This is an excerpt from a series of eye witness accounts written by Dr Donagh Hurley who was working as a surgeon at the Karimjee Jivanjee Hospital in Zanzibar in the 1960s. This Hospital was opened in 1955 by Sultan Seyyid Khalifa bin Harub. Dr Hurley lived in Zanzibar with his family including his son Luke (now a musician living in New Zealand). More chapters of this memoir are available at:
Dr Hurley, who was also an artist, passed away in 1976. Luke is planning to publish these memoirs.
Most of the full excerpt relates his experiences of the 1964 Revolution from his position in the hospital. This is the introduction.
Zanzibar, seen first from far out at sea is a long, low shore. It appears insubstantial and almost indistinguishable from streamers of distant cloud which intensify the remote vastness of the Indian Ocean.
As the steamer approaches, the shore becomes gradually more substantial and long beaches become visible backed by screens of palms. The palms are dense but, at intervals, unrolled as it were by the steady progress of the steamer, there are partial clearings giving sight of crumbling Arab villas, thick walls, sightless windows, an air of disuse and decay.
From time to time as the shore unrolls, groups of outrigger canoes can be seen dancing on their reflections like long-legged flies. These lead the eye to discover clusters of huts, the dwellings of fishermen, partly hidden by the dense purple shadows thrown by the palms upon the beach. The roofs are of thatch, dried palm fronds called makuti.
The shore has a listening, waiting quality and is forbidding and mysterious. It seems imbued with a living personality; it seems to watch, it seems to repel rather than invite. The imagination conjures up unseen watchers, silent, aware, hostile. It is like going back in time to an earlier state of the planet or even to another planet.
The harbour is dotted by small coral islands, miniature replicas of Zanzibar herself, and the waterfront presents a limpid white facade of slender buildings and, tall among them, the rambling, massive palace of the Sultan and the filigree clock-tower of Beit al-Ajaib, the ‘House of Wonders’.
Working Sounds – Morning In Zanzibar
I remember most clearly the mornings or the evenings. Each dawn I awoke to the cry of the muzzein chanting his Arabic prayers, a mournful and weird sound, the cry of a soul lost forever in the depths of an abyss. The whine of the wind in desolate places, the lost and desolate predicament of the human being trapped on an inexorably inimical planet, a cry of loss, a despairing wail of loneliness.
A gardener from the nearby park, taking flowers to the Sultan’s palace, pushed his handcart along the road. His cart sounded as though one of the wheels were square. It made a curious grinding rattle, punctuated by a rhythmic knock, pause, knock, pause, knock which became louder and louder and then approached, deafeningly amplified as he reached the confines of the street and passed beneath the bedroom window. Then the knock, pause, knock, pause, knock diminished into a distant featureless rumble and faded away.
This was the first working sound of the day. The second was a faint rumbling, coming from afar which rapidly increased in volume and became identifiable as the beat of galloping hoofs and the clanking of milk cans. It was a donkey cart drawn by the liveliest donkey possible, beating sparks out of the road, the cans swaying violently and the driver, hunched and indolent, carried along, lost in a dream of his own. This din would also be suddenly amplified as the equipage entered the street and for a lime it sounded like a locomotive and drowned all other sounds.
A group of cyclists came next, workers on their way to Mazzizini, their laughter making their balance precarious as they listened with appreciation to one of their number, always the same one, imitating the falsetto pidgin Swahili instructions of his employer who must have talked a lot of nonsense, judging from the hilarity.
Individual sounds became lost soon after and merged into an increasing volume as more and more people and vehicles began to take up the tasks of the day........