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Game 36: Maandalizi Sogeani School, Zanzibar

After fantastic scenes in Uganda and Moshi / Kilimanjaro, the romantic in me was really looking forward to getting to the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar. It sounded so exotic.

Well….the bubble had to burst at some point. I just didn’t expect it to be here. I’d loved every place I’d visited so far on this journey, but I found Zanzibar a sad place. My stay got off to a bad start. The first night was spent in a really dirty, stinky, ant and rubbish infested “guesthouse” in Stone Town, with dangerous electrics everywhere. I arrived late so had to stay the night. I don’t usually mind where I stay, but this really was the pits. In the morning, after a boiling hot night because the fan didn’t work, I had a walk around Stone Town. It’s a real tourist trap with tons of shops selling the same stuff . Despite its old, picturesque narrow streets and the beach being only a few yards away, it has the feel of a tired old English seaside town. Gone were the smiles and vitality of Entebbe, Kampala and Moshi, replaced by bored marketeers looking to fleece the mzungu (white man).

Wherever I’ve gone in Africa over the past couple of weeks, people have been looking to make a few bob out of visitors. If I was in their shoes, especially here in a country consistently let down by its greedy and corrupt politicians living it up in Dar es Salaam, I’d do the same. I’d never felt hassled though, only helped, until I landed in Zanzibar.

On the second day, I moved to a decent place near the airport and on the third day jumped on a vespa with tour guide Ali and headed north and east of the island. Again, here was a chap who proved to be totally uninterested in me as a person, only in his payment for the day. He promised the earth and came up with virtually bugger all by way of a tour. His vespa broke down just as we were heading back too, and then he asked me to pay for the repairs ! You can imagine my reply…

Before vespa-gate, we’d driven through a busy township and then out into the stunning east of the island, with its vista of mango trees, palm trees, white sands and blue seas . We then traveled through village after desperate, dilapidated village to the north. Apart from the few people working in the bicycle repair shops and small garages, or selling their own mangoes and bananas from small roadside stalls, loads of people seemed to be hanging around with nothing much to do. I was looking for positives everywhere, but the sad faces and the endless battered, broken dwellings were so depressing. I’d seen crushing poverty in Uganda but this was on another level. An atmosphere of total resignation and helplessness prevailed. Sometimes when you feel tired or down yourself it can colour your judgment, but I felt neither.

As usual, it was the children and young people who saved the day ! My first game of the 80 was in Australia with the oldest players so far at 65-75 years. This would be a game with the youngest..all 4/5 year olds.

We stopped at the Maandalizi Sogeani kindergarten/infants, where I met the lovely Mwanaisha Hassan Hasi. Maandalizi is a teacher who kindly allowed me to into the classrooms to meet the young ‘uns and invite them to play footy. As I walked into the first classroom, I was greeted by a very loud “Jambo” (Hello) from around 30 tiny, shiny tots in uniform. They were all sat around big round tables and all incredibly well behaved.

10 minutes later we were having a 4 v 4 game in the garden outside. As kids do, they totally forgot where the goals were and ran with the ball all over the garden. Ali the ‘guide’ joined in at one point. He got the ball near to some fencing and 4 tiny-terrors waded in for the tackle, leaving him on his arse with his sunglasses flying off in the air. I laughed a very satisfied and sinister laugh. Well done boys!

The lads were having a great time , chasing everything and laughing their heads off. I joined the team playing against Ali’s four and we ended up 4-0 winners. Our keeper, with his hilariously serious, focused face was rarely troubled. As we finished the game, all of the near 150 kids poured into the garden and made a b-line for the Mzungu. ‘JAMBO !’ They all crowded around me and started to pull at the hairs on my bleached legs, nip my cheeks, pull my hair, stand on my toes, press my nose making horn sounds and slap my back ! Savaged I was, savaged ! They had great fun watching some of the video I had taken of the game, poking fun at the players.

Primary education is funded on Zanzibar, but this school still relied heavily on donations from overseas to survive.

Great joy in the sunshine in this haven from that desperate, harsh world outside of the school gates.

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