Karibu Zanzibar!

Janine Lazarus
Janine Lazarus

When the East African paradise of the Spice Islands is the idyllic destination for facilitating a talent management development programme, long days of communications coaching are nothing to complain about, writes JANINE LAZARUS

Held during the rainy season, it provided welcome relief from the humidity. Glorious bird song and an abundance of colourful butterflies seemed to follow, as if on cue, the strong sea breezes‎ and brief, invigorating rainfall so typical of the archipelago at this time of year.

Situated on the Swahili Coast adjacent to Tanganyika, Zanzibar is a study of contrasts.

Nungwi Resort's breadth of gardens slope down to the blue of the Indian Ocean
Nungwi Resort’s breadth of gardens slope down to the blue of the Indian Ocean

Exquisite resorts ‎nestle in lush tropical gardens of Fragipani, Ylang Ylang and swaying palm trees, all sloping down onto beaches of powder white sand fringing the blue Indian Ocean.

Once renowned as the world’s leading clove producer introduced to Zanzibar by the Omani sultans in the first half of the 19th century,‎ fast-moving global markets have crippled the country’s clove industry, along with (possibly) Tanzania’s failed experiment with socialism in the 60’s and 70’s.

Just in case there is any confusion: The Gents, Zanzibar-style
Just in case there is any confusion: The Gents, Zanzibar-style

Famished from a day of travelling‎ from Johannesburg via Dar Es Salaam, and only arriving at Nungwi Resort & Spa around 9pm, I grabbed a large handful of what I thought were slivered nuts graciously presented to me on check in.

But my taste buds were in for a rather harsh suprise: Instead of biting into what appeared to be an odd-looking array of nuts, I tasted the sharp tang of dessicated clove.

Try as I might to spit it out surreptitiously, I was forced to store it in a burning, unpalatable pouch in my cheek like a squirrel so as not to offend the overly gracious receptionist.

View from my verandah: Lush tropical gardens‎ and glorious birdsong
View from my verandah: Lush tropical gardens‎ and glorious birdsong

My hotel room was simply magnificent. It’s four-poster netted bed, indulgent bathroom and magnificent views of the tropical gardens all balm for the weary traveller.

‎But not more than a stone’s throw away from such luxury, lies stark disparities of existence. About half the population of about one and a half million live well below the poverty line.

How the other side lives
How the other side lives

Despite a relatively high standard of primary health care, infant mortality in Zanzibar is 54 out of every 1000 births, and it is estimated that 12 percent of children who live near the equator suffer from acute malnutrition.

Life expectancy is 57 years – significantly lower than the world average of 67.2. And yet, the men seem to make the most of their lives by marrying at least four wives. Badly maintained earth roads, often difficult to navigate along, are populated with smiling people on bicycles and ramshackle motorbikes as there is no government-owned public transportation system.

Ramshackle stalls on the side of the road: How the locals eke out a living
Ramshackle stalls on the side of the road: How the locals eke out a living

Electricity is anything but reliable, so the locals use wood, charcoal and kerosene to cook the fish they sell from the myriad of make-shift shops dotted on either side of the roads.

But in spite of the poverty, the locals, like their neighbours in many countries on the continent, are quick to welcome you ‎with a smiling ‘Karibu’ and a gracious ‘asante sana’ for your very crucial tourist dollars.