Zanzibar Soap

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(Excerpt from Rheba's Journal, "Moondust")
June 17, 1999: One of my daydreams is that when I win the lottery I am going to go to Whole Foods Store and buy every exotic thing they have for sale there that I want. We were in the store earlier this week in Austin and I bought a couple of bars of soap just for me in the aromatherapy section. Usually I put the exotic and pure soaps in the guest bath, but I love exotic soaps and bought these just for me. Take a look at this one:

Zanzibar Soap
Zanzibar Soap

This is no ordinary bar of soap. No indeed! This is a magical bar of soap. Just look at it! Have you ever seen soap that looks like this? And the aroma! Ooohh, it is delicate, fresh, with the slightest hint of cloves and cinnamon. It is a chunky six ounce bar that feels substantial in the hand, and one edge of it has depressed grooves where the cinnamon-colored marbling was stirred in when the mixture was still soft, reminding me of the way my divinity candy looks in the pan. Obviously this is a slice cut out of a larger container of soap. Its scent immediately caused a frisson of excitement to streak through me and all kinds of stirrings began within me, triggering memories. Memories of the tropics where we lived when I was a little girl, memories of the 1941 movie, "The Road to Zanzibar," starring Dorothy Lamour, Bob Hope, and Bing Crosby, memories of coconut palms and beautiful turquoise oceans and exotic fruit like mangoes and guava. The soap lathers beautifully, and leaves its delicate aroma on the skin, hinting of beautiful beaches and spicy foods, trade winds, sea shells and exotic islands. I can heartily recommend it as a soap. However, that is not the only magic of this item. Just listen to this: "ZANZIBAR...Exotic Clove-scented isle on the bosom of the Indian Ocean...sail away to adventure on the Almond-scented breeze. The high Cinnamon content of this dark, marbled bar gives it its color and texture, Bergamot and Bitter Almond essential oils for a fresh scent and Cinnamon and Clove oils salute the island's history. The base for this creamy bar is saponified 100% food grade coconut and olive oils." That is the blurb on the label around the soap. It is sold unwrapped with a recycled label around it and it is made by Woodspirits Ltd. 1920 Apple road, St. Paris, Ohio, 43072. Even the name and address evoke exotic things and places. I kept thinking and thinking about all this, and then...

I decided to go to Zanzibar.

As is usual with travel anywhere, I learned so many new, interesting things! I learned that there is only one international airline, Gulf Air, that goes directly to the island, and I would either have to fly in on that unknown (to me) airline, or fly into Dar es Salaam (On Royal Dutch KLM Airlines), which is only a short journey from Zanzibar via high speed ferries or the above-mentioned Gulf Air airlines. I had to ponder that a bit.

What an entertaining adventure the trip was! Needing a quiet retreat after all the travel preparations, I elected to spend the first part of the trip at the lovely, small (32 room) Ras Nungwi Beach Hotel, where I basked in the panoramic sea view from my window. That window framed gorgeous turquoise and azure waters lapping the white coral beach, and I enjoyed the sea breezes that helped me forget that I was on an island near the equator. I was careful to stay in the shade most of the time, dipping into the temperate waters only occasionally. Each night I slept under a mosquito net hung from the ceiling over my four poster bed, reminding me of sleeping under such nets in Trinidad. We did that for the same reason they do it on this island, because of mosquitoes and the threat of malaria. I declined to go on any diving excursions in deference to my age, but I felt wistful as my fellow tourists left on those adventures, for I really wanted to go. I opted against any fly-out safaris to nearby Africa because of the costs. I would only shoot with my camera, anyway.

After I was rested, I reluctantly said good-bye to the beautiful beaches and I moved to the lovely and exotic Zanzibar Serena Inn perched right near the harbor and near to town, and I was surrounded by the history of the island, for it is furnished with native woods, carvings, arts and crafts. It was more convenient for touring the ancient old part of town known as Stone Town. Now, that WAS an experience!

I had a little trouble finding my way around at first, for Stone Town is labyrinthine in nature. Fortunately for me, although Swahili is the native language there, most people also speak English with an English accent, the island having been part of Colonial England at one time, although it was colonized by the Portuguese at first. So, I had very little difficulty getting help with my explorations. The bazaars were wonderful, the open markets colorful and fascinating. I was repelled by the stench deeper in Stone Town, due to lack of a sanitation system, so I kept closer to the area seen most by tourists, where the shops and apothecaries were and where Persian rugs, beautiful shells and carved ivory are sold. Tourists are asked by the travel company not to buy the latter two, for the sale of shells causes the death of many marine creatures and could upset the delicate balance in the coral reef, and the ivory probably comes from elephants poached and killed illegally. Tourists are asked not to encourage such trade. I was quite taken with some of the art though, especially a technique called "Tinga Tinga" featuring stylized paintings of the flora and fauna of Zanzibar.

The history of the island is interesting, with tales of Sultans and Harems, and a cultural melting pot of Indian, Asian, African and local native tribes. Ninety-seven per cent of the population is Moslem with the remaining three percent constituting a few Christians and Hindus and a few other sects. The women wear a dark cloak type dress and cover their faces, a type of purdah. At one time Zanzibar was a major producer of cloves, but a hurricane destroyed many of the clove plantations. The darker side of the island's history (like the dark streaks in my bar of soap) involved a prolific trade in slaves to Christian and Moslem plantation owners and Western countries alike...a great deal of the history centers around the slave routes and this terrible trade practice which only halted late in the island's history after pressure from the British government.

I came up against 20th century reality in the later political history with records of revolutions, assassination, slaughter and other dark atrocities. Such reality tainted the romantic view of the island I had built from my learning of its earlier history.

I was careful to adhere to the few guidelines suggested by the travel company and was treated pleasantly by the people of Zanzibar with whom I came in contact...mostly those serving the tourist trade, which they are attempting to increase, with sensitivity toward the ecology of the island and its natural ambiance. It would be a shame if tourism destroys the ancient feel of this unusual history-filled island. The tour of the clove plantation was a bit of a disappointment, a brief trip to a swampy government owned plantation that seemed but a ghost of what they once must have been. All in all, though, I had an enjoyable trip, and I am glad I took the time to go.

How did I decide to travel there? I went by way of the Internet. My computer connected with a computer in Zanzibar and I was taken on tours and lectures and to galleries and had an absolutely wonderful time. I recommend the same travel agent to you without reservation (no pun intended). Where else could one take such an exotic vacation for three dollars and sixty-nine cents, the cost of my bar of Zanzibar soap?

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Last revised: November 26, 2010

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