TThe next stop for the Gatti-Hallicrafters group: the fabled clove island of Zanzibar. We arrived from Dar es Salaam and dropped anchor out in the harbor late in the day. By 8 p.m. Bob and the ship’s purser, Mr. Parker, along with a couple other “explorers” took a small boat to shore for a visit of the fabled island. I stayed on board. When Bob returned to the Pilgrim, he was excited about Zanzibar. “It’s just like being in the Arabian Night’s world. The streets are crooked and in places you can put one hand on each side of the street. They’re really narrow. I’d hate to be a shoe salesman on this island everyone is walking around barefoot.” “Did you get lost in the maze?” I asked. “No,” said Bob, “but we stayed where we could see the harbor. There’s practically no one on the streets. Parker says there is no crime on the island, but I’d hate to get lost in that street jungle. Every street is anything but straight, but they are narrow!” I looked forward to going ashore in the morning. In 1948, Zanzibar, the exotic tropical island off the east coast of Africa, was a protectorate of the United Kingdom. The cargo carried on the African Pilgrim destined for the tiny island was being off-loaded onto small boats when we awoke. After breakfast, Gatti issued orders for all of us to go ashore and shoot pictures of the ancient city. “Zanzibar is where newspaper reporter Stanley outfitted for his trek into the center of Africa when he started out to look for Livingston,” Gatti said. “This is where Kiswahili is the basic language; a ‘kitchen’ version is spoken all over East Africa.” Gatti had a good knowledge of African trivia. When we went out on deck, we discovered three Zanzibar merchants—perhaps peddlers would be a better description—loaded with trinkets and souvenirs operating on the fan-tail of the Pilgrim. Some of the ship’s crew were heatedly bargaining with the souvenir peddlers when our crew stopped to observe the traders in action. “Did you lock your cabin door?” whispered Jim Powers. “You bet,” I answered. “I just hope the locks hold.” One of the peddlers turned on me. “You like nice ivory necklace?” he asked while holding up an intricately carved string of beads. This was my first real bargaining session with a native African huckster wearing a snow white toga and brownish red fez, so for the fun of it, I started dealing by saying, “Ten shillings.” He dangled the intricately carved necklace with a tear-shaped pendant closer to my eyes. “Only 120 bob; that’s special price for Americans,” he said with a broad toothy smile. I wasn’t sure it was ivory, but he assured me it was. The asking price of 120 shillings, at 20 cents American to the “bob” (English jargon for shilling), amounted to 24 dollars. I’d heard many stories of “how to bargain” with Arab peddlers, and the consensus of European opinion said: “never take the first price,” so, just for amusement, I bravely restated my bid, “Ten shillings, that’s all.” The crafty peddler came down a bit; I stayed at 10. He came down more; I stayed at 10. He came down more, and I still stayed at 10. The minute our boat for shore was ready to leave, I walked to the gangway. The peddler followed me right down the stairway. “Okay, ten shillings,” and so I bought the necklace which I later gave to my mother in Fargo. “I’ll bet he made five shillings on that deal,” laughed Powers. “He was smiling when he got the money.” Just before our long boat was to leave the ship, Captain Graham came down the ladder. He was carrying a brief case “I’m going to our agent’s office here,” he said, “anyone want to join me?” Bob and Jim Powers volunteered. Errol, Weldon and I had our photo mission from the boss. As the noisy little launch headed for the Zanzibar shore, Bob leaned over to me and said, “It’s too bad Gatti didn’t get a ham license for this place. VQ1 is a rare prefix. I can almost hear the pile-up of calling stations we’d cause!” “I’ve never ever heard a ham from here,” I said. “It’d be fun to put VQ1LHS on the map.” “Or VQ1PBV!” Bob chimed in. Powers added his thoughts, “There’d hardly be room for Gatti and his fancy trailers on this dinky island.” The shore bound launch approached the quay for unloading, and we began to smell Zanzibar. “What’s that smell?” asked one of our group. “Stinking diesel smoke,” answered another. “No, not that. It smells like baked ham.” “It’s the smell of cloves,” said Powers, “Don’t you guys know that Zanzibar, and its neighbor Pemba, make up the clove capital of the world?” The native launch pilot was listening to our chatter. “Those big sheds are full of cloves waiting for ships.” He pointed to the buildings on or near the wharf. Now I could smell the aromatic spice. The aroma made me hungry. Powers then asked, “Don’t you know what cloves are? They’re the dried buds of a flower that grows on trees.” “How do you know so much?” someone asked. “I read the travel literature,” said Powers. “That’s how!” The long boat docked and we stepped ashore carrying our cameras. We were met by a fez wearing native who approached us. “Carry your kamerra,” he offered. “What’d you say,” I asked. “Carry your kameerra,” he repeated. He was wearing a white ankle length robe and carried a very big smile on his shiny black face. “You mean camera?” “Ndeo, bwana. Kamerra,” he answered in Swahili. I was barely familiar with the word “yes” in that language. “And I guide you in city. You get lost without guide,” he said in broken English. That did it we were hiring a guide for our stroll through the city. So I said “Okay,” and handed him the case with the Bell and Howell hand camera in it. I wasn’t sure I’d ever see it again, but it belonged to Gatti. “What do we call you?” I asked. “George,” he said, “George Washington.” “George Washington,” Bob repeated. “If we were from a British ship would you call yourself ‘John Bull?’” “Hapana, Bwana,” he switched back to Swahili for the negative, “name would be Winston.” He laughed, and we did, too. So under the leadership of George, Weldon, Errol, I set out to see the fragrant island of Zanzibar. Bob and the captain headed for Smith-McKenzies, the big British shipping agency. George began by taking us past the Governor’s mansion and some homes of local royalty and then headed for the market area. As we began to walk through the narrow, twisted streets of the city, I became aware of what George meant when he said we’d be lost in the maze-like streets of the Arabian nights city. Our guide was a veritable encyclopedia of information on Zanzibar. He had lived all his life on the island, and he kept telling us all the facts and figures he could think of. He smiled when he told me about the four million clove trees that were producing 80 per cent of the world’s cloves. And when we passed the Sultan of Zanzibar’s residence he babbled on about how the government was run by the Sultan along with the British. George also told us that the law of the island, and that included neighboring Pemba, and a strip of land in Kenya and some other neighboring islands, was Islamic, but the decrees of the Sultan were based on the law of England and British India. I was amazed at his knowledge. He kept on reciting facts about the island, “Do you know, “he said simply, “This island has 170 miles of road?” I pleaded innocence; I couldn’t believe the small island would hold that amount of anything. George was a great guide and worth the few shillings we paid him for his services. George steered us into the Mooloo Brothers curio shop as the first stop. I think maybe George got a little spiff from the Mooloo Brothers for dragging us into their store. It was everything a curio shop should be, a gigantic department store crammed with tourist-type curios. There were many beautiful things from India because the Mooloos were Hindu merchants. They also had a great display of Chinese art, too. The really interesting things that caught my eye were ivory carvings made on full length tusks from African elephants. One I would have liked to purchase was a tusk which had a line of tiny elephants hooked trunk to tail as if on parade. It was carved all the way along the side of the tusk. The Indian merchants were tough to say “no” to, but I managed, due mainly to lack of funds and no credit card. Plastic credit cards were still to be invented. When we started to leave the Mooloo store, one called to us, “We have store in Mombasa, if you go there!” The Mooloo gang were tenacious salesmen when American prospects were in their shop, because, in those post war days, they didn’t see many Yanks with money. After the Mooloo Brothers store, we stopped in the “Near Africa Hotel” bar for a Dutch beer and a delicious curry lunch. Except for the absence of a native piano player, the hotel was a page out of the movie “Casablanca.” The architecture was typical tropical: high ceilings, thick walls and lots of arches. The minute we sat down, a parade of native peddlers tried to sell us amber trinkets and, after that failed, raw amber in chunks. Weldon was the most knowledgeable on the subject of amber, so he bought the raw gems from one friendly salesman. I was afraid of my bargaining power, so I declined all offers. From the hotel George led us deeper into the native market area of the city. We wound through crooked streets that were sometimes only six feet wide. The sights and sounds of Zanzibar were about like the movies portray them. Shops selling spices, presided mainly by Indian merchants, were very aromatic and colorful. The shop keepers sat noisily playing scratchy Asian and African phonograph records on old-time windup mechanical phonographs while waiting for customers. They must have been all using extra loud needles on the 78 rpm disks, for the music was echoing through the tight streets of the bazaar. The music and chatter of foreign tongues seemed to replicate other scenes from the movie. I was really thrilled at the atmosphere, and at any moment I expected to see Humphrey Bogart come walking down the street. The doors on many of the old buildings were beautiful, and according to George, functional. The building entrance doors were ornamentally adorned with brass spears sticking out of each panel on what looked like teakwood. “The spears are to keep elephants from crashing their head through the door,” explained George. “Elephants are very sensitive on their foreheads, so they don’t like the spears.” I wasn’t sure of his explanation, but it did sound African, and it seemed somewhat of a logical explanation, although I didn’t think there were any wild elephants left on the island of Zanzibar. George guided us easily through the twisting streets. At one juncture of four streets Errol commented, “Now I know why George told us we’d get lost if we didn’t hire him.” We all agreed. We finally came out of one very narrow street right in the middle of the public market place. I tried to shoot movies of the people milling about the streets, but they would stare into the lens and spoil the shot. The sights, sounds and smells of the market place were deeply imbedded in my memory when the clock told us we had to start back to the ship. George escorted us back to the quay where we tipped him generously. “Thank you, Americans,” George said as the shillings vanished into his togo. “I like Americans, especially American’s like you,” he added when he felt the handful of extra money we paid him. “I hope Gatti’ll not think we gave him too much when he gets the expense account,” Weldon said as we waved good bye to our valuable guide and climbed aboard the boat that would take us to the ship. Back on the Pilgrim, the peddlers were gone and the captain was about to weigh anchor and head up the Pemba Channel to the port of Tanga in Tanganyika. Bob was full of Zanzibar lore when we sat down to dinner. “At Smith-McKenzies office we saw a bunch of artifacts,”said Bob, “the best thing was an old ledger where they outfitted Stanley with a safari when he went into the interior of Africa to find Doctor Livingston. He had 620 natives in his safari, some getting about five bucks a month—the highest paid got only 14.” “Gatti doesn’t pay much more,” I said, “ but he feeds us!” The Pilgrim was whistling good bye as we headed across the channel to next port of call, the Tanganyika city of Tanga. Zanzibar had been a delightful shore adventure, thanks to George.

CHAPTER 7, Zanzibar

Copyright 2003,William D. Snyder
All Rights reserved
The spikes on Zanzibar doors