Calm and peaceful, black rock white sand, bananas/cassava/bread fruit/soursop, big ol’ bats, bonjour/ca va, Swahili!, warm ocean waters, tiny nation, HOT, houses of painted cement/warn cement/wood/iron sheets, kebabs with spicy chili sauce, electricity, running water, narrow but paved roads, community libraries, spiced fish, mosques, calls to prayer, trash trash trash, slow goin…
I recently had the opportunity to travel to Grande Camore, the largest of the Comoros Islands (a set of volcanic islands between TZ and Madagascar). I went for a Peace Corps workshop on Information Resource Centers and Library Development, which was extremely well organized, informative, and had us doing some good projects and action planning – hats off to the organizers and facilitators from HQ.
Not only did I have the opportunity to walk around and explore during the week of the workshop, I also stayed for the weekend following. Saturday held an ocean adventure – a boat ride to a calm and beautiful beach, and then a real ride back as the winds grew strong and threw massive waves at us to climb and fly over (so much fun!).
Sunday was filled with non-stop walking – to the market, to the downtown Medina streets, to the other side of town, to old mosques, to the wood carvers and boat makers, and along the coast to a delicious sunset dinner and mojito with the freshest mint I’ve had in a while.
There are quite a few similarities between life in Tanzania (especially coastal TZ) and life in Moroni and the Comoros in general. There are also some pretty extreme differences… The Comoros are at least a few years behind TZ in terms of development, although they now have electricity, and there is running water in a lot of places, and some of the roads are paved (though often quite narrow).
There is no corn, and very few people grow beans – a big difference from TZ. They import rice, and grow bananas, cassava, breadfruit, and sweet potatoes (not the orange kind Americans are used to). Goats are common, and a few people have chickens, but a lot of meat and eggs are also imported.
Another similarity is they also have mishkaki/kebabs, and homemade chili sauce, although theirs is much spicier than in TZ. Speaking of spices, they use them! more than just salt or sugar, and their fish curries and spiced fish are delicious meals… They also make extremely flavorful juice out of soursop – mmmmmmmm.
Comorans speak a mixture of French, Arabic, and their local languages – for Grande Camore that’s Shingazidja. Surprisingly, there are a lot of Swahili words mixed in there!
The schools are pretty nice, and community libraries are actually present – that is not so much the case in TZ.
The houses are this interesting collage of painted concrete, fading concrete with the shade of black volcanic rock showing through, wood, and shacks made entirely of sheet metal.
Pollution is an issue in many developing countries, and I’ll never get over how people just throw trash out the bus windows and into the fields and down on the streets here in TZ. The issue is even worse in the Comoros – there is trash everywhere, and there is trash burning everywhere, and it is a somewhat startling contrast to the lush tropical vegetation and flowers.
The trash doesn’t stop the fruit bats from flying, though. The flying fox/fruit bat species are huge in the Comoros, even bigger than here in Dar. And apparently on one of the islands, there is one species that can have a wingspan of about one and a half meters! Terrifying… but also pretty cool.
All in all it was a very relaxing visit – the low-key, slow goin way of life there certainly helped with that. It is important to embrace the fact that no one is going anywhere fast; it’s best to simply stop to smell the ylang ylang, feel the slight ocean breeze, and look out along the coastlines of white sands mixed with black and rugged volcanic rock (and trash).
Unfortunately, the journey back was taxing…
-I stood in the slowest moving airport lines I have ever experienced
-My flight was changed to involve a trip down to Antananarivo before retracing our path to Nairobi to then retrace the path again back down to Dar (see the map below)
-After boarding our flight was delayed because they accidently loaded “dangerous cargo” aboard (?!)
-We took longer than expected in Tana so I then had to run to make the change in Nairobi
-When I arrived in Dar at long last (2am) the taxi my office arranged for me was a no-show
-The taxi driver I was able to get from the airport of course tried flirting with me so I made up a story about my imaginary husband who was waiting for me at home and proceeded to invent quite the back story for him despite the creative struggle it was for my tired mind…
The little dot of land along the green line above Dzaoudzi is Grande Camore. We went along that green line South to Tana, then followed the green line up to Nairobi passing directly over Dar, such a tease, and then yes returned along that green line to Dar… I took this pic just as we were landing in Nairobi and thought the route was just too ridiculous not to take a picture…
At least there were good views as we took off from Moroni… of the volcano and the coast line…
And I made it home eventually, safe and sound, then showered off the hours of sweat and slept hard.