Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Zanzibar: The Beach Boys

We jumped right into exploring the island by taking a walk along the beach to the Mnarani Natural Aquarium. It was along this path that we had our first glimpse of what we would be dealing with for the rest of our 10 days in Zanzibar.  It started harmlessly enough; a man approached Kent and I and welcomed us to the island. “Where are you from?” he asked interested. “U.S.A.,” we replied. “Oh, Obama,” he enthusiastically responded. “Yes, Obama,” we said, excited that he viewed this as a good thing. Obama had just spent a few days in Dar Es Salaam under the guise of brokering a trade agreement between Tanzania and the U.S., but local sources said it was because they had just discovered a new oil reserve in the country and U.S. businesses wanted the rights to it.

                “Where are you going?”
                “To the turtle sanctuary”
                “Oh, I will take you there.”

After having been given a stern warning from our hotel concierge about scams from the “beach boys,”a.ka. men who spend their days walking up and down the beach trying to get tourists to purchase a sunset cruise, snorkel trip or a carved piece of wood, we realized this was not simply a friendly local trying to make us feel at home. “No thanks,” we said and tried to walk faster. “Hakuna Matata,” he repeated as he too quickened his pace. We tried various ways of reasoning with him that we didn’t need his services and after 10 minutes of this painfully awkward stroll, we approached the aquarium. Luckily he just shouted to something to his fellow beach boys and left us on our way. 

Beach boys in Nungwi, Zanzibar
After that experience and several more like it, we began to learn how to be polite but firm in our refusals. However the beach boys put somewhat of a damper on our beach experience because we could not enjoy simply laying on the sand because we would be interrupted every 5 minutes with someone trying to sell us something. Unlike Mexico or Italy where beach vendors are also rampant, these beach boys were incredibly smart. If we tried to speak a language other than English to pretend that we didn't understand them, they answered us right back in that language. One young boy was able to speak to me in German, Italian, French, Spanish and Chinese (well for this one I just took his word for it). Another beach boy came very close to convincing Kent to buy something by guilt tripping him about how tourists come to the island and patronize foreign owned hotels and restaurants that don’t actually support the local economy, where the average monthly income is about $50.    

Beach boys walk up and down the beach in Nungwi

Besides selling various products and services to tourists, our dive instructor also enlightened us to the fact that many also sell themselves. Many European women come to Zanzibar specifically for trysts with the beach boys and he said that Zanzibar is to women what Thailand is to men. Indeed, we saw many older women walking along the beach at night accompanied by beach boys or rolling with them in a hidden cove on the beach. 

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