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Top 10 tips for Ramadan in Zanzibar
The holy month of Ramadan is the most important of the year to Muslims, who make up the majority of Zanzibar's population. The timing of this special month varies as it follows the lunar year, which differs from Western calendar years, but this year it happens to fall during August, one of the busiest times on the islands in terms of visitors.
So what should you know in order to appreciate and enjoy this month on the archipelago? Here are Mambo's top tips for Ramadan in Zanzibar:
1) Ask around to find out which cafes and restaurants are open during the daytime in Ramadan. These tend to be places that are inside or hidden from the street, so that guests are not eating right in front of those who are fasting.
One example is Italian restaurant La Taverna, near Darajani market - you can still get lovely Italian food and coffees here during the month of Ramadan. Loulou Belgian brasserie in Shangani will remain open throughout, as will Ethiopian restaurant Abyssinian Maritim. You can also have dinner upstairs at Emerson Spice's tea house, elevated high about the streets of Stone Town.
Some tourist favourites such as Stone Town Cafe and Archipelago will be closed in the day but open from sunset. However, Zanzibar Coffee House should be open for coffees and snacks.
2) Try to attend an 'iftari' dinner. Once the sun goes down, fasting Zanzibaris can eat and often put on special feasts for family and friends. If you have a local guide or go on a cultural tour, you can ask about iftari and you might well find that you are invited as a guest to such a feast. If so, get ready for a banquet of Swahili flavours, such as 'tambi' noodles - calorific Chinese noodles cooked with coconut milk, sugar and cardamom pods.
3) Be patient. It's not the hottest time of year here, but most Zanzibaris are fasting (and that includes not being able to drink water) as well as working hard in their day jobs. Be conscious of this and try not to snap at people even if you are not happy with them.
4) Try to buy local products and services more than ever. Most people are doing their best to save up for Eid ('Siku Kuu' in Kiswahili) when wives expect new clothes, and children receive new clothes, shoes and toys. Also tip generously this month, if you are able.
5) Head out to the beaches. Ramadan is practised strictly in town where many tourist premises are on the street, but many beach hotels are tucked away and enclosed anyway, so tend to be business as usual. The only major change on the coast will be that normal beach bars and discos are closed during Ramadan.
6) Be sensitive. Don't eat and drink on the street. Zanzibaris are generally very tolerant so may not say anything if you do, but they will notice, and it is offensive to do so when people are hungry. Also try to cover up as much as possible, especially in town - this is even more important during this month than it is during the rest of the year.
7) Do still have high expectations. Zanzibaris should be especially kind and welcoming to you during Ramadan, which is a month for not only fasting but trying to help others and empathise with them - effectively to be the best person and best Muslim one can be.
8) Ask questions about Islam. Most Zanzibari Muslims are happy to talk about their religion and explain it to visitors, such as the five pillars of Islam and the reasons for fasting during Ramadan.
9) Stay for Siku Kuu. Eid means a four-day celebration in Zanzibar, with everyone dressed in their best clothes and great feasts cooked. It is a vibrant, exciting time to be around.
Forodhani Gardens on the first evening of Eid is a site to behold, with families promenading in their finery and a general air of happiness at the conclusion of this special month.
10) Get dressed up too. Go shopping for exotic and beautiful fabrics and jewellery in the markets of Stone Town, go for traditional henna designs (ask for appropriate designs and opt for the natural brown henna over the black stuff, which is actually Chinese hair dye!), and join in the celebrations.
As long as you are paying tribute to local style and not parodying it, people will appreciate your efforts, and don't be afraid to ask for help when you are planning your Siku Kuu style.