Haunting an Empty Resort
The deck chairs hold prime position beside the resort’s white sandy beach, but only sun dappled shadows rest upon them.
The volleyball court has been raked flat every morning, but nary a ball has been struck in anger.
I roam the exquisitely manicured gardens with only the purr of the ocean and the rustling of the wind in palm trees for company.
Last night, I dined alone in a restaurant built for fifty or sixty. A trio of waiters vied for the distraction of serving somebody.
I’m in tropical paradise, but I’m one of the only people here. The other three guests and I are on a first name basis, and it’s no fault of the wonderful Chwaka Bay Resort.
If it sounds like somewhere between Stephen King’s The Shining and the popular Dead Island video game, you’re not far off.
There’s something oddly chilling about being alone in a place that should be alive with people. Like wandering inside a shopping mall or theme park after the crowds have left and the lights have been turned off, I’ve found my experience staying in an almost empty Zanzibar resort to be just a little unnerving at times.
That’s not a slight on the, frankly, lovely resort either.
In the western world, the staff might have been forgiven for slacking off in the absence of guests. As I look out from my deck while sipping a Stoney ginger beer, though, I see people standing at their posts regadless. A woman stands at a tour desk all day waiting for people that will never come, while the bar and restaurant staff haunt their domains.
It’s like being the star of my own television show. Rooms come to life as I enter them. The barman switches on the music and dutifully polishes a glass as I pass through, only to lapse back into silence as I instead take a seat in the restaurant. Here too the staff lurch into action, hurriedly bringing me a menu lest I disappear like a figment of their imaginations.
The superstar treatment is lovely, I’ll admit. My fellow guests and I are treated to near unheard of levels of personal attention. The resort introduced a laundry service solely because I needed some clean clothes to fly home in, while the lovely old South African couple I dine with most evenings had pakoras and samosas made especially for their afternoon tea. Neither item is on the menu.
In case I haven’t made it clear, the Chwaka Bay Resort has been nothing short of lovely. The facilities, staff, and setting couldn’t have been more lovely.
Hell, after four days cooped up inside a Land Cruiser with Leave Your Daily Hell and LL World Tour, I’ve actually welcomed the peace and quiet. It’s been great for my reading and writing, that’s for sure.
What felt a tad creepy on night one has given way to a more honest feeling – that of sadness. This resort should be full of people, but it isn’t.
The “Epidemic of Ignorance”
It’s a sad after-effect of the rampant Ebola paranoia that has gripped the world, and although Tanzania has not experienced a single case of the difficult to catch disease, it’s every bit as quarantined as a symptom free health care worker.
It’s not just this little slice of paradise that is suffering as a result of ill-informed travellers believing everything that Fox News has told them. Safari companies and even the illustrious Four Seasons Safari Lodge at the heart of the Serengeti are feeling the pinch after several months of cancelled or postponed reservations.
Despite being almost 6,000km from the affected areas, Tanzania is one of many African nations who have become the victim of this ‘epidemic of ignorance’ (with credit to The Economist for coining the term). Even distant South Africa has seen their tourism numbers drop, and you’d have to swim pretty damned hard to get from Sierra Leone to Cape Town.
To put it into perspective for you, Dar Es Salaam is roughly 5,750km from the affected areas. Madrid in Spain is just 3600km away. You’re closer to catching Ebola running with the bulls than you are chasing after the Big 5 in the Serengeti National Park.
In the frantic rush to sell more papers or pull a higher rating, irresponsible reporting around the world is having a very real effect on a country that draws approximately 13% of its GDP from tourism. While many are being forced to tighten their purse strings, others are going under. They’re the casualties of the Ebola epidemic that nobody really hears about.
Their symptoms are less gruesome, undoubtedly, but their passing is still having a lasting effect on the lives of more than just tour operators. Towns such as Karatu, whose proximity to the Ngorogoro Conservation Area makes it a town with an abundance of resorts and lodges, are feeling the pinch across the board.
Not Just the Media
The blame for this sorry state of affairs cannot be laid solely at the feet of the media, either. It wouldn’t take the average person a whole lot of time or effort to take out their smart phone and Google a map of Africa. If they did so, they’d soon learn a pretty important fact:
Africa is not a country
While South Africa is a country, there is no nation of Africa any more than there is a nation called ‘North America’. The only continent that is also a country is Australia.
Incidentally, there isn’t any Ebola there either. Just poisonous spiders, snakes, jellyfish, octopus, and marsupials intent on killing you.
People canceling their safaris in Tanzania & Kenya have heard news stories about ‘the Ebola epidemic in Africa’ and assumed, somehow, that this means the entire continent is off limits.
If we can perhaps forgive people’s geographic ignorance, we can then move to the second fact:
While Ebola is a terrible disease with a high fatality rate, it is not particularly contagious.
Ebola is what is known as a highly infectious disease, meaning those exposed to it are highly likely to catch it.
They key here is that you can only be exposed to Ebola by direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected, symptomatic person. So, unless you’re walking around Liberia letting infected people sneeze into your mouth or squirt fluids into your orifices, you’re fine.
The majority of western Ebola cases have been health care workers who so selflessly put their own health at risk to lend a hand in the infected regions.
Meanwhile, most of Africa has been in the grips of an HIV epidemic for so long now that people seem to have forgotten that it’s a lethal, incurable illness.
For those playing at home, it is possible to recover from Ebola. HIV, however, is with you for the rest of your (abbreviated) life.
In Tanzania, 5.6% of adults suffer from HIV. Want to venture a guess at the percentage of people in Tanzania have Ebola?
It’s zero. 0.0% of people in Tanzania have Ebola. Likewise Kenya, South Africa, Egypt, Morocco, Uganda, Rwanda, and any other African nation not named Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Nigeria, Mali, Senegal, Spain, or the United States.
You’ll notice those last two are not in Africa.
You’re more likely to catch Ebola in Dallas, Texas than you are in Stone Town, Tanzania.
Of course, HIV is both less contagious and less infectious than Ebola, and its prevalence has more to do with poor education than it does anything else. You’re certainly not at risk as long as you behave with a modicum of sanity.
I’m sorry if I went off on a bit of a tangent there. I’d intend to write solely about the novel experience of being one of four guests at a large resort, but as I wrote, I began to realise that I was more angry than amused.
My limited time here in Tanzania has introduced me to what a warm and wonderful people they are and, perhaps more importantly, just how poor this country really is.
They can’t afford to be the ones paying for other people’s ignorance.
Want to read about people who are actually living and traveling in countries that are dealing with the Ebola outbreak? Check out these guys: