Subscribe to Mambo Magazine
Eid in Zanzibar
Never in my life have I felt so underdressed.
It's not a wedding. It's not the opera. It's Friday night at Forodhani Gardens. But not just any Friday night: it's Eid al-Fitr, the four-day celebration that concludes Ramadan. After a month of strict fasting, the predominantly Muslim population of Zanzibar is letting loose by feasting, giving gifts and dressing in their absolute best.
Streams of men, women and children parade into Forodhani from every direction of Stone Town's maze of alleyways, all dressed to impress. The gardens are packed with sequins, gems and vibrant colours. Every baraza (stone bench) has long since been filled, so most people bring mats and park themselves on the ground.
Colours that might elsewhere seem tacky or tasteless stand out elegantly amidst the kaleidoscope of dresses and kangas. Vivid pinks, pastel greens, bright purples, oranges and yellows, all with matching makeup and floral accessories.
Some families go as far as colour-coding their Friday fashions: a mother's kanga matches her daughter's dress; a family of six, all in baby blue; some siblings wearing the exact same clothes. Without fail, everything is spotlessly clean.
Women of all ages are intricately and delicately dolled up with eyeliner, painted nails and decorative henna on their arms and legs in countless floral patterns. Children with their heads exposed have tight, embellished braids, with hair accessories to match the colour of their dresses.
Boys are dressed in fresh new polo shirts (with their collars inevitably popped) and pressed jeans folded at the ankles. They garishly compete for the attention of the best-dressed girls by yelling and running around. The girls, elegant and poised in their Friday finest, seem unfazed.
The thickest of the crowds are packed tightly near the harbourfront, gazing at the aerial acrobatics of shirtless young men as they catapult themselves into the water. Mothers and fathers lift their small children onto their shoulders for a better view, and the kids point and giggle at the strangeness of it all.
In the distance, dhows are sailing through the golden sunset - a fittingly picturesque backdrop. By nightfall, only a few scattered lights remain; most of these are from vendors lighting their wide selection of seafood skewers. The lost light does nothing to stop the party. Droves of Zanzibaris continue to swarm the gardens, and the crowd's gems and sequins shimmer in the lowlight of the gas lanterns.
It's a special night in Stone Town, and no one is going home early.