Having just returned from my big Tanzanian adventure, I couldn’t wait to tell you about my New Year’s day massage by a local, blind therapist on Zanzibar (island off Africa’s east coast). This turned out to be an unbeatable way to see in 2011!
After a few too many drinks the night before in Stone Town – a sleepy tourist town with hundreds of years of Arabic and Portuguese history – I woke up to a wonderful invite by my friend, to go to Mrembo Spa – ‘mrembo’ meaning a woman who loves to pamper herself, in Swahilli – for a massage by Aisha, their blind therapist. An offer I couldn’t refuse as I’ve many massages but never one by a blind person.
Each appointment starts with a relaxing drink of ginger and lemongrass tea, while feet are gently washed in warm, flower-infused water. Local Taarab music (melodic and Arabic in origin with sweet vocals) plays in the background (no rubbishy windpipe music here!) reminding you you’re in one of the most exotic islands in the world.
The massage itself was perfectly gentle for my partied, safaried and travelled-out limbs. After weeks on the go, this was just what I needed. Traditionally, Zanzibari girls indulge in a full body flower scrub before their wedding day, made up of lots of crushed local flowers, cloves, sandalwood and geranium oil and rosewater. Delicious.
All the products are handmade and natural, using plants and ingredients from the local area, and they’re all available to buy in gorgeously presented bottles and wrapping. The spa also sells locally-made clothes using the famous ‘khanga’ – large, beautifully coloured, printed scarves used by Tanzanian women to make clothes and head scarves. Many of the spa’s furnishings, and even the knickers, are made of this so there’s less waste and more reuse.
Mrembo Spa, set up by a Dutch lady, has embodied so many elements of Zanzibari life, the females and their beauty rituals. On top of that, the staff have a very warm and gentle way about them.
If you ever find yourself down Stone Town’s eccentric, narrow and windy streets be sure to seek it out.
More info about the local traditions on the Mrembo website http://www.mtoni.com/mrembo/