Saturday, June 14, 2014

ZIFF Day 1: Mandela

In the morning, I walked over to Impact Africa to ask about a good taxi driver they knew. I passed by the bartender/kitesurfing instructor at Coral Rock. He said, hey did you hear the newsZ? A bomb went off in Stone Town.

I got on the internet as fast as I could. One person killed, several wounded. The bomb went off near a mosque used by visiting Muslim clerics in preparation for Ramadan. Foreign press attributed the bombing to tensions on the island. Local gossip said this was trouble one of the foreigners brought with him. The bombing was nowhere near a touristy part of Stone Town. I wrote the program office and my chair to let them know what had happened, and that I planned to proceed as scheduled. If I thought anything looked out of place or unsafe, I’d put the students on the next plane.

As we got into Stone Town, we fell behind the Women’s Program Parade. Every year ZIFF sponsors a themed Women’s Program, which includes movies, concerts, the dhow race, workshops, and other events. This year’s theme is GBV (Gender Based Violence). We saw that the parade was protected by no less than a dozen uniformed army soldiers, and at least that many police. I’d assume some onlookers were plainclothes cops. Once we got to the Old Fort, we found at least 50 uniformed police and soldiers, some holding old but well-used weapons. Inside, they showed me the area for bag searches and the metal detectors. Okay. Okay.

We had a few hours to kill before the opening ceremonies. I told the students to look around and familiarize themselves with the layout. I checked out their art area, where everyone tried to sell me everything. No one in their right mind buys stuff on the first day of a festival; wait until the last day. I explored the area a bit, then headed over to Livingstone to use the internet. A charming French woman named Gell sat at my table. She could pass for Helen Mirren’s sister. She’s just taken a job for one of the safari companies. I gave her my information: maybe next year I can include a safari on the trip. I definitely want to get to the mainland in any case. As dusk fell, the waiters came around offering insect repellent to the customers. I got out my supply of Bug Off from the Left Hand Soap Company. Gell loved the smell – I let her try it, and then I let her have it as long as she promised to order some online. Soapy – I want a cut of any French safari sales in Tanzania.

Here’s what I didn’t know about ZIFF: opening night is a red carpet event. Red carpet as in who are you wearing, paparazzi, limosuines, swimming pools and movie stars, and an actual red carpet. Not everyone gets dressed up, but I definitely felt underdressed. We sat through the usual opening speeches and technical glitches, including a long, long, long, boring, long speech by the 2nd vice president of Zanzibar. Then we saw Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.

I purposely avoided seeing the movie in the States or on the plane. I wanted to see it here, on the island, in the open air. It’s a great movie, surprising at times. What affected me the most was remembering the protests I was in, the marches, walkouts, sit-ins. I participated in the takeover of the University of Texas President’s office (for about 2 hours).  When Mandela got his freedom, we were so convinced that we – American college students – had done it. And when I worked for IFESH, their narrative was that the Sullivan Principles had done it. In talking to my students on the way home (starting with the hated phrase “when I was your age”) I said that external pressure hastened the economic collapse of the apartheid government, but didn't end apartheid. The South African people won their own freedom.

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