A short distance away was Volo-Volo market where female traders don sun-protective face masks of creamy sandalwood paste, which crack with their broad smiles. Reflecting the islands’ low economic base, produce included heaps of cheap clothing, cosmetics sold in wheelbarrows, neat piles of tomatoes and Chinese-made plastic kitchenware. A covered section bustled with diners eating local dishes, such as chicken in coconut sauce, and all around were Comoros’s much-vaunted spices: dark marbles of nutmeg, flaky rolls of cinnamon.
I stopped later for cardamom-infused coffee in a crumbling medina of twisting lanes and coral-stone houses, and to chat with Abdur-Rahman. Islanders typically converse in a creole of French, Swahili and Arabic; Abdur-Rahman not only spoke English but promised to unravel a little of local life for me, such as why banners in town were urging people to vote ‘Oui’ (there was a referendum to amend the constitution to extend the unpopular sitting president’s term of office – it would pass with an improbable 92.74% of the vote just a few days later) or why so many of the buildings here were half-finished.
The answer to the latter proved no less remarkable. Comorians tend to lay on lavish weddings funded by overseas French relatives, Abdur-Rahman told me. These typically cost between €30,000 and €40,000 (£26,000– 36,500), but tradition dictates that the girl’s family must also provide a home for the husband – and it doesn’t end there.
“It’s important the family build a house for the daughter to receive her spouse,” he continued. “They then add to it each year, so as the daughter grows, the house does, too.”