July 14, 2008


July, 2008


Back to Africa


I have been bitten by a Zanzibari bug...Or could it be a Swahili spirit. Maybe it is the spirit of music, the 103 year old sound of Africas oldest band, the Ikhwani Safaa Musical Club.

In June, I was teaching workshops in South Africa, Johannesburg and Capetown. It was cold and wintery, but all went well. The workhops were well received, and people loved the show. Aside from an orphaned lion cub chewing on my shoe and the sight of an occaisional ostrich or rhino while driving in the countryside, it was a pretty western experience, like going to Europe, Latin America, etc. ...with extra security because of the high crime rate.

Johannesburg is a big city with lots of traffic. Many activities take place in huge shopping mall complexes with passages leading above the streets from one mall to another and security guards surrounding the parking lots.

The organizer, Angela was kind and more than hospitable. We became fast friends as she ferried me around town through traffic on all my errands.  I found out a musician friend of mine in Zanzibar needed a guitar. Since I sold all my books and cd's, there was room to take the guitar on the plane with me. What sounded like an easy task turned out to involve days of searching on South Africas version of E Bay, which is called "Bid or Buy". I found just the right guitar...sold by a woman who asked us to meet her outside an AIDS village in an industrial area at the edge of town at rush hour. She always conducted her instrument dealings in such unexpected places because of the security issue of carring around sums of money. Mission was accomplished in the back of her van as Angela sat patiently by, waiting in her car.    

Capetown is gloriously beautiful, though many precautions remain in place. The studio owner, a beautiful dancer named Tenille, took me to the "Cape of Good Hope", which is the southernmost tip of Africa. It looks just like one would imagine from the map. We also walked along the beach where wild penguins congregate. I couldn't stop taking pictures!


Meanwhile, in Zanzibar, the electricity had been out for a month. Imagine! an entire island of one million people living in darkness- no refrigerators, no lights...Nothing! It barely made the news anywhere in the world and there is still barely any help for the economic recovery of this island.

A few days before leaving South Africa, the lights came back on in Zanzibar. What a relief! I flew ten hours to get there, and stayed in the refurbished old palace where Emerson, an American vanguard in arts promotion lives. He was in New York, so I had the place to myself. My purpose was to meet with the famed musician, Matona and the 103 year old Ikhwani Safaa Musical Club of Zanzibar about creating a new CD. It will be bellydance music, based on opera classics; Carmen, Sampson and Delilah, Salome, etc., with a uniquely Zanzibari flavor. This is the first such project to take place on the island and the plan is that we will record in December.

Within an hour of setting foot in "Jaws Corner" ( a small square where people sit and talk, while drinking traditional Zanzibari coffee), news of my arrival had spread and old friends, Juma (the violin player and artistic director of my last cd, "40 Days and 1001 Nights, Bellydance Music for Tamalyn Dallal"), Abeidi, the amazing tabla player who snaps his finger by bending it backwards (see it in the film "40 Days and 1001 Nights, Seeing the Islamic World through the Eyes of a Dancer" with your own eyes) came to greet me. Khamis, the environmentally protective artist who recycles paper into cd covers introduced me to a man in the market who sells solar powered cooking devices that don't require charcoal, thus saves the trees. Plastic bags are still banned in Tanzania and although there is a black market supply and the authorities may look the other way, the problem of plastic bags swirling at ones feet as we walked (mentioned in my book and shown in the film) has improved.

I learned what it is like to be gouged at Zanzibars airport when my entry visa cost $100 and the airport tax to leave was a whopping $60. Next time, I may take the boat. Anyway, a few days in the magical isle from days gone by was worth it. Next, I was off to Kenya.


As those of you who read my book recall (If you haven't read it, please order a copy at www.40daysand1001nights.com), Taariq, my nice young neighbor suffered from an affliction that, like the blackout in Zanzibar, has been ignored by most of the world. Heroin addiction has reached epidemic proportions along what they call the "Swahili Coast" (Zanzibar, mainland Tanzania and Kenya). There is a route through India and Pakistan where the drug is obtained, and carried to Africa. Eventually, it either makes its way to Europe or South Africa, causing massive destruction in its wake; Adolescent boys getting hooked at an impressionable age, especially in Zanzibar where prospects for work are scarce and laws against drug dealing are not enforced. This drug money, as it bulldozes across Africa finances war, such as the ongoing violence in the Congo that utilizes child soldiers.

The good news is that Taariq has been living in Mombasa, Kenya for over two years, where he went through drug rehabilitation and is active in Narcotics Anonymous. He studies computer engineering in college, and during his vacation is now in Zanzibar setting up Narcotics Anonymous meetings. Unfortunately, drug rehabilitation programs are desperately needed in Zanzibar, but like the month long black out, who is listening?

On a lghter note, the food in Mombasa is absolutely delicious . I spent an afternoon with ladies in the suburb of Kisaouni learning to make "biryani", an Indian influenced traditional Swahili dish.


Recipe for Biryani:

Chop  and fry pieces of goat meat, add tomato paste and fresh tomatoes, onions, green peppers, and lots of spices ground with a mortar and pestel (cloves, cinnamon, cardomom, peppercorns, fresh ginger). Add yoghurt and simmer.

Serve over rice cooked with tumeric.

Thinly slice a salad of onions, peeled cucumbers, tomatoes and salt. Serve alongside the rice dish.


The tastiest dish I ate was "Chana Batata", a soup made with potatoes, peanuts, coconut, unidentified crunchy things, and topped with hot sauce and coconut chutney...washed down with spicy chai.


My flight to Madrid, where I was to continue on my workshop teaching tour, left out of Nairobi, an overnight train ride away from Mombasa. It was amazing to wake up for breakfast and watch the animals migrating right outside the window; zebras, wildebeasts, ostriches, ghazals.


My "Swahili henna", which consists of elaborate patterns of black and brown henna in flower designs all the way up both arms and covering both feet, halfway up the legs is a big hit in Spain. Too bad it only lasts a couple of weeks.

Till the next time.... as "40 Days and 1001 Nights" continues. Read the book...See the film...and hear the music www.40daysand1001nights.com