A letter from Zanzibar after Paris and Beirut


Down below on the grass patch by the ocean, capoeiristas perform their usual practice as the sun sets after a rainy day. A noisy group of young boys joins the players, cheering them on as the circle of guys and one girl dance around each other, sparring for a fight. Watching the scene from the rooftop of a multi-storey hotel, it’s easy to forget the world’s problems in beautiful Zanzibar, but a conversation at the table nearby reminds me of the online tussle I’ve been trying to escape. Like many worldwide, the patrons are contrasting the recent bombings in Paris with those in Beirut and countless other forgotten places, discussing the ever-enduring question why some tragedies get more coverage than others.

To me, of course, the reason is simple: it’s the cruel nature of the international media juggernaut. But that’s not why I’m writing this letter. It’s because waking up at 4am to a twitterfeed of explosions, reminded me of Zanzibar’s own triple blasts a few weeks ago. There were no casualties, but it was a weekend of panic and fear.

The first exploded on Friday evening. I was just metres away from Darajani market when a thunderous sound went off, causing people to run in all directions through the narrow streets.

Darajani Market, Zanzibar

I ran aimlessly with the crowds, until a bystander yelled at us to calm down. Only then did I remember that I wasn’t supposed to run, I was supposed to witness.

And so I jogged back to the site to see military and police trucks filled with personnel going to scour the old shed where the device had been planted. A novice to Zanzibar’s tensions, I went to bed fearful of what the next day could bring.

Minutes after I’d returned from a Saturday morning errand, two bombs exploded right down our street. My heart beat like crazy, but this time I grabbed my camera and went to see. Unsurprisingly the police who’d safely detonated the homemade munitions weren’t too welcoming so my friend and I went back to Darajani.

As we walked through the re-opened bustling market, I kept hearing the booming sound in my head. Though it was nothing like the July morning in 2005 when the London bombs went off and my flatmate frantically banged down my door to check if I was in, it stayed with me for several days. Normally I’d have taken the bus to the School of Oriental and African Studies in Russell Square, where a bomb went off on the No. 7 bus. It was sheer coincidence that I didn’t go to class that day. Like other Londoners, it took a while before I felt safe on public transport again. But feeling safe on a comfortable bus in the UK is absolute piffle compared to the personal grief and terror many live through daily in Libya, Nigeria or Yemen.

All I know is, no matter how rich or poor, well-recognised or remote, a place may seem in this geopolitical matrix we call our world, the feelings in the moment that loud bang goes off, are unshakeable one.


Tendai Marima profileTendai Marima is freelance journalist and researcher. Follow her on Twitter.
– All images by Tendai Marima