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4 Days in Stone Town, or I’m Too Sexy for My Clothes

So Zanzibar.  How did we ever come up with that as a destination?

Honestly,  I don’t know, but after a couple of weeks in the States, Diesel and I found ourselves sitting on a plane headed to “somewhere in Africa,” with no guidebook or the faintest idea of what the island was all about.  We figured Erica and BJ (who would be joining us for a big last hurrah, after finishing up their year working for an NGO in Malawi) would bring a guidebook, so we figured we’d just show up. That’s just the kind of traveler we are:  very well-informed and prepared.

So it came as quite a shock to us when, on our drive from the airport, we saw all sorts of people in very conservative Muslim garb: men wearing the funny little white caps (the taqiyah) with their matching white robes (Dishdasha or Thobe), women wearing tunics and headscarves.  I did a quick mental inventory of my wardrobe, and decided I had not appropriately packed for a trip to the Muslim world.  All I had brought were short shorts and tank tops, as I was obvioulsy not expecting to be osracized or stoned to death by fundamentalist Muslims on our so-called relaxing beach vacation.

“Whatever happened to all those Africans running around skimpily clothed or otherwise completely naked?,” I asked myself.  I was sure I had seen plenty of those on my collection of National Georgraphic magazines.

Due to Zanzibar’s location right off the coast of East Africa, merchants from Arabia, India, and later Europe used the island as a trading gateway to Africa.  Sometime around the 7th century, Arabs and Persians migrated to Zanzibar fleeing from political persecution, war or famine.  The Arabs settled and some intermarried the local Bantu people.  With them, the traders brought several words that were assimilated into the language, giving rise to Kiswahili, spoken in Zanzibar today.  They also brought Islam, and blah, blah, blah…which brings us to my very important 2009 wardrobe conundrum.

As touristy as Stone Town (the old part of Zanzibar city) is, it was striking to see how  strictly the Muslim dress code is observed,  by the locals and the travelers as well, who, for the most part, have the good sense to wear long shorts/pants/dresses and non-sleeveless shirts.

Though Tim and I have been in Indonesia, a Muslim country where women dress modestly, the cosmopolitan atmosphere of both Penang and Kuala Lumpur never made me feel uncomfortable wearing outfits that in the U.S. would be considered perfectly  acceptable.  However, in a foreign land, it is wise to always err on the side of modesty, so for the next several days
(except when we were inside the Euro resort areas), I made sure to wear long pants and have my shoulders covered at all times, even if that meant being soaked in my own B.O.


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