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Stanley Livingstone Expediton 2008: Part One

09/03/2008

As a refresher, my post describing my plans for the summer can be found here, including a link to the Denver Post’s mention of said plans. The next few entries will be compiled from three sources: my own mind, now that it’s over and I’m back home; my update e-mails which were sent out whenever we reached a city large enough for me to find internet, and my personal day-to-day journal. The latter two will be in quotes and the journal, to distinguish it from e-mails, in italics. Thank you.

Before the Expedition: Arrival and Zanzibar

Everyone I meet these last couple of weeks inevitably has one question: “How was your summer?”

Perhaps one of the most unexpected lessons this trip gave me is this: the extraordinary does not feel extraordinary while you’re doing it. As such waking up each morning in the bush, eating and breaking camp under an African sky and walking each day through Africa’s heart, through expected and unexpected trials and beauties, was simply routine and still feels unremarkable. It’s only through the reactions of others and the perspective of time that I gain a sense of what it is I’ve done; how very abnormal my normal days have been this summer. Thus, knowing I’ve yet to grasp the last few months in any cohesive fashion, I’ve been unable to come up with a clear, concise and accurate answer to the inevitable question “How was your summer?” I don’t know how it was; I have no overarching understanding yet. All I have are stories.

Night on Emirates Air
Night on Emirates Air

”I’m on a plane. It’s a very nice plane which is currently traveling at 36,996 feet with a ground speed of 556 mph and a true air speed of 562 mph somewhere over southern Iran. We are one hour and seven minutes from Dubai. I know all this from the seatback display in front of me, which also allows me to watch TV and movies, play games, listen to music and who knows what other arcane technological magics. As I’ve said, it’s a very nice plane.”

We arrived in Dar es Salaam after forty-something hours of travel more than half zombie, and stumbled through checking in to Hotel Namnani, meeting the rest of the team and eating our first meal in Africa in a state of fuzzy half-consciousness before collapsing in bed- though not for long. The next morning a small subsection of the team –James, Jim, Evordy, Ken, Gabe and I- watched the sun rise from the ferry port in Dar, while waiting to board our boat to Zanzibar.

Dar es Salaam
Dar es Salaam

”The ferry to Zanzibar broke down, losing one of its two engines and leaving us poor souls puttering in a slow and nauseating circle for an hour or two. I don’t think there was a single person on the boat who wasn’t fighting sea sickness by the time we got moving again.”

Zanzibar
Zanzibar

In Zanzibar we found a hotel and then spent the day wandering around, learning a bit of history and acclimating to the soporific tropical heat.

“‘You are in a maze of twisty passages, all alike.’

There’s no power on the island- the big line from the mainland was severed weeks ago. Our hotel has a generator but it’s not on, so the fan is still and the AC silent. It looked to be an uncomfortable rest when we returned from exploring (read: getting lost in) Stone Town until a well-timed rainstorm rolled in. Now James and I are sprawled in our underwear, trying to catch the breeze to little avail.”

Complete With Anti-Elephant Spikes
Complete With Anti-Elephant Spikes

With the exceptional addition of a few cars and hawkers selling T-shirts, the streets of Zanzibar’s principle city Stone Town are much the same today as they were hundreds of years ago- narrow and winding through the shadows of heavy old buildings of crumbling stone, while occasional intricately-carved doors rear up to entrance the eye.

The history of Zanzibar, and Stone Town in particular, is inextricably entwined with the history of the Arab slave trade. We found ourselves at one point beneath a building in an old Slave pit where they stacked people like cordwood. At another point we wandered through the Cathedral Church of Christ, seen above, which was built on the site of the slave market after Sultan Barghash (under duress) made the slave trade at sea illegal in 1873- a move which did little to stem the actual trade.

”Looking at what remains here of that vast and vile human industry I can’t help but think: slaves were not treated like cattle; they were treated worse than cattle. It’s as if there’s a specific brand of cruelty humans reserve only for each other… Maybe it’s this: if you care for and are kind of a cow it’s still a cow, but if you care for a slave it just may become a human, and then where will you be?”

Leaving Zanzibar
Leaving Zanzibar

”But we can learn. We can improve, if we try, if we care. There is beauty in us too.”

Dhow at Sail
Dhow at Sail

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