A beach boy sauntered down the beach carrying a wood-jacketed book (the Quran? The Bible? A voodoo spell book?), stopped by me and said “Hi, can I ask you a question? What do you think of black people?” Perhaps he was provoking an argument, or just wanted to make small talk. He kept talking and slurred so I barely understood half of what he said. His eyes spun in his sockets as he explained to me that he had a Norwegian girlfriend and encouraged me to be friendly to every person I met. And every half a minute I had no choice but to do the African male handshake of bumping knuckles with him.
Zanzibar has a dark underbelly, like most tourist paradises. I have heard stories of drugs and drug-related crimes here, too. Most locals (and possibly tourists) choose to go for heroin. Or maybe it is heroin that is best available. Since I get up early I have never stayed up very late, but I hear people get drugged and in trouble at large parties such as the Kendwa full moon party.
The beach boys hawking snorkeling trips and coconuts hawk pretty much anything if you ask the right individual. Including drugs. Yet, unlike many other (Muslim) tourist destinations, there are no signs at the airport warning for zero tolerance with regard to narcotics. I have also understood that here it is most often not the user but the peddler who gets into trouble. And the drug lords can bribe their way out of most trouble.
But none of this is visible in daylight. Although I have rarely been out past 11 pm, I have always felt safe walking in the dark, too. However, as noted above, there are strange people on the beach here. A beach boy stuck to me like a leech a few days earlier. He thought it was his prerogative to demand conversation, and I was rude for preferring to write undisturbed. Another beach boy had alcohol on his breath at 11 am and wanted to sell a coconut for 10,000 TSH, whereas I know 1,000 is a good price and anything above 3,000 is a rip-off.
Last night I ran into a few guys smoking pot outside of the restaurant I wanted to dine at. They yelled after me, saying they wanted my company afterwards and that they would wait. They actually did wait – and as they never asked me what I thought of their wish I slipped out through the back door.
The islanders here have their own friendly way of living, different from mainland. Perhaps crime is lower, too? I do not know of the facts. And in case one should forget in the dazzling sunlight on the white beach sand, Zanzibar is not Paradise but a real place, with real people. Where ever there is light there will be shadows.(Nungwi, Zanzibar, Tanzania; August 2017)