Before I came to Zanzibar, I thought that “Hakuna Matata” was just a cheesy Disney song. Actually, it’s a Swahili phrase that you hear all the time, meaning “No worries”. It sums up the kind of relaxed, easy-going pace of life that’s dictated by the incredibly hot weather here, where you just have to accept that everything will go along at its own slow pace, and that not everything will go to plan. The exotic atmosphere of this beautiful, but crumbling, town more than compensates for the sense of chaos running just below the surface.
Actually, I’m not sure that “No Worries” is quite the attitude I’m taking for the current state of Zanzibar. I worry about the impact of the pandemic on an island whose economy almost totally relies on tourism – you just have to see the groups of people sitting around with nothing to do, to know that the economy is hurting. I worry about the dilapidated state of so many of Stone Town’s historic buildings – the House of Wonders (it’s most impressive building from its years as an Arab Sultanate) collapsed during botched renovations in 2020 and who knows when it will be rebuilt. I also worry whether the city has its priorities right as it tries to balance tourism and everyday life. There are some really beautiful hotels and restaurants, right alongside some very basic lifestyles – for the time being people are overwhelmingly friendly and polite, I just hope that the economic disparities don’t begin to grate on the locals.
However, for the time being, Zanzibar remains a wonderfully exotic, exciting and exhausting place to explore – as you turn every corner in Stone Town’s maze of alleys, there’s always something to see; as you drive around the island, the street scenes alternate between chaotic hives of activity, to indolent inactivity.
There’s another Swahili phrase you hear all the time here on Zanzibar – “Pole, Pole” – “Slowly, Slowly”. Change happens slowly; traffic here moves slowly; and life proceeds slowly. Maybe I should stop worrying about Zanzibar’s future, and just enjoy its exotic present. Hakuna Matata.
PS. We did a lot of tours over our wonderful three days here – spice plantations, palace ruins, monkey forests, Freddie Mercury Museum, Slavery Museum, and plenty of Stone Town walking too.