I am NOT a Mzungu

Hamjambo!

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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This is a daladala
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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.

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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

Waka Waka

I now have just one week until I leave for study abroad! In just one week I’ll be living right next to the ocean (not so different from home, but it’s a different ocean) and I’ll be 9,000 miles from Denver on the beautiful island of Zanzibar, off the coast of Tanzania, Africa.  I’ve watched some of my friends leave already, and this is just making me more excited! And with the juniors leaving, it’s left me with the start of the abroad blogs! My favorite procrastination technique during the fall is starting, and I still can’t believe that it’s starting now!

Really the only thing I’m not looking forward to is the flight there. I love to travel, to see new places, meet new people, and try new things, but I detest the actual traveling part of traveling. Sitting down for a long period of time is like my own personal torture, and combining that with airports, sitting next to people I don’t know, and feeling gross from not showering makes traveling the actual worst. My longest flight is from Washington DC to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, a trip of about 13 hours. And that doesn’t count the flight from Boston to DC, Ethiopia to Zanzibar, and layovers. I leave at 6am on August 21st and get in to Zanzibar at 3pm on August 22nd, local time. But I know it will all be worth it when I land and see that crystal clear ocean!

With that, since I get asked so often both “Why Zanzibar?”, and “Where’s Zanzibar?”, I thought I’d break down some simple demographics of the island. This is one of the struggles of studying abroad in Africa – nobody seems to know where exactly you’re going (and to be honest, I had never heard of Zanzibar until I applied for the program there).

Probably the biggest reason I continually am asked questions about Zanzibar is that no one from the University of Denver has ever studied abroad there. Being the first DU student to go on my program is so amazing, and I’m excited to have the opportunity to pave the way for other students to study there in the future. But why Zanzibar in particular? I’ve done the Europe thing, I’ve done the Australia thing, and I’ve done the Central America thing. Each trip was life-changing (and I mean that literally, I came back a different person than when I left) and breathtaking and I learned so much, but I wanted to travel someplace completely off the map, someplace I knew I would probably never have a chance to visit again. And the places I’ve visited have not been very different than what I’ve grown up knowing. Since my first tour at DU, I knew I wanted to study abroad in Africa. I wanted to live somewhere with a completely different culture than my own, and also somewhere I could study marine biology, which has been a passion of mine since I was a little girl. When the official packing list for my program stated that I was required to have my own mask, snorkel, and fins because I would be in the water every single day, I knew I found the place for me!

First question: Where is Zanzibar?

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Second Question: Is it even a country?

Not quite – In 1964, the island of Zanzibar joined with the nation of Tanganyika to form what we now know as Tanzania. So no, it’s not its own country, but Zanzibar does have its own flag, much like the US states have their own flags! Below is the flag, and then my copy of it I painted onto my sorority letters (of course!). The Zanzibar flag, while it is for the island, incorporates the flag of Tanzania in the upper left-hand corner to show their merge with Tanzania.

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Third Question: How big is it?

Zanzibar is only 1,023 square miles. That number means nothing to me, so I looked it up in comparison to what I do know – US states! To put it in perspective, Rhode Island, the smallest US state, is 1,212 square miles. So in conclusion, the island is TINY. Which is going to be awesome, because that should mean a constant sea breeze, right?

Fourth Question: (I’ve actually been asked this) Is that where they speak the clicky language?

While I am traveling to a third-world country, it doesn’t mean that there is no development. Although the population of Zanzibar is more than 99% Muslim, the three main languages are Kiswahili, English, and Arabic. What’s Kiswahili? It’s the same as what we call Swahili, but the word Swahili encompasses the entire culture, not just the language. However, the indigenous music is this awesome combination of African and Arabic influences, and I’m excited to listen to it live – but for now I have to settle for YouTube:

Fifth Question: Do you have to wear one of those things that covers your head?

There is a large amount of Arabic influence on the island, and is reflective in the people and the architecture around Zanzibar. Native women can choose to cover themselves fully if they wish, but it is not required of visitors. However, visitors are strongly recommended to be more covered than what Americans are used to. This basically eliminates my entire summer wardrobe: sundresses, shorts, and tank tops. But it has given me a great opportunity to buy some new clothes! So I subsequently went out and bought a few maxi skirts, loose-fitting shirts, and the coolest pair of pants I have ever owned and probably ever will own. See below.

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Sixth Question: Anything interesting ever happen there?

In my perusing of the internet for fun facts about Zanzibar, I came across this little tidbit: Freddie Mercury was born in Zanzibar. Um, yeah, THE Freddie Mercury. Having been a Queen fan for as long as I’ve been a music fan, I’m extremely excited to study in the birthplace of such an amazing person and someone who was part of a generation of music that I sincerely wish I was alive to see.

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Seventh Question: Is it safe for Americans to be there?

Now this is the question I’ve gotten from every parent I’ve talked to about studying abroad in Zanzibar. I always reassure them that my university would not send me to somewhere that wasn’t safe. The worst thing I have to worry about is pick-pocketing. One of my biggest fears, though, is offending the culture of the natives. A big point my program made was that the two biggest complaints they get about their American students is that they dress inappropriately and drink too much. The absolute last thing I want to do is offend someone, and have that be the lasting impression of all Americans. And being a white person, I will be a minority (something I have never experienced), and I don’t need to draw negative attention to myself. I have traveled twice as a student ambassador with People to People International with the goal of changing viewpoints of Americans. I hope I succeeded then, and I hope to succeed during my four months in Africa.

I had such a fun time compiling all this info and I learned so much, so I hope you did to!

Thanks for reading!
Kim, DUSA blogger

Works Cited

https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/tz.html

http://www.africaguide.com/country/zanzibar/culture.htm