This video provides a brief history about the hardships of Asian elephants and a couple reasons why Thai elephants are treated differently than, say, the neighboring Asian elephants in Myanmar. But the overall message of this video is meant to be positive. Meet Bird and his family who live just outside of Thailand and are trying hard and succeeding in saving sixteen elephants and counting. Meet the elephants I fell in love with and experience all the emotions they are fully capable of displaying.
Having been living in Zanzibar for over a month now, I’m starting to really use the language and learn a lot more about the Muslim culture here. But I still constantly screw up with Kiswahili, hence the title of this post. I guess I’m sort of tri-lingual now with English, Spanish, and Kiswhaili, so it would make sense that I get the three confused sometimes. It’s been difficult learning the language, especially since I haven’t been truly introduced to a new language since I was about seven years old.
Luckily I don’t need the language to see the fish!
Probably the most fun we’ve had with Kiswahili are the mistakes we’ve made. In my Kiswahili oral exam, I spoke a full sentence of Spanish to my mwalimu (teacher) before I realized I wasn’t in either English or Kiswahili. I gasped, covered my mouth, and apologized over and over again. My mwalimu thought it was absolutely hilarious, and I still passed, so that’s a good thing! I’ve made many other not-so-great mistakes though, and so have the rest of the wanafunzi. See below:
Trying to say: I’ve had a good day (responding to a greeting)
Actually said: Banana
Trying to say: I’m drinking coffee
Actually said: I’m taking a poop
Trying to say: Brush your teeth before you go to bed
Actually said: Brush your teeth before sex
Friend trying to say: Hold him back
Friend actually said: Grab his butt
Friend understood: My husband is doing laundry
What was actually said: My husband is dead
I love the strong emphasis on language learning with my program, it really allows so much more to open up to you versus just relying on someone else to speak English, which is completely possible in Stone Town, but I feel so much like a tourist that I want to use Kiswahili whenever I can. People tend to really open up to you when they see that you’re really trying to learn the language. Combine that with dressing appropriately (long skirt or pants, loose-fitting, shoulders covered), and conversations will carry on until the sun sets. That’s definitely a defining part of Zanzibari culture, always taking the time to greet people. This is what is meant by “pole pole” culture (pronounced pol-ay. In Kiswahili, all letters are pronounced). Learning more about culture leads to religion, which has huge influences on the daily lives of the Zanzibaris. Muslim culture is not as well known in America, so I thought I’d break a bit of it down.
One of the first cultural differences I noticed getting off the plane in Zanzibar was all the headscarves that women wear. The only time I saw someone’s hair in public was if she was white (aka not Zanzibari). Women are generally covered from neckline to ankles in loose-fitting clothing with a headscarf to top it all off. Depending on how religious the woman is, she will either just wear her headscarf when she leaves the house or she will add a baibui to it, which is the face covering with a slit for her eyes (just don’t call it a buibui, that’s a spider, and side note: the spiders in Zanzibar are MASSIVE OH MY GOD).
When women leave the house, many wear a black overcoat, so walking around outside, you wouldn’t think that these women have much style or care too much about what they wear. But once you’re inside a home or office, everything changes. The baibui comes off, the overcoat comes off, and the most beautiful, colorful, fun fabrics are revealed. Women have such an amazing choice of fabric in Zanzibar – I recently had my first experience at the market which if I were to describe it in one word, that word would be “balaa”. Go look that one up. But that’s a story for another day.
Anyway, I love the fabric choices women can have here – and women are very proud of their clothes (I mean, I would be too). They’re also very loose-fitting and flowy, one part because women aren’t supposed to show the shape of their bodies, and one part because it’s too effing hot in Africa to wear tight clothes. Your body is only for your husband, and he’s the only one who needs to see it. And by covering most of your body, you also protect yourself from the harsh African sun. Some of the wanafunzi (students) have taken to wearing them in public, and we’ve gotten comments on how beautiful we look, another indicator of how much headscarves are respected here. And I kind of like the look on me too…
I consider myself lucky that I’m not studying abroad in Saudi Arabia, where the call to prayer is so loud it wakes you up at 5:30 am every day to make sure you don’t miss your morning prayers. In Stone Town, I usually hear the call to prayer while I’m awake, but it’s not so loud that it would disturb any non-Muslim. My new favorite study spot is this rooftop bar that overlooks the ocean, and the call to prayer is a bit louder there since the tower is about 200 feet away from the bar. But the sunset over the ocean is totally worth it.
Yup. I win for best study spot, sorry Colorado
Last week I was able to see the beginning of a big part of Islam – making the hajj. The hajj is something that every Muslim must do if he or she is financially and physically able, and that is to make a pilgrimage to Mecca. The trip is full of religious understanding and Muslims are considered very pure when they return. Our group of wanafunzi visited a director of our program who left for hajj a few days later. She invited us all to her home and we presented her with a new headscarf she can wear on her journey. While excited, she knows that there is a small chance she will never come back from hajj. Every year, with the massive crowds at Mecca, people, especially smaller people, are trampled to death, and it is recommended that before making hajj you get your affairs in order just in case something were to happen. When she told me this, I thought about how morbid it was and why anyone would want to risk a terrible death in the name of Islam. Then I caught myself. This same kind of thing happens at St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican when a new pope is elected. This same thing happens every year at Walmart during Black Friday, a “holiday” that celebrates the accumulation of material goods. I later was very upset with myself for mentally criticizing someone’s way of life before thinking about how my culture views similar things.
The only part of Islam I’m not the biggest fan of is the restriction on eating or drinking things that are considered “dirty”. This includes consuming alcohol or drugs as well as consuming pork. And with the population of Zanzibar being more than 99% Muslim, pork is a rarity on the island. So yes, I sincerely miss pulled pork, pork in the crockpot, pork on the grill, and I definitely miss bacon.
Also, y’all seemed to like my dolphin video, so here’s another video of our group of wanafunzi painting the side wall of one of our accommodations in Mangapwani, Zanzibar. Enjoy!
Asante sana kwa kusoma!
(Thanks for reading!)
Kim, DUSA Blogger
Before I came to East Africa, I would have greeted you with “Jambo!” like in Mean Girls. Now I know better – Jambo is a tourist greeting and is not proper Kiswahili. The proper way is to say “Hujambo”, to which you respond “Sijambo”. Or if you are greeting multiple people at once, like now, you use “Hamjambo”. The more you know!
The view from the beach only a 5 minute walk from where I live
So I’ve been living in Zanzibar for some time now, and it is finally starting to sink in that I’m really here and will be here for the next four months. When it really sunk in though, was when I saw the stars. The night sky in Zanzibar is absolutely stunning and has almost brought me to tears on more than one occasion. I am living in a very dark part of the world, away from a lot of development, so the number of stars I can see is incredible since there’s very little light pollution. And being in the southern hemisphere, the night sky looks different than it does at home. When I finally had time to just look at the stars, that was when it really hit me that I’m actually in Africa and this beautiful island is mine to explore for four whole months.
The moon (look really hard! Just left of the palm) in Paje
Since I arrived here my days have been packed with intensive Kiswahili instruction (4 hours a day plus homework!), special lectures about the culture and expectations of the program, and water time. After a few days in Stone Town, the main town on the west side of Zanzibar, we headed to Paje (pronounced pah-jay), a resort village on the east side of the island. This was when I realized how small Zanzibar actually is – the drive from one side to another only took 45 minutes. The beach at Paje is gorgeous and the tides are incredible. Low tide can have you walking out over a mile until you see the ocean, and at night, you can see bio luminescent plankton washed up during low tide.
These photos were taken 6 hours apart at high and low tide
While in Paje, we were assigned to visit a local village, about a five minute walk from our hotel, and my group’s personal assignment was to learn about local employment opportunities the locals have. Using as much of the Kiswahili we had learned as possible, we walked right up to people and started asking. One conversation we had really made me rethink the entire tourism industry. We talked to a man not much older than us who worked for an excursion company (kitesurfing is very popular in Paje), and while he loves having tourists come and spend money, he isn’t the biggest fan of the new all-inclusive resorts that have been popping up on the island lately. These resorts make their money by keeping guests at the resort. The guests almost never leave and spend money in the community, and business has gone down in the past few years in the island. He also made a good point about visitors going back home saying that they went to Zanzibar but they never talked to the locals or learned about the culture or did anything but stay at their hotel so did they really see Zanzibar? All I know is, I’m going to think twice about booking an all-inclusive vacation in the future.
We were able to see the poorer side of Paje, just a few minutes walk from our hotel. It’s incredible the stark difference between the resorts surrounding this village.
On our last day in Paje, we rose before the sun to leave our hotel at 5:30am (which is 11:30 usiku in Swahili time) to head to Kizimkazi, about a 20 minute drive north. We arrived at the beach as the sun was rising and piled into two wooden boats so as not to harm the creatures we were following. As we headed to deeper water, we were told to be ready to jump in the water at any second in case there was a sighting so we all got our fins, mask, and snorkel ready (and in my case, my GoPro camera as well). We heard a “GO GO GO” and we rushed into the surprisingly warm water and I stuck my camera in front of me so I didn’t miss anything. After the bubbles cleared, I saw some dark figures swimming below me, so I followed their path, and before I knew it, I was swimming less than twenty feet away from a pod of bottlenose dolphins! It was incredible to get that close to a wild dolphin and they were so peaceful and strong and just beautiful. I didn’t even know that it was possible to swim with wild dolphins – I thought it was just a Discovery Cove thing. I took plenty of footage, which you can check out below!
This was absolutely incredible. The dolphins weren’t afraid of us, they were just hanging out with some small humans watching.
I had a truly African experience a few days ago. We had an assignment to take what’s called a daladala to different places in Zanzibar and our project was at some old Arabic ruins next to the ocean. Those were interesting and all, but the really interesting thing was the daladala ride. Daladalas are basically open-air buses you can take for 300/= (about $0.18) but they pack you in more than sardines, so good luck if you’re even the least bit claustrophobic. But people are more than happy to move over to accommodate someone else so they don’t have to crouch on the ground. We ended up sitting in each other’s laps (good thing there were four of us). Deciding to study Kiswahili on the daladala was actually a good idea because many of the people on the daladala wanted to help us out, especially when we were asked to pay twice. The kindness of the Zanzibaris is without end, and I’m grateful to each and every one that has helped me in my short time in Zanzibar so far, and I’m sure I will owe them big time by the end of my time here.
The inside of the daladala. This was not even close to how packed we were on the way to the ruins.
And lastly, feel such a sense of belonging to this town and my group of sixteen. We are recognized walking on the streets of Stone Town and asked how our Kiswahili language class is going and if we’ve learned anything new since we last saw each other. And one specific experience was when I was at the site of the ruins. I finally learned how to tie my khanga (a single piece of fabric you tie around your waist and wear as a skirt), and when I walked up to the beach bar, one of the women working there told me “You tie your khanga just like a Zanzibari!” and that was the moment that I realized that I’m no longer a mzungu.
The long yellow skirt I’m wearing is a khanga
My first few weeks here have already been unforgettable, and I’m really coming to understand the meaning of “experiential learning”, and not just having lectures. Stone Town is beautiful and has so much history, which I will be posting updates about regularly.
As always, thanks for reading,
Baadaye! (until later)
Kim, DUSA Blogger
“My conch assessment team, also known as Crazy Cracked Conch, put down about 6 transects yesterday.” Huh?! To find out what on earth Sarah is talking about (as well as the joys of a FRESH WATER shower!), take a look at her blog telling us about her experience in the Turks and Caicos Islands on the School for Field Studies (SFS) program this fall:
We loved getting this beautiful update from Jenny, who is doing a field study program in Kenya. Check out some images of her unique study abroad experience on her blog!