I've heard it explained that it's Cassava Market Street because years ago, the road led to the market set up by the Old Fort. Some say this street was strictly inhabited by Indian merchants dealing in bars of gold -- and if you look at the particular doors on this street, they are uniquely Indian in simple bolts as opposed to ornately carved wood. Today, it's a true mix of Indian and African, old and young, boutique shops, and coal supply stores, a fancy spa catering to tourists as well as collapsed buildings that could not withstand the wear and tear of time and neglect.
I lived on Sokomuhogo Street on two separate times in my life and throughout these periods, I came to love and greet my closest neighbors on a daily basis. I also walked up and down the entire length of this street countless times on my way to work at the State University of Zanzibar, located nearest to Majestic at the opposite end of the road. I never grew tired of looking up at the dizzying architecture, some buildings being three or four stories high and touching the clouds, and I never grew tired of the antics and stories, movement and sound of this captivating, long street.
When I lived on Sokomuhogo closer to Jaw's, I lived next to the illustrious Emerson, patron saint of the arts and culture, and often heard him blaring opera from his rooftop, or heard him grunting at the gym he'd made himself in his backyard, where other men would come to work out and tell stories. And when I lived closer to the Old Fort, next to the Coin Shop, and by the little tea shop, I'd hear my Indian neighbors wake for early morning prayers,that droned on until the sun came up and the Muslim call to prayer wove into theirs.
When I was recently back this February 2015, I decided to walk slowly from the beginning to the end of Sokomuhugo Street -- starting at the entrance by the Old Fort where Gizenga Street ends, and walking to its end point behind Majestic where it merges with Mkunazini Street -- photographed portraits of everyone along this road who showed me 'ukarimu' -- a deep and genuine kindness -- while I lived there. My neighbors became much like family, and when I requested their portrait, I was met with wide smiles from most, while others requested that I come back later when they'd be more refreshed, and I agreed.
There are so many stories behind these lives -- behind these doors -- up these winding stairs to the rooftops of our shared imaginations -- and they are stories I mean to return to and gather and share. I'd love to return with a team of storytellers who can help me record these stories, take better photographs documenting this extraordinary road, and all the people (and ghosts) who've lived and work here.
Once, while living on Sokomuhogo, I started having a nightmare about a man who kept appearing in my house, room after room, and wouldn't go away, even after I calmly told him to leave. One morning, my neighbor noticed that I looked tired and asked me what was wrong. I told her about this dream and she looked at me and said -- oh, that dream. That man. Yes, we all know about him on Sokomuhogo. He moves between our houses and takes turns sharing space in our dreams. Somehow, I was mildly relieved to hear that I was sharing this nightmare with my neighbors, like a cup of sugar.
Sokomuhogo Street itself is an extraordinary glimpse into the diversity of culture and history in this city. There are so many faces missing from this portrait -- the Indian family who runs the small shop at Jaw's, my favorite coffee seller at Jaw's, and the little old man at Jaw's who runs a tiny fruit and vegetable stall -- the man with the white beard -- oh, and one of my favorite bibi's from Tumbatu, she wasn't there either. And Mama Shemsa -- my favorite & most loving neighbor, whose bosom I cried into when I left Zanzibar the first time, she wasn't there either. She'd fallen sick and was staying with her sister on Gizenga Street.
I realized while starting this project that while I didn't know many by name after all these years, I knew them beyond their name, by feeling, and by titles as simple as "neighbor" and "grandmother" and "sister." For now, I'm posting these portraits as a gesture of love & memory, knowing that there are so many hours left on the baraza.
These are (just a few of the) people of Sokomuhogo Street, Mji Mkongwe, Zanzibar.