Walking mornings, down the beach and down the dirty cobblestones of side streets near the port where the sun is rising, the birds are calling, and everything smells of brine past the market where the fishmongers are calling, where squid guts are glinting in gutters, where wild cats are encased in the fish muck, yowling and prowling. Men are stretching morning stretches and coughing their morning coughs, making ready the lines for another day’s work in the boats.
Walking mornings, walking and already squinting against the big hot eye that’s opening in that big blue sky, walking vaguely in search of that hot cup of coffee which will lose so much of it’s appeal after the heat of the day falls on Zanzibar like big humid hammer. Walking away from the beach and towards the center, from which is now rising an incredible noise.
From starboard and aft the call to prayer is being raised up like a sail, and while the left and the right sides the noise is perfectly in sync but at very different volumes. Portside, there is another mosque somewhere with a very different voice saying the same words, but completely out of sync. Above and beyond the 3-dimensionality of that noise, here comes a new sound rising up and out, the obnoxious noise of what actually sounds like an air raid siren! There are smaller, more muted bursts of sound: engines farting and dropped pans from a kitchen followed by what can only be swearing. From around a corner the sound of an energetic and very animated conversation, incomprehensible, but nevertheless clearly recognizable with the all the rhythms and contours that represent shrewd bargaining begun in earnest.
Here's a structure at least 200 years old, cracked and faded and probably last painted in the first half of it’s life. Suppose that David Livingstone presumed to study his maps in this very building, before he set off to find the origin of the Nile. Just as Livingstone left his heart in Africa, this building must have left most of its strength somewhere in the past because it sits leaning and is propped up against it’s neighbor with half a dozen telephone poles cemented directly into a pedestrian walkway. Me ducking under the impromptu support structure, and still looking for that hot drink before the heat of the day begins.
A open cafe before 8 AM presents an obstacle if you’re looking for the strong, brewed coffee tourists usually expect. Fortunately for me, the mosques wake up long before the rest of the city, and most have a vendor outside where you can buy biscuits and coffee. I shuffle past the growing crowd and up towards the kettle, removing sunglasses and offering up a few coins. I greet the vendor in bad Arabic instead of Swahili out of respect, sort of acknowledging the obvious fact that I'm out of place here. I receive a few shillings of change and sit waiting for coffee to cool.