Zanzibar and the question of our duty as travellers…

I didn’t go to Zanzibar because I wanted to go to Zanzibar. I went to Zanzibar because the plane tickets were cheap. That’s the truth of it. I’ve never felt any need to go there. In my head it was just another island with tropical fruit and possibly a good snorkeling scene. Lovely, yes. But essential? Not really.

My Travel Bucketlist (in no particular order) is as follows:

  • Italy
  • Germany
  • Prague
  • Iceland
  • Israel
  • Egypt
  • Turkey
  • Cambodia
  • Vietnam
  • Japan
  • Morocco
  • The Philippines
  • Scotland
  • Ireland
  • Alaska
  • A Roadtrip from SA to Kenya


Those are my must sees. So why did I go to Zanzibar?

Well, like I said, the tickets were cheap. After India last year I found myself in a slump. I had my trip at the beginning of the year, which weirdly somehow meant that there was nothing left to be excited about for the rest of the year. That was an awkward place to be in for me. 2016 couldn’t be over by March already, could it? No. Of course not. So as soon as I found my cheap tickets I purchased them. Because I needed  something else. And so I took it. I’m a traveler now.

Zanzibar was nothing like I expected. When you get in a plane and go somewhere, you usually land somewhere foreign. You land somewhere so far removed from your own reality that you can almost pretend that this place that you’re in doesn’t really exist upside of the context of your adventure. I suppose that is a sort of privilege. But the thing is, you go to a place like Thailand, or somewhere completely removed from your own existence, and you can kind of see the politics and they sting a bit, as politics are wont to do, but you can talk yourself down. This is not my place you can tell yourself. Because it is true. It is not your place.

Well, I found it difficult to do that in Zanzibar. I found it difficult to close my eyes to the the glaringly obvious trials of its citizens. Which is silly, perhaps, because it still is not my place, but I am also African, and even though we are very different from each other, Africa is still my home and I cannot help but feel that connection that our continent affords us. Being in Zanzibar felt too familiar. It didn’t feel new. It felt sort of like de ja vu.

While I undoubtedly had a wonderful time in Zanzibar, strolling on beautiful beaches, swimming with incredible sea life, learning about turtles, tasting raw spices, and exploring Stone Town, I could not help but notice the very big difference between the life of a regular citizen, and the bustling tourism industry which seems set to exploit not only the tourists themselves but the citizens of Zanzibar as well. It is certainly a shady political situation that should be dealt with…but where do you even start?

It makes me wonder … As a traveller, what are my obligations when it comes to the places that I explore? How do I give back in such a situation? Yes, I come to your country and I spend my money, which works as a sort of quid-pro-quo… But what if it doesn’t feel quite right? What if it feels like I am not contributing to a fair economy? What do I do then? Because this is really bothering me and I’ve never felt quite this way before.

When almost all of the people who live in a country could never dream of eating in the same restaurants as the tourists do, there is something very wrong. It bugs me. I imagine it bugs me so because in many ways it mirrors here.

So… What do I do?

As usual, I don’t know. All I know is that I look at this beautiful country filled with exceptionally nice people, and I cannot help but feel a little bit sad. Because this place has so much to give. There are so many wonderful resources – certainly enough for everyone to make a comfortable living. But the gap between those who live there and those who are only visiting is so enormous that it makes me feel kind of ill. How can it possibly be ok to go to a restaurant and pay more for one meal than what many of the locals earn in an entire month?

Something is terribly off.

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