Shopping in Zanzibar for café decorations
Wilco van Herpen ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily NewsOne evening about two weeks ago, a friend of mine from Eskişehir, Murat, phoned me and asked, “Wilco, do you have any plans for next week? We are going to Zanzibar, and if you want you can come along with us.” It took me two minutes to check my agenda and discuss it with my wife. I would go to Zanzibar.
I met Murat four years ago while making an episode of Wilco’nun Karavanı (Wilco’s Camper) in Eskişehir. He runs a cafe called Cafe Del Mundo with his wife, Yekta, the concept of which is traveling.
For that reason it was a rather obvious choice, being a traveler myself, to meet them and talk about their addiction. The nice thing is that Murat and Yekta share their adventures with the people who work in their cafe, so everyone gets a chance to travel. Murat will approach his employees (who are generally students) and ask them if they have any upcoming exams. If they are available and if their passport is up to date, he will give them a ticket and they will go as a group someplace in the world. It could be South America, Africa, the Far East etc. This time his destination was Zanzibar and one week later we left Turkey as a group of 10 people.
It took us seven hours to get to Tanzania and in the middle of the night we arrived at Dar es Salaam airport. To reach Zanzibar you either have to take an inland flight or go by ferryboat – same as the fast ferries that run to Yalova, Bursa or Bandırma from Istanbul. The connecting flight would be in four hours so we sat down and waited. Finally, the national airport opened its doors, and we checked in. A small plane brought us to Zanzibar, and it took us just 10 minutes to get there. On our way to the island I saw dolphins – hundreds of dolphins – swimming in the clear blue sea.
Surprises for Turks
For a Turk there are two big surprises that await in Zanzibar. The first one is a pharmacy called İzmir. The second one is a new airport currently being constructed by a Turkish company. But aside from that, you are in Africa – real Africa. Zanzibar is a relatively small island. Most of the people are Muslim and there are a number of mosques. The island is famous for its spices, beautiful beaches and Stone Town, the center of the island. The Stone Town is a labyrinth of narrow streets with beautiful old houses and its doors are legendary. They are beautifully carved antique doors it is forbidden to sell and send abroad. Yet still people manage to buy old doors and take them abroad. A door can easily cost you $50,000 and on top of that you must pay a large sum to bribe the several people involved.
Murat’s aim was, besides having a nice holiday, to buy decorations for his new bar. He found a minibus that brought us to Stone Town, and without any sleep our trip in Zanzibar began. After an exotic breakfast Murat went to an antique shop he knew to start looking for authentic old African art. Two Indian brothers run the place, and African art collectors from all over the world know the Zanzibar Curio Shop. The brothers, Azif and Murtaza, broke out in big smiles when they saw Murat and Yekta. After a warm welcome, Murat started to look around the shop. Every centimeter was used to display goods for sale – from old toys to statues, T-shirts to magnets, whatever you are looking for, it has to be there.
The next day was a travel day. Murat showed us one of the famous spice gardens and brought us to a beach resort that I only knew from holiday brochures. The group would stay another day in that heavenly place with beaches white as snow and a sea so blue that I could not tell where the sea stopped and the sky started. I decided to return with Murat to Stone Town.
Walking around in Stone Town, the atmosphere was so different from the day before. A prominent religious leader had been jailed and I could feel the tense energy that smothered the town like a thick blanket of aggression. Most of the shops were closed and when buying a couple of things in one tourist shop suddenly we saw a group of youngsters with stones in their hands, faces covered with shawls. What a contrast to two days ago when everybody was greeting us with smiles. We decided to go to the Zanzibar Curio Shop again. After a knock on the door, Murtaza invited us in.
The negotiations lasted for more than one hour but finally the two reached a deal and all the African art was collected, cleaned and packed. Our work was finished, we could go back home. That evening the police released the religious leader and the people of Zanzibar celebrated their victory. For us it made the trip back to Dar es Salaam easier since a large part of the tension was gone.
African toys on display
After 45 days of hard work there was still a lot to be done but Murat was optimistic. All the African tribal art, toys and number plates Murat had bought were displayed on shelves or hung on the walls, but there was still a lot of empty spaces. “I have to make another trip to fill up the place completely,” Murat told me. Walking around in the café, I could already get the global Café Del Mundo feeling. It still needed some work, but knowing Murat and Yekta I am sure that this place will also be a second home for people who like to travel, chill out and eat food prepared in their world kitchen, the spices of which come from countries all over the world.