Zanzibar: Between Mecca and a Hard Place

On the occasional evening when the absence of both a breeze and electricity brought me to wonder if I was residing in a kiln, sanctuary existed under one of the bread fruit trees at Migombani, the only prostitute-free local bar in my quarter of Stone Town, Zanzibar. And when you're a broad-shouldered American, in a region where size is roughly equivalent to wealth, you tend to get plenty of smiling faces approaching your table in the shade. Perhaps stemming from the island's legacy of trade, perhaps because they posses nothing else to peddle, one becomes accustomed to the fact that the pleasure of an outgoing Zanzibari's company is often an offer with suggested price. Particularly if you're buying the drinks, Zanzibaris love to talk.

I was sitting with Jabir, an Afro-Arab Russian and French translator in the residence/office (also known as the White House) of Zanzibar president Amani Abeid Karume. Jabir was one of few nocturnal acquaintances I'd encountered who could afford his own ample thirst, his half-liter-a-day gin habit being a source of pride from his education in the vodka crawls of St. Petersburg. While others had voiced to me their suspicions of him (he'd lived abroad for too long, most of his friends were old and Arab, he was rich but didn't drive a car, he drank too much to hold such a job, etc.), Jabir was quick-witted, exceedingly eloquent, and when he joined me at a table, I seemed to have far fewer friends at Migombani.

As our conversation took a turn towards the news of the day, Jabir began to riff on the "extremism" of Zanzibar's main opposition party, the Civic United Front (CUF). Rattling off his interpretation of their political platform (they want to turn Zanzibar into a tropical Taliban-like state and cater to tourists from the Islamic world), Jabir struck on the 1998 bombings of the American embassies in Dar Es Salaam and Nairobi. "The main guy was from Zanzibar," he proclaimed, pointing to the back gates of the open-air tavern, in the direction of the street that lead me home, "he was born just a few streets over."

Zanzibar: Between Mecca and a Hard Place

On the occasional evening when the absence of both a breeze andelectricity brought me to wonder if I was residing in a kiln, sanctuaryexisted under one of the bread fruit trees at Migombani, the onlyprostitute-free local bar in my quarter of Stone Town, Zanzibar. Andwhen you're a broad-shouldered American, in a region where size isroughly equivalent to wealth, you tend to get plenty of smiling facesapproaching your table in the shade. Perhaps stemming from the island'slegacy of trade, perhaps because they posses nothing else to peddle,but one becomes accustomed to the fact that the pleasure of an outgoingZanzibari's company is often an offer with suggested price.Particularly if you're buying the drinks, Zanzibaris love to talk.

I was sitting with Jabir, an Afro-Arab Russian and French translator inthe residence/office (also known as the White House) of Zanzibarpresident Amani Abeid Karume. Jabir was one of few nocturnalacquaintances I'd encountered who could afford his own ample thirst,his half-liter-a-day gin habit being a source of pride from hiseducation in the vodka crawls of St. Petersburg. While others hadvoiced to me their suspicions of him (he'd lived abroad for too long,most of his friends were old and Arab, he was rich but didn't drive acar, he drank too much to hold such a job, etc.), Jabir wasquick-witted, exceedingly eloquent, and when he joined me at a table, Iseemed to have far fewer friends at Migombani.

As our conversation took a turn towards the news of the day, Jabirbegan to riff on the "extremism" of Zanzibar's main opposition party,the Civic United Front(CUF). Rattling off his interpretation of theirpolitical platform (they want to turn Zanzibar into a tropicalTaliban-like state and cater to tourists from the Islamic world), Jabirstruck on the 1998 bombings of the American embassies in Dar Es Salaamand Nairobi. "The main guy was from Zanzibar," he proclaimed, pointingto the back gates of the open-air tavern, in the direction of thestreet that lead me home, "he was born just a few streets over."

Zanzibar: Between Mecca and a Hard Place

On the occasional evening when the absence of both a breeze andelectricity brought me to wonder if I was residing in a kiln, sanctuaryexisted under one of the bread fruit trees at Migombani, the onlyprostitute-free local bar in my quarter of Stone Town, Zanzibar. Andwhen you're a broad-shouldered American, in a region where size isroughly equivalent to wealth, you tend to get plenty of smiling facesapproaching your table in the shade. Perhaps stemming from the island'slegacy of trade, perhaps because they posses nothing else to peddle,but one becomes accustomed to the fact that the pleasure of an outgoingZanzibari's company is often an offer with suggested price.Particularly if you're buying the drinks, Zanzibaris love to talk.

I was sitting with Jabir, an Afro-Arab Russian and French translator inthe residence/office (also known as the White House) of Zanzibarpresident Amani Abeid Karume. Jabir was one of few nocturnalacquaintances I'd encountered who could afford his own ample thirst,his half-liter-a-day gin habit being a source of pride from hiseducation in the vodka crawls of St. Petersburg. While others hadvoiced to me their suspicions of him (he'd lived abroad for too long,most of his friends were old and Arab, he was rich but didn't drive acar, he drank too much to hold such a job, etc.), Jabir wasquick-witted, exceedingly eloquent, and when he joined me at a table, Iseemed to have far fewer friends at Migombani.

As our conversation took a turn towards the news of the day, Jabirbegan to riff on the "extremism" of Zanzibar's main opposition party,the Civic United Front(CUF). Rattling off his interpretation of theirpolitical platform (they want to turn Zanzibar into a tropicalTaliban-like state and cater to tourists from the Islamic world), Jabirstruck on the 1998 bombings of the American embassies in Dar Es Salaamand Nairobi. "The main guy was from Zanzibar," he proclaimed, pointingto the back gates of the open-air tavern, in the direction of thestreet that lead me home, "he was born just a few streets over."

Zanzibar: Between Mecca and a Hard Place

On the occasional evening when the absence of both a breeze andelectricity brought me to wonder if I was residing in a kiln, sanctuaryexisted under one of the bread fruit trees at Migombani, the onlyprostitute-free local bar in my quarter of Stone Town, Zanzibar. Andwhen you're a broad-shouldered American, in a region where size isroughly equivalent to wealth, you tend to get plenty of smiling facesapproaching your table in the shade. Perhaps stemming from the island'slegacy of trade, perhaps because they posses nothing else to peddle,but one becomes accustomed to the fact that the pleasure of an outgoingZanzibari's company is often an offer with suggested price.Particularly if you're buying the drinks, Zanzibaris love to talk.

I was sitting with Jabir, an Afro-Arab Russian and French translator inthe residence/office (also known as the White House) of Zanzibarpresident Amani Abeid Karume. Jabir was one of few nocturnalacquaintances I'd encountered who could afford his own ample thirst,his half-liter-a-day gin habit being a source of pride from hiseducation in the vodka crawls of St. Petersburg. While others hadvoiced to me their suspicions of him (he'd lived abroad for too long,most of his friends were old and Arab, he was rich but didn't drive acar, he drank too much to hold such a job, etc.), Jabir wasquick-witted, exceedingly eloquent, and when he joined me at a table, Iseemed to have far fewer friends at Migombani.

As our conversation took a turn towards the news of the day, Jabirbegan to riff on the "extremism" of Zanzibar's main opposition party,the Civic United Front(CUF). Rattling off his interpretation of theirpolitical platform (they want to turn Zanzibar into a tropicalTaliban-like state and cater to tourists from the Islamic world), Jabirstruck on the 1998 bombings of the American embassies in Dar Es Salaamand Nairobi. "The main guy was from Zanzibar," he proclaimed, pointingto the back gates of the open-air tavern, in the direction of thestreet that lead me home, "he was born just a few streets over."

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