How To Not Be A 'Prostitute' In Zanzibar
Ok. I admit it. This title is a bit over-the-top.
Before you say you didn't notice the quotation marks, please hear me out. It conveys exactly what I need to say - especially to you Kenyan ladies. This is an account of how to avoid being confused for a prostutite in Zanzibar or any other touristy place with a lot of cultural differences from what you are used to.
Zanzibar is particularly special because it's almost entirely muslim and was cut off from much of the colonialism that Tanzania and the rest of East Africa experienced.
So you can imagine how Zanzibar's countryside might be like.
I stayed in in the East Coast (countryside). In a lovely place named Jambiani and for a little while in Pingwe.
Before I go on, I'd like to point out that I'm not one to judge what people choose to do with their life (unless they are my family or something). I mean, they can live their lives however they see fit while I live mine however I want.
What I don't appreciate, however, is having my life being misconstrued for something it's not. And this kept happening over and over again in Zanzibar. With everything boiling down to one simple yet faulty piece of logic:
Akumu is a Kenyan who is acting like a tourist.
Almost all Kenyans who act like tourists in Zanzibar are prostitutes.
Therefore, Akumu is a prostitute.
I told you it was faulty!
Knowing that this was what I would be fighting with on a daily basis, I made a plan. I needed to build my reputation from scratch with every single interaction I had with locals. It bothered me that I had to, but inside me, I knew I had do something.
Here are a couple of things I had to deal with:
I had to get rid of or rather hide, any getup that would raise eyebrows. That meant anything above the knees, above the elbows and anything not covering collar bone. If I followed this it would mean that 87% of the clothes I brought would be obsolete. And all this in temperatures above 30 degrees centigrade. Sigh.
But I tried. Long skirts, sleeved shirts and dresses and making use of kikois. And I did pretty well, considering. I was proud of myself.
Then I went out to parties with normal party clothes and blended right in with the ladies of the night. Then any reputation I had built went down the drain.
Until.....until I began wearing my glasses to the parties.
Perfect differentiator. And perhaps one of the only strategies that worked.
The thing with friends in Zanzibar is that most of them will be foreigners if you are meant to live a normal (in)sane life.
That's just the thing. Most foreigners living in the island know each other and hangout together - a lot.
But as a Kenyan trying not to look like a prostitute, it was better to be seen with black friends than with mzungu friends, particularly male ones.
And it is really hard to ignore or pretend to ignore friends.
So I had to bite my tongue during snide looks and remarks when I was seen with my mzungu friends and feel a sense of ease when walking with my black friends.
It is very easy to spot a Kenyan in any conversation anywhere in East Africa - heck, the entire world. It's in the accent, the expressions, the gestures.
As much as Tanzanians like to play the game of 'Spot the Kenyan', Kenyans love to play it too.
And Zanzibar is perfect for it. So as a Kenyan there, you are likely to be spotted by some of these Kenyan ladies of the night and you are likely to love the conversation so much that you'll look like old friends. And boom, you are one of them. Even on a day you tried really really hard not to look like the friendly neighbourhood 'prostitute'.
Even with a number of strategies (albeit futile) on how to keep my reputation in check, I still found myself in situations that led to arguments and near-fights with people who saw me for who I'm not.
And so I sat down and thought to myself: do I really have to keep fighting every dumb Tom, Dick and Harry with faulty logic or do I just be let them be and enjoy my experience?
It took a wh-i-ile but I finally chose the latter.
It was all a long hard lesson on how to not care too much about what other people think. Something I have never being able to fully grasp - until this situation implored me to do so. Something that was also this year's New Year Resolution. And like all resolutions, they do much better as plans than as 'dones'.
So yeah, want to know how to not be confused for a 'prostitute' in Zanzibar? Forget the question.
Just be yourself. Follow some rules. Break some. Enjoy the experience.