, liberty and apparently capitalism has graced this lovely people and civilization, the natives still appear to be the underclass. None of this is of course definitive, just observational. The locals are the bureaucrats at the airport, the staff at the hotels and public servants in government. Seems like but for a few anomalies money and race are coincident in determining class and privilege. 

I realized just this morning  that DaresSalam nearby was the site of a terrorist bombing a few years ago. This sleepy country, sweet people and not-much-going-on-here town…really? I don’t know anything of this world other that what I have seen in the past 10 days but I will deny that is possible by the average native. Which bring us to the multitude of non-native species that plague our planet…zika, ISIS, ebola, Al-Qaida, yellow fever and its ilk. We would be wise to inoculate our kids against infections. 
We are rolling down the runway in a single prop plane with 11 of our party and 2 others…Rick sitting in the co-pilots seat Well we are going to use all the runway Jim quips as the plan turns with its front wheel almost in the grass…0uhits no use having runway behind you!!! We all laugh a nervous laugh .. its a pilots’ inside joke. Its action packed…a min ago we tried to take selfies with Kilimanjaro out of the left side of the plane. Now the pilot says we are going to fly at 13ooo feet 30mins..if anyone gets dizzy please let me know. Jim is an experienced small plan pilot beside me and he’s worried. The regulations don’t allow going about 12ooo feet because the the oxygen content in the air possibly affecting the pilot and the passengers….and here we are cruising at 13ooo feet. Pretty soon we hail the pilot and Jim uses a hand motion to ask him to level off. Jim is not happy and he is the expert so we are a little discomforted. The pilot can lose his license for doing this he informs us gravely. The pilot realizing perhaps that he is communicating with another pilot in Jim takes the plane down to 11500 ft  and smiles and gestures with a thumbs up. I hope dad will be fine with this blood pressure condition etc. Praying now…

40 mins later Zanzibar is up ahead and the plane is steadier than I was expecting. The brown desert-ish landscape of central Africa has given way to a light green rolling patchwork dotted with the whiff white cotton candy of low handing clouds. White beaches here we come ….God willing!

Jim and I are in vehement agreement about the Masai and their way of life, talking over each other to make our case and nodding as the other made his.  Extreme filth and unhygienic living even after knowing better appears to be an illogical human choice at any level and one the Masai have made. Their kids are educated, some have jobs in the cities so they are obviously aware of the basic standards for the sustenance of human life. Yet they continue to live in dirty squalor... in dung huts, a pervasive smell hanging around the BOMA that even the most abject slums in the world can’t compete with, they don’t use water for hygiene or bathing, braid their hair with animal fat and mud, eat only animal meat, blood and milk, swat away 100s of flies at a time from their childrens’ faces…
We noticed only two older persons in the entire village…turns out the mortality rate is very high. The kindergarden school had at least 30 young kids. All of our many escorts were Masai men in their 30s and 40s but there were less than a dozen elders in the community. The rest were… dead?  

July25 Social activism and philanthropy...

Today we indulge in the Philanthropic part of our African trip and I am most excited. The explosive emergence of social media bringing remote injustices to our dining table conversations coupled with our innate bleeding hearts has created a new vector in our world. This one has many faces such as social responsibility, social and corporate citizenship and social philanthropy. Our company, Fair trade safari admirably donates all of its net profits to such initiatives and encourages us to match them. My daughter happened to read my itinerary before the trip and like many of her generation she is single-minded in correcting all the imbalances in our world. To this end she redirected one large 20kg duffel bag with soccer balls, soccer cleats and jerseys from its original destination of Senegal to mine which is Tanzania. Aisha runs a non-profit http://connectforcare.wixsite.com/connectforcare who's vision is to find need and to fulfill it by gathering and redistributing the excess, superfluous and unused "things" that gather in the homes, garages and storage areas of our first world homes. The soccer equipment was contributed by families all around our home town of Wyckoff and many of her soccer teammates. Another family friend Riya who is a dancer collected and packed two dozen pairs of dancing shoes for me to take. 
In the morning we visited an NGO called SOS Children's village  www.soschildrensvillagestanzania.org who's mission is to strengthen the family life of every young child and to provide a family and a home to those who don't have one. I was impressed with the school, the boarding and lodging facilities and the caliber of the administrators. The environs reminded me of my young days in boarding school far from home and it a brought a tear to Fern's eye as he flashed back to his early life in Cuba. To travel two continents away from anything that is familiar and then to succumb to overwhelming familiarity is truly a human condition. We are of the same clay transmuted differently. 
( Dancing shoes for Ibuka's kids)
The soccer equipment was mostly donated to SOS with our guide Phillip retaining soccer balls  to distribute to remote schools in the bush, when he delivers pens and paper on behalf of his NGO called pens4kids! 
As we left the SOS campus we were flagged down by a well-dressed local policeman and cited for speeding! Contrary to our initial reaction it was not a shakedown and we proceeded to our next NGO with Edwin the driver a little unhappy. Ibuka dance foundation in Arusha is our next stop where we are introduced to this NGO that provides dance training to youth and teaches them this art-form and skill which they can leverage in their lives. 

Brian and his friends leads our group through dance moves on the large outdoor stage and then dance their most complex and acrobatic moves for Fern and Ali to photograph at close range. Their moves gathered inspiration from the cameras in their faces and the cameras were only to happy to oblige. I donated the dancing shoes to Ibuka and Fair Trade and several members of the party donated money in support of the cause. What a wonderful second 'hit' this effort was. If the Serengeti and its animals had us walking in the clouds, these NGOs had us back on the earth enjoying the richness of humanity. 

Today had been earmarked on the trips’ itinerary as the ‘social philanthropy’ day and one that my daughter Aisha and have looked forward to most. Aisha is home and I am her emissary in Africa bearing gifts for local children.  Two duffel bags are packed with deflated footballs the largest donation coming from the Bukharis even as we prepped to leave for the Airport. We stopped at the local Puncture repair shop to inflate the balls and the small crowd watched in wide eyed glee as crumpled leather turned into colorful spheres… greens with adidas motifs, reds with black borders reminiscent of Masai’s shawls that we photographed yesterday, purples and blues like the tropical flowers of this landscape and white that looks officious and world-cup like! Tap-tap-tap the repairman showed his ball juggling skill, tap-tap the onlooker retorted with the green ball, bounce-bounce in the dirt and soon balls were being exchanged and played all over the gas station! A damp rag was summoned and the balls respectfully wiped down like a cut-glass antique bowl being passed from hand to hand to admire the light reflecting off the crystal! In that one instant it is evident to me…sport though apparently physical, most immediately and inexplicably dials an ethereal connection to the uninhibited soul within. In this crowd of ten from up and down the human and economic range there was this transcendence of the immediate gas station reality into a ‘let my Messi skills show your Ronaldo skills’ delirium. We are playing gas-station soccer …   
Baba Phillips our driver gathers all the balls and we headed for the SOS Childrens village a place where orphan children live in families. 
Even as we put all the bouncing balls into car Malawani (Baba Phillips) tells me about a non-profit called ‘Pens 4 kids’ that he works for. Amazing … here is a Sernegeti tour guide and master off-road driver distributing millions of pens to kids in the deep bush of Africa…places where there are no roads and little connection with other humanity. His drives tourists like us to places where most of his countrymen don’t venture… villages that live amidst lions, people that live on the animal migration routes and those marooned deep in the Rift valley. Here he delivers his precious gifts of ‘writing instruments’ as we somewhat snootily refer to them in our schools. This is how some kids get there ‘back to school’ supplies…

( this is how you take a 3 layered photograph! )