31 January 2009

i would stand in line for this.

I'm completely in love with Zanzibar. Impressively, it lives up to all its hype - beautiful beaches, charming town, delicious food, and warm, friendly people (including the children!). I actually enjoyed the smell of the fish market on the first day until I remembered that raw fish is, in fact, NOT an appealing odor. Whoops. None of the shouting and pointing at white people, which may be related to the fact that Zanzibar sees a lot of tourists. Although, by that logic, Lalibela and Addis should also ignore white people, which is decidedly not the case. Even when I wondered into a residential neighborhood, people just looked at me briefly to decide if I looked lost and wanted/needed help, and a couple of people asked if I was. Children walked by me without so much as a second glance. Even the local beach boys who latch onto tourists are more entertaining than their Ethiopian counterparts - their English is much better, so you can crack jokes and talk about more than the weather (I debated the existence of god with one) and they tend to take the hint if you turn down their offers of tours or trips. Only downside - when people asked what I was doing in Africa, I got more than a few lectures about how condoms don't stop the transmission of HIV. Crazy children aside, I'm glad I'm doing HIV work in Ethiopia - I don't think I'd be able to cope with constantly battling myths like that.

Stonetown, the capital, is a quaint little colonial town with classic whitewashed buildings, enormous terraces, and narrow alleys winding throughout the old city (much like Harar or other Arab-esque cities). Say what you want about the British colonial legacy, it at least left behind some charming architecture. Unfortunately, it also left behind a system of driving on the wrong side of the road, which confuses me to no end. However, the country DOES labels its busses so you know where they're going, which was both shocking and gloriously convenient. Sure, I tried to board them through the driver's side panel a few times, but at least I knew I was at the right bus. And they open windows on busses, a vitally necessary social practice in a country with both heat and humidity (I'd forgotten what that felt like!).

And the food - seafood everywhere! Every night in Stonetown, vendors sell skewers of fresh seafood for a couple bucks - shrimp, giant crab claws, lobsters, fish, squid, the works. And it only gets better in the restaurants (although sadly, not cheaper!). The only thing I couldn't find was coconut fried shrimp, which was an unexpected disappointment since the island is covered with coconuts. The fruit was a welcome respite from gorging myself on seafood. Enormous pineapples, passion fruits, and fat, juicy mangos. Plus more fruits that I'd never seen before than are available in the whole of Ethiopia. I've long suspected, but am now certain, that we got the short end of the culinary stick when the Peace Corps sent us to Ethiopia.

Traveling alone is a bit strange (especially around those romantic beach resorts!), but I met some fascinating people from all over, including, of course, a member of the Gator Nation. I ran into an older couple from Vermont on my last night, and in the course of our conversation about the election and safaris, we ventured on to the topic of butterflies and how they're un-appreciated in Africa. I told them about how I'd gained an (admittedly amateurish) appreciation thanks to UF's McGuire center, and it turns out the husband donated a lot of his specimens to the museum there and has willed the rest of his collection to UF. They'd also spent some time in Oklahoma, and ordered me not to tell them about the BCS game since they'd taped it and wanted to watch it when they got home. This discussion was not prefaced with questions about my interest in or knowledge about college football, because all loyal Gators know that such pesky things as an ocean, a sizable continent, and a painfully inadequate communications infrastructure wouldn't squelch our ability to follow our team. The Gator Nation is everywhere.

As for those beaches, a picture is worth a thousand words: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2711847&l=b2ad0&id=2001205.
In Ethiopia news, the short rains came early (being greeted by cold rain as I left the plane was NOT the best transition from Zanzibar), which is further wreaking havoc on the agriculture here. The new trainees have two weeks left until swearing in, then we officially get new neighbors. We're already planning a massive feast for the new arrivals to our little corner of Ethiopia - it's more of an excuse for us to binge, but we're marketing it as a welcome party.

Candace, Jason & Julie, Gil, Nick, and Kimberly, I got your mail - thanks!

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