ZANZIBAR–The streets of Stone Town are a feast of East African fashion. The more modest Muslim women float by in their bui-buis–long black robes beneath which the women seem not to sweat. (I’m told the elegant bui-buis often hide either short skirts and flimsy shirts or tracksuit pants and t-shirts.) And Christians and Muslims alike rock the kanga–brightly patterned, sari-like strips of cloth with Swahili sayings emblazoned at their feet. One size fits all, although I think my new Obama kanga is particularly slimming.
The best part of the kanga is the least accessible to me: the proverb. In a kanga exhibit at the local museum, I came across a kanga that sported this gem: “Mother, give me your blessings; living with people is really tough” (Mama nipe radhi kuishi na wata.) An equally wise kanga that my guide gifted me reads, “The world is not permanent, and you are just passing through”–a needed check on my Type A tendencies.
But not all of the kanga proverbs are so bongo (Kiswahili for “clever”). I couldn’t resist one that the saleswoman translated simply as, “Oh, wow!” I look forward to wearing it to spice up those otherwise lackluster Mondays.
STONE TOWN, ZANZIBAR — Although Tanzania is one whole country south of Kenya, you wouldn’t know it from Tanzanians’ exuberant emrace of Kenya’s favorite grandson, Barack Obama. Residents of Stone Town, for example, created the Obama Tree, a deciduous shrine with “President Obama” spray-painted on its planter and cars festooned with Obama stickers circling it. Obama kangas (brightly dyed cloths that the women wear) are on offer in many shops. And the first thing that many Tanzanians ask me is, “What do you think about Obama?”
I’ve asked several folks why Tanzanians are so excited about our new president. A seafood vendor at the night market said that it’s not just because they think that Obama is going to ship boatloads of foreign aid to his paternal homeland–though they do think this–but also because they hope that Americans won’t be afraid to travel to Africa anymore. “They see that Obama is African, and that he’s a good man. And so they will come to Africa themselves,” he says. Likewise, a young man on the ferry–the head of the Youth League of the ruling CCM party, as it turns out–hopes that Obama will turn the tide of sentiment the world over: “Bush made everyone afraid of everyone else. Maybe Obama will make everyone feel safe again.”