Dubai Extra!

While in Dubai, I was able to do a few random things that don’t fall into a single category, but are worth mentioning and showing!

1. The Emaar tower by night

2. The ocean side at night

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3. A restaurant in the bridge between two buildings, called the Bridge. The food, as I remember, was not to my liking and the food was expensive in my opinion, but the dining experience was quite unique.

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4. Jet skiing!

5. Wildlife

6. Wall Graffiti! I love how the graffiti makes the objects look so real! I could hardly believe it was a painting even as I was walking by it.

7. Chilli Slush (Virgin) Margarita, with a bit of prop fun.

The Burj

It was around this time two years ago that I was in Dubai! It was as hot there then as it is here now. Even the light breeze was warm like the air blowing out of a street vent shaft.

There are some beautiful sights to see and exciting things to do in Dubai, and we were determined to explore them! This wasn’t our first time in Dubai, and we had already done some of the other touristy things like desert safaris and shopping at the gold bazaar. One thing we hadn’t been able to do previously was climb to the top of the architectural monument of Dubai: the Burj Khalifa.

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According to the story on the official site, the architecture features a triple-lobed footprint, an abstraction of the Hymenocallis (spider lily) flower. The tower’s construction started in 2004 and by 2007 the building had reached the height of being the world’s tallest building at Level 141, then the world’s tallest freestanding structure at Level 150, and finally the world’s tallest man-made structure at Level 160. The building was completed in 2010. (http://burjkhalifa.ae/en/the-tower/design.aspx).
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Being from North America, I have been to the top of many towers: the CN tower in Toronto, the Calgary tower, and the Sears tower in Chicago. For me, being at the top of a tower has somewhat lost its appeal. However, it is always interesting to see how far the development of a city stretches and the patterns in a city’s development from a high vantage point. From the top of the Burj Khalifa at one end I could see the edge of the city limits beyond which lay vast desert plains and at the other the city ended where the water began.

It’s also intriguing to see the design and overlapping of roadways with little cars that look like toys from way up high.

One of the most interesting developments I saw from the top was a building that was in the shape of a boat! It is not the first development in Dubai to be inspired by a water-faring vessel. The Burj al-Arab hotel that sits just off the shore of Dubai boasts the shape of a sail blowing in the wind. It’ll be interesting to see what this boat structure looks like once it is completed, and also what its function might be!

Boat

There were several quotes around the building, two of which I particularly liked. One was an inspirational quote by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum and the other was a poem written by the Burj itself! (well, on behalf of the Burj seeing as an inanimate object cannot speak or write for itself).

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Abu Dhabi: Sheikh Zayed Mosque

While in Dubai the family decided on a day trip to Abu Dhabi to specifically visit the Sheikh Zayed Mosque. What a sight it was! The walls of the mosque are pure white, glinting blindingly in the desert sun.

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The courtyard was spacious and beautifully decorated with flowers vining throughout the white tiles.

The architecture of the domes and pillars inspired awe and humility. The pools around the mosque gave the feeling of calm and peace. The mosque felt like an oasis in the desert.

While in the mosque, we had to don respectful attire that were provided to us by the mosque’s visitor center. The clothing for women was a black tunic with a hood, which made me feel like a wizard at Hogwarts. The attire for the men was a white tunic. Covering the head was strongly encouraged for both men and women.

Flowery designs were etched into the glass windows around the centre of the mosque, and there were elaborate flower designs within the mosque as well as three majestic chandeliers. The flower-shaped clock in the mosque showed the time according to the prayer times to which Muslims adhere. Shurooq is the only one that is not a prayer time; it is the time of sunrise and it marks the end of the Fajr prayer time. The prayer times are based on the position of the sun, which is why knowing the time of sunrise is part of the clock.

The visit to the Sheikh Zayed was a mesmerizing experience. The beauty of the mosque was unparalleled; a beauty truly worth appreciating in person.

Dubai: Jubilee Games 2016

Dubai was the site for the 2016 Jubilee Games for Ismailis from all over the world. The events were held at Dubai’s World Trade Centre. I found it odd that it had the same name as the ill-fated New York’s World Trade Centre. It was a commercial area, an area of Dubai I hadn’t yet visited. The centre was large enough to accommodate all the Ismaili athletes and spectators who had come to watch the games.

It was a week long affair, with extravagant opening and closing ceremonies. Almost 2000 athletes participated in over 100 games across 50 different sports. 800 international volunteers made the core team of volunteers who were supported by more than a thousand volunteers from around the world!

The different sports included ones that are known around the world: soccer, basketball, badminton, tennis, volleyball, table tennis, cricket, and swimming among others. There were some that are not so common around the world, such as throwball and traditional volleyball. My cousin played in the Canadian throwball team and I was fortunate to capture a slam dunk service (a ten second video)!

A very interesting traditional volleyball game was held between two Canadian teams, a segment of which I was able to post on twitter as well! (30 second video)

The event brought Ismailis from all around the world closer with opportunities to interact and share traditions and knowledge from different parts of the world. Through the spirit of sports, the athletes, volunteers, and spectators were able to form bonds of friendship and camaraderie. The countries/regions that participated in this memorably splendid event included: Afghanistan, Canada, USA, Portugal, Pakistan, India, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, France, United Kingdom, Madagascar, Tajikistan, Bangladesh. (This list is not exhaustive as I may have missed a few nations).

It was truly a demonstration of pluralism at its best!

You can watch the closing ceremonies here to experience the great energy and spirit that filled the halls of the World Trade Centre last year in July!

 

Scuba Diving: Mnemba Atoll, Zanzibar

One of the reasons I went to Zanzibar was to try scuba diving for the first time ever!

After some research, I opted for the Discover Scuba session with Scubafish that operates out of the Azanzi resort on Matemwe beach (http://www.scubafishzanzibar.com).

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The course consisted of a two-hour pool session on one day and a day dive the next day.

The pool session took place in the Azanzi resort pool. Our instructor taught us the main basic techniques that we would need for a successful dive. He started with the signs: thumb up for going up, thumb down for descending, and the A-OK sign to indicate everything is okay. We could additionally point at equipment to indicate issues with the equipment.

We also learned basic breathing skills with the mouthpiece, how to equilibrate underwater, and how to swim underwater using the amount of air breathed in and breathed out. It was a pretty awesome two hours that made me very excited for the actual dive day.

The next day we met at Azanzi resort again and took a bus to a beach that was about half an hour away. Unfortunately I don’t have any underwater pictures but I do have pictures of the suit and the beautiful ocean!

It’s Been a Year

It’s been a year since my last post. ~ side thought: the word been suddenly looks very funny to me; is it the capitalization that makes it look wrong? ~

And it’s been a year since my last series of travels, which I failed to fully document. The last post was about my visit to Zanzibar. There were many travels after that, to which I will dedicated individual posts. In this post I will write a timeline of my last year travels and use it as a reference.

May 2016 – Huntsville, Ontario (Canada)

June 2016 – Cairo (Egypt) and Mwanza (Tanzania)

July 2016 – Zanzibar (Tanzania) and Dubai (UAE); and then back to Mwanza (Tanzania)

September 2016 – Johannesburg and Cape Town (South Africa)

Woah, that was a lot. And here I am wondering where all my money went. On the positive side, there are some awesome blog posts still waiting to be written!

Matemwe Village (Zanzibar)

On our last day at Panga Chumvi we squeezed in a quick walking tour of the Matemwe Village that neighbours the hotel.

Our guide was very friendly and very knowledgeable. He was the same person who had given us a tour of Panga Chumvi. He pointed out a few key sites and characteristics of the village life, and we met some local people (and children!) along the way.

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Village children (very talkative when we were further away, extremely shy when we came closer)

The Village Life:

The village life is a simple life that seems to revolve around palm trees. The leaves of the tree are dried and weaved into baskets. The bark is used as firewood. The coconut is used for nutrition and the shells are used to cover heated vessels to retain the heat.

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Our guide displaying a handwoven basket

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Coconut!

The houses are made from bricks and cement with thatched roofs. There are smaller houses for chickens and ducks that have aluminium roofing and wooden walls. It used to be a village tradition that when boys came of age they would a house like the smaller ones of their own and spend the nights there for a prescribed amount of days. Our guide went through that custom when he came of age.

Apparently there’s a popular recycling company that has a branch in Matemwe Village. It’s called Zencor. I didn’t get a chance to meet anyone who could tell me more about the company, but I did get a picture of the branch office.

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Non-profit School:

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The new Tamani Foundation campus

Our guide took us into a building that turned out to be a non-profit private school. The person who started the school walked in right after us. We had a brief discussion with him.

He started the school five years ago after seeing that his business was doing well and he had a desire to give back to the Tanzanian community. This building that we’d entered was a new campus.

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Their non-profit is called Tamani Foundation and they rely on volunteer teachers, both local and visiting foreigners.

The first campus had been attached to their house (which in turn was attached to a resort that they owned on the beach side). We visited the initial campus and the home on the way back, especially because they had started a home composting initiative.

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First campus

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Home compost bin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Public School:

We also passed the area’s public school. Students were dressed in their school uniform and seemed busy studying.

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Public school

Work at the beach:

We took the beach way back to the resort. It was then that I realised that there are A LOT more resorts in the area. We saw a few interesting things on the way back. One was white crabs that were completely camouflaged with the white sand! Another were the cool fishing boats on the water.  And the last were the groups of people (mostly women) in the water who were busy collecting algae and catching sea creatures for delicious meals.

Zanzibar

Zanzibar

Zanzibar is an island off the coast of Tanzania. Tanzania used to be two separate nations: Tanganyika, which is the mainland, and Zanzibar, which is the island. Upon gaining independence from British rule in 1961, the first president, Nyerere, enjoined the two nations and combined their names into Tanzania. Mainland Tanzania and Zanzibar island still maintain separate political systems.

Stone Town

The most spectacular aspect of Zanzibar (besides the breathtaking views of the ocean) is Stone Town, which is at the heart of Zanzibar town. It is defined by its narrow alleys and stone buildings. The architecture of the buildings varies, but most are narrow and moderately tall, reaching about four to five stories. Many of the buildings are fitted with unique ornamental wooden doors, which are dome shaped at the top and have gold spikes along the front. The alleys are like a labyrinth of enticing merchandise such as the zanzi harem pants that are currently in fashion. It is easy to for tourists and visitors to get lost but some landmarks make navigation slightly easier. One of these landmarks is the large sokoni (Kiswahili for marketplace) that starts at the main road and spreads into Stone Town, and is the prime location for buying a variety of fruits, vegetables, clothing, and meat products (including shark!). Other landmarks include the Old Fort and the Palace Museum.

Forodhani Park and the FOOD!

A serenely peaceful viewpoint by day and a lively place of gathering by night, Forodhani Park is the place to be as the sun sets and the grilling starts. Multiple stalls are set up with vendors selling grilled beef skewers (mishkaki), grilled chicken (sekela), zanzibari pizza, zanzibari mix, shwarma, coconut water, and spiced tea (among many other things). Tourists and locals alike can find quality food and a common space to share quality time with family and friends.

My Favourites

Two of my favourites food items in Zanzibar (or in Tanzania in general, but the best tasting ones are found in Zanzibar) are the rambutan fruit and mabuyu. The rambutan fruit is like lychee but with a more spiky exterior. The spikes are not sharp, though, and do not hurt to touch, and the white flesh inside is juicy sweet! Mabuyu is the fruit of the baobab tree. The raw fruit seeds are covered in a chalky white compact powder. These seeds are cooked in syrup with primarily red food colouring and different spices to make a tasty candy-like snack.

Zanzibar: Panga Chumvi

Like Cuba for North Americans, Zanzibar is the place to relax and get away from the busy working life in Tanzania. We, too, took a few days off to spend some quality time on this beautifully serene island.

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Karibu Zanzibar (Welcome to Zanzibar)

We arrived by ferry on 17 July 2016 from Dar es Salaam, which is a major port of harbour on mainland Tanzania. The ferry ride was enjoyable and the views were spectacular. At the port we passed through immigration and were greeted by the driver who had been sent by the hotel.

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View from the Zanzibar ferry dock

We chose to stay at Panga Chumvi, which is a resort in Matemwe and about an hour drive from the port. The word panga means to set or stack and the word chumvi means salt, so together the name of the resort translates to Stacking Salt (that’s my loose translation).

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Panga Chumvi is an eco-friendly resort with beach-side rooms that overlook the clear blue water that ebbs and flows on the sandy white Matemwe beach.

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View of Matemwe Beach from Panga Chumvi

The sand is as soft as fur further up the beach away from the water. However, closer to the water it is compact like cement on which locals ride their motorbikes and cycles. One morning I woke up super early to catch the sunrise and got to kick around a soccer ball with some boys. I was amazed at how high the ball bounced on the beach.

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Sunrise on Matemwe Beach at Panga Chumvi

The hotel staff were very friendly and we even got a tour of the place at our request. Some noteworthy environmental initiatives were:

  1. Solar powered water heaters for each “house” (the rooms are segregated into houses, aka mabandas). We got hot water even at night, which was surprising.
  2. The food waste is separated and composted, and the compost is then used to provide nutrients to plants such as passion fruit trees.
  3. Employment of local staff and local resources, such as soap made by a group of women in the nearby village.

The coffee they served was excellent. They used French presses! The only downside was that there were no refrigerators in the rooms to store leftovers. These spoiled pretty fast.

Overall our stay at Panga Chumvi was serene and highly enjoyable.

Mwanza City

It’s been a little over a month now since I’ve been in Mwanza City. When I was growing up here it was still a town, but was upgraded to city status about fifteen years ago, which was coincidentally around the time that we left. The skeleton of the city has remained the same, but things seem a lot closer now than they did when I was a kid, and the city feels a whole lot more crowded. The main language spoken here is Kiswahili (or Swahili).

The City

Businesses start as early as 7am, and by 9am the city is bustling with people. Stalls are set up on sidewalks with a variety of merchandise. Some vendors even lay out their merchandise on tarp-like mats on the sidewalk. Walking here definitely puts to test the maneuverability of every pedestrian. At every few blocks, rows of motorcyclists stand awaiting customers to drive and at other blocks there are rows of taxis instead. Whenever I pass by these rows, at least one driver calls out to ask if I would like a taxi or would like to take the piki piki (motorbike). I shake my head and say, “asante” (thank you).

The cars here drive on the left-hand side of the road. The driver sits on the right. This is different from Canada, of course, and took me some time to get used to, especially when crossing the road!

Due to the rocky and hilly nature of the city, a lot of the houses are built on hills with large boulders surrounding their vicinity. It’s an amazing set up: tall, green hills spotted with aluminum roofs and brick houses. It all looks very well-balanced and dangerous at the same time.

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The Food

The food is absolutely delicious! My favourites are all the street foods. These include mishkaki (grilled beef skewers), nundu (grilled beef fat skewers), mogo (cassava), and vitumbua. Other foods include ugali (cooked corn meal), spinach curry, and potato bhajias. Of course there are a whole lot more foods, and drinks such as coconut water and sugar cane juice from the streets and my favourite soft drink: Stoney’s Tangawizi (strong ginger ale). The fruit here is also exquisite. One fruit that I don’t think I’d find anywhere (even on the internet!) is called zaamburao here. It looks like a purple grape, but the skin, the inside flesh, and even the seed are all purple. The fruit gives an edge to the teeth but they’re sweet.

The Lake And ME!

They say pictures are worth a thousand words. I hope the beauty and serenity of Lake Victoria, which surrounds Mwanza city, comes across in these pictures.

I’ve been thoroughly enjoying myself in Mwanza, and my most favourite times are the times spent by the lake.

The “Wild” Life

Of course Africa is known for it’s safaris and wildlife that roam the Serengeti plains and Ngorongoro crater (these would be the lions, wildebeest, zebra, elephants…the big animals). However, there are some intriguing animals that reside in the city itself. I haven’t yet been able to take a picture of the humongous storks that feed on the city’s garbage. But here are some pictures of other animals.