My position here at SFCG has been keeping me very busy most days. I usually start work between 8 and 8:30 in the morning and, while my official work hours end at 5:00, I’m rarely out of the office before 6 and I have been there as late as 8. I’m often working either one or both days of the weekend as well, although it is usually only part of the day if I do have to work on the weekend. I love being busy and productive, and I’m certainly glad that I am getting so much out of this experience, however I sometimes feel that I have seen very little of this amazing island.



Mbweni Ruins

So, I decided to get a bicycle…


While I was nervous at first of the traffic and road hazards, the fact that people drive on the opposite side of the road and my lack of a helmet to wear, I very quickly discovered that riding a bicycle is not too difficult here once you learn the rules of the road. And having the bicycle had given me the opportunity to get out and see more of this incredible island.


My first bicycle excursion took me north of Stone Town to a town called Bububu. Along the way I was able to stop at some of the historical ruins that line the coast outside of the main city. The ruling Omani sultans built their palaces outside of town as a place for their families as well their many slaves to live.  The famous figure, Princess Salme, a member of the Zanzibari royalty who eloped to Europe with a German trader, grew up at Mtoni palace. Maruhubi palace, the other ruin on the way to Bububu is surrounded by a lush forest of mango trees and was famous as the location of Sultan Bin Said’s harem of “secondary wives” and concubines. After arriving at both of these ruins, I was offered a small tour of the grounds by the attendants and a brief explanation of the historical significance of these two locations.

Mtoni ruins

Mtoni ruins


Heading inland from Bububu, I climbed up a heavily forested ridge to the highest point on Zanzibar, 128 meters (420 Feet) above sea level. This region has the greatest number of spice plantations on the island. The forest is a fragrant mix of clove trees, nutmeg, saffron, cardamom and cinnamon. At the very top of the hill is another ruins, that of the Kidichi baths, a bath house built  for the second wife of Seyyid Saïd. There are 5 different toilets behind the bath house so that the Sultan and his wife would always have a fresh one to use. Riding along the ridge I passed through some of the most beautiful, lush countryside in Zanzibar. The jungle was laced with tiny villages where children excitedly shouted out “Mzungu” as I rode by, although that was unfortunately often followed with “pesa” (money). I ended the day by riding downhill back into the city and to my house before the sun set.


My second excursion was shorter, but took me south of the city through Mbweni, the site of another ruins from the 1800s that was a girl’s school and refuge for rescued female slaves in the final days of Zanzibar’s brutal slave trade and on to Chukwani, where I had an evening BBQ planned at a friend’s house. Before going to the BBQ I found a long stretch of dirt road leading to an isolated bay with a tiny fishing village.


My third and final excursion (so far) was done with a group of friends. We rode 20 kilometers south of Stone Town to a village called Fumba, another small and isolated fishing village. The road was mostly flat and went through lush forest and then coral scrub before reaching Fumba. As we approached the southern tip of the peninsula, there were an increasing number of enormous and spectacular Baobab trees, even though the overall vegetation was pretty scant. Baobabs are spectacular trees, the base of which are made up of an enormous, solid block of wood, topped by thinner branches of spectacular foliage. Our destination in Fumba was a small resort (with a Baobab tree house) that we spent a few hours relaxing at and getting ready for the 20-km return back to Stone Town in the brutal mid-day sun. Upon leaving the resort, one of our team noticed that he had punctured his tire. We walked our bikes into the village and met an incredibly friendly group of locals that helped us to fix the tire and helped us practice our Swahili.


I’m glad that I have been able to make it out on the bicycle and begin exploring more of this fantastic island. Hiking was one of my favorite activities back in the States and that isn’t really a possibility here, but being able to break away from the office and the narrow, cluttered and crowded maze of Stone Town’s streets for the fresh (but steamy) air and the beautiful, lush greenery of the countryside, helps me through the long weeks.

Maruhubi Palace Ruins

Maruhubi Palace Ruins


Reflections a month and a half in

I’ve now been in Zanzibar for a month and a half. This isn’t going to be a structured blog post, but rather a series of reflections:


Last weekend I had the magical experience of sitting in the Indian Ocean looking up at a brilliant sky filled with stars. Moving my legs and arms under water, I could leave trails of glowing phosphorescence.


The date shakes in the little store by Darajani are my favorite things to eat/drink in Zanzibar. The owner puts yogurt, peanuts, honey and cardamom in a glass, mixes it all up and then pours in milky date juice. You give it a final stir and eat it with a spoon.


My Swahili is still miserable. I seem to have hit a wall. I’m picking up lots of words but my tongue still gets tied when I attempt to articulate a sentence. I need to spend more time practicing, but I’m just exhausted every day after work…


I have been going for an afternoon swim every day after work at the nice sandy beach on the southern side of the Stone Town peninsula. It’s great to watch the sunset with traditional dhows sailing by while bathing in a warm sea. I just learned that there are 15 raw sewage discharge points right near there. May have to stop this tradition.


The hours are long and the work can be tedious, although still very interesting. Hours of reports are mind-numbing even though I strongly believe in the topic. Occasionally you have to let off a little steam, though. At the end of the day on Friday, (after work hours) we all had a little office dance-off competition.


I hate “mzungu prices”. Everything I buy is always considerable higher than what my Zanzibari counterparts pay. I know this is the result of history and tourism that has very unequal benefits for Zanzibaris, but it is still tiring.


Being gay on Zanzibar is pretty dismal. From what I’ve been able to observe, the only gay scene is either extremely discreet and unmentioned, or prostitution. The government officially banned gay tourists from coming to the island in 2004.


My counterparts took me to a great local eatery. I can get a plate of ugali (an African ball of solid cornmeal porridge served with a sauce) for about 75 cents. The cleanliness of the establishment is questionable, but I have yet to get sick.


I don’t know if I want to stay in Africa but I don’t really have any interest in going back to the US.


I’ve met a great group of expat friends, mostly from the UK. They are wonderful. I wish I would have made some more Zanzibari friends by now. It’s the language again, though. Despite great friends, I still sometimes feel very lonely…


Jaws Corner is the most colorful hangout in town. Every afternoon groups of people gather around the TV to watch political speeches or football matches. There’s always a lot of shouting and it’s usually hard to tell whether they are shouting over a speech or a match.


There is a push for a greater level of autonomy for Zanzibar. Things could get messy… The situation in Zanzibar is, at the very least, fragile.


For my 31st birthday we all went out to the new tapas bar that just opened up. Coworkers and friends were all there. It was a memorable evening. The owners gave us a pitcher of sangria on the house, although that had more to do with the fact that it took us two hours to get our food.


My first weekend in Zanzibar was the huge Sauti Za Busara music festival. The artists were incredible and the scene was amazing. Unfortunately, though, it was still primarily aimed at tourists.


Abbas. A coworker came in to town from Sudan for a two-week gig. I met him briefly at the office, then one evening I went to pay for my drink at a local bar. The bartender came back with my money telling me, “sorry that man over there paid for your drink.” We were great friends from that point forward. He seems to know everyone in the town, even though he hasn’t spent significantly more time than I have here now and only speaks Arabic and English.


There have been good moments and bad moments, but there have been lots of memorable moments. When I first arrived in Zanzibar 6 months seemed so long, now the end seems just around the corner…

Dhow at sunset

Dhow at sunset


The big news in Zanzibar this week was three small bombings that occurred around Stone Town, two in the main city and one outside of town (the linked article only mentions 2, but there was in fact a 3rd bombing the day before). These occurred last Sunday and Monday and targeted an Evangelical church, an Anglican Cathedral and a popular tourist restaurant, Mercury’s, named after the lead singer of Queen who was born on Zanzibar. I first heard the news Monday evening from a Facebook group that I am a part of, Zanzibar Residents. Shortly afterwards I received notification from the US Embassy alert system that I have signed up for. I realized that I was a block away from one of the bombings about 45 minutes before it took place (the initial report said it took place earlier, putting me there right at the time of the bombing, which surprised me as I didn’t remember anything out of the ordinary).


The bombings were very small and according to the official report nobody was hurt. We did, however, hear from one of the local journalists that we are working with that one person was injured and died in the hospital the following morning. The following day we went to the site of one of the bombings and the only sign of damage that we saw was a small hole blown in the pavement, which may or may not have been from the bombing, it was hard to tell (it could also have been a pothole). The restaurant is apparently now already open. Still, despite the fact that they seemed like minor incidents, it was worrying news.


These are not the first attacks that have occurred on Zanzibar over the past few years. My previous blog entry discusses some of the violence that has been targeted at tourists, but there have been additional attacks targeted at the local Christian minority. Churches have been burned, priests and a moderate Muslim cleric have been attacked and one priest was murdered. The attacks that have occurred have not constituted widespread violence, but they seem to have the common characteristic of being carefully targeted at the Christian community and at tourists. What is the explanation for these attacks?


I discussed in my previous blog that the behavior of tourists is often at odds with the conservative Muslim values of the society. This can be extended to include the local minority Christian community, whose presence is at odds with the small number of Islamic fundamentalists on the island, primarily under the banner of Uamsho (Swahili for Awakening). But while the society as a whole is very Muslim and quite conservative, it is generally not a fundamentalist society and this group has only a relatively small level of support amongst the general population.


Another conjecture that was offered by many of the journalists that we were discussing this issue with is that it is related to the Constitutional Referendum that is currently being discussed. Ever since Zanzibar and Tangayika unified to create Tanzania in 1964, the exact structure of the government and Zanzibar’s level of autonomy have been frequently debated. This Constitutional Referendum is another big step in the debate and it is currently taking place in Dodoma, the legislative (and official) capital of Tanzania, and there is still a great deal of discontent on Zanzibar. Many people are still pushing for the complete independence of Zanzibar, a move that is primarily being trumpeted by Uamsho. Zanzibar has a majority Muslim population whereas mainland Tanzania is primarily Christian. Many have speculated that these attacks are in response to this contentious Constitutional Referendum and may be the beginnings of a stronger push for independence.


However, someone I was also speaking to suggested that another possibility is that groups from mainland Tanzania are committing these acts to discourage tourism on the island in order to promote the mainland’s tourism industry. This may be a stretch, although the bad press that Zanzibar has been getting surrounding attacks such as these has had a detrimental impact on tourism on the island. Tour operators are urging tourists to stay away from Stone Town and just go to the all-inclusive beach resorts, again creating a greater separation between the local people and the tourists. The US Embassy, however, has just recommended caution and has not suggested any specific travel restrictions.


This situation will play out over my next few months on the island as the Constitutional Reform process is decided in Dodoma. There is a great deal of uncertainty, but hopefully these are isolated attacks committed by marginal groups in society. However, there are legitimate issues in need of reform and these attacks highlight deep-rooted tensions on the island.

Tourism: The Problem with Paradise

Zanzibar is famous for its legendary beaches, some of the best and most beautiful in the world. There are coral reefs surrounding the islands of Unguja and Pemba, and these create a fine white sand on the beaches of most parts of the island. The fine, white sand, of course, leads to water that almost looks unreal. It is an intense turquoise blue that slowly fades into a deeper, darker blue as the seafloor slopes away from the beach. The beaches on the east side of the islands are the most spectacular as much of the western side coastline is covered with mangroves rather than beaches.

Kendwa Beach.

Kendwa Beach.


Naturally, these beaches attract crowds of tourists that flock down to the islands, mostly from Europe (particularly from England and Italy) to enjoy the natural wonders of Zanzibar and to stay at the exclusive resorts. Tourism is relatively new, there was very limited tourism before the Revolution and foreigners were virtually prohibited from going to the island during the first years of the Revolutionary government. Over the past few decades, though, the tourism industry has been increasingly developed across the islands, mostly on Unguja, and now it makes up 20% of the island’s GDP. Elegant resorts and hotels have been popping up along these amazing beaches, often at odds with the small fishing villages that have previously existed there. Tourism on Zanzibar, while necessary, has been quite problematic.


Last Saturday afternoon, I finally made an excursion out to one of these famed beaches, in the village of Kendwa on the northern tip of Unguja. Despite many of the problems that I have with the tourism industry, I do love tropical beaches. This is one of the perks of having an internship in Zanzibar. We spent a great day lying on the beach and swimming in the warm, turquoise water. It was wonderful, although afterwards, despite the layers of sunscreen that I put on, I nursed a bad sunburn.


Typical village

Typical village

Going out to the beach in Kendwa was jarring, though. The village is extremely poor, houses are made out of mud walls and have dirt floors, and has been shoved to one side of the dirt road while immediately on the other side, behind gates with security guards and large walls, are opulent resorts taking up all of the beachfront property. The village is obviously a fishing village, but now there is just one small trail that goes down to the beach along the side of one of the resorts, to where the boats of the villagers are dragged up on the southern end of the beach. It makes one wonder if the village was initially right on the beach and was pushed back by the resorts (I don’t know if this is true or not, but it sort of seems that way). Along the beach, sunburnt tourists stroll in string bikinis, while a few local women look on, completely covered and wearing hijab. It is a stark contrast and seems quite culturally inappropriate.


Typical resort (Kendwa Rocks, the site of the Full Moon Party)

Typical resort (Kendwa Rocks, the site of the Full Moon Party)

Additionally, the big resort on Kendwa beach, Kendwa rocks, is famed for its “Full Moon Party” a gigantic all night party celebrating the full moon. There is music, dancing, and lots of alcohol flowing. This is occurring in a fairly conservative Muslim society that frowns on the consumption of alcohol. Local restaurants never serve alcohol and there are very few stores that sell it, but it is very easy to get it at all of the restaurants and resorts aimed at tourists. Unless there is a large party going on at one of these tourist resorts, everything in Zanzibar shuts down fairly early. When these large parties and festivals turn into all night ordeals, this again goes against many of the cultural norms of the island.


But apart from the violations of cultural norms, the tourism industry doesn’t seem to benefit the majority of the population. Most of the island is made up of desperately poor, rural villages. Of course, the hotels do employ many locals and have provided a good source of income for them and their families, but unfortunately, many of the hotel employees actually come from mainland Tanzania where the levels of education are a lot higher. The tourism industry also provides a lot of exploitative employment as well. Walking around Stone Town and other resort areas, tourists are constantly accosted by street touts, referred to as papasi, offering tours, selling sunglasses and knick-knacks, and often peddling drugs. Sometimes it is even worse and more exploitative. When sitting in a bar one evening, I looked around and realized that two prostitutes had appeared on either side of me. This is the unfortunate aspect of tourism here that has negative implications on the culture, the environment and an economic impact that only benefits certain segments of the population.


Traditional Dhow used for fishing.

Traditional Dhow used for fishing.

The negative impacts of tourism have been demonstrated recently as there have been a couple of deadly attacks aimed at foreigners. Radical religious groups have been taking hold in some of the most vulnerable sectors of the Zanzibar population and have instigated some of these attacks. Two British girls walking around Stone Town had acid thrown at them last year and a French couple in a northern beachside village were murdered in their house last month. The general Zanzibar population has decried these attacks and is afraid of losing the tourism industry. But if the industry was run in a more responsible and less exploitative manner that benefitted more of the islands’ citizens, it could both support the local economy and allow foreigners to experience the cultural and natural wonders of Zanzibar.


Jambo.” “Karibu.” “Habari gani.” “Rafiki.” “Mzungu.” These are words that I hear on a daily basis walking around the streets of Stone Town. Swahili is the lingua franca here in Zanzibar. While English is the second official language in Tanzania, and many people in Stone Town, at least those involved in the tourism industry or who have a higher level of education, do speak English, everyone prefers to speak Swahili. Once you leave the city or the tourist areas, Swahili is the only language spoken.


Work meeting in the office (mostly in Swahili)

Work meeting in the office (mostly in Swahili)

Swahili actually originated in Zanzibar, and was spread throughout much of Eastern Africa from here through trading. It is now one of the official languages in Tanzania and Kenya and is spoken from southern Somalia to Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and into the Democratic Republic of the Congo as well as bits of Zambia, Mozambique, Madagascar and the Comoros. Swahili is at its basis, a tribal language related to the Bantu language group, but it has been influenced by the diverse history of Zanzibar. Persian, English and Portuguese words are incorporated into the language, often slightly altered from their initial version. French fries (chips) are a common street food here, deliciously served topped with salad, often a meat skewer and spicy sauces, and are called “chipsi”. The months are “Septemba, Octoba, Novemba.” The police are “polisi” and a school is “sculi.” Law is “sheria”, although it has nothing to do with sharia law.

School in Makunduchi

School in Makunduchi



Coming from my background as a Peace Corps volunteer, and my experience living and traveling in Latin American countries, where there is no language barrier for me, it has been extremely frustrating and limiting for me not to be able to communicate with local people. We have made two trips to the field now as part of my work, to Pemba and to Makunduchi, a small village on the very southern tip of Zanzibar. During these trips we ran or participated in meetings and trainings, but everything was conducted in Swahili, so the most I could do was pick up bits and pieces based on visual clues, context, and the occasional English word that was dropped throughout the presentation. This has put up a large barrier for me on a personal level, as I want to be able to communicate with local people and not just rely on those involved in the tourism industry, who are often trying to sell me things, or expats for my social interactions. I know that Swahili is not required for my job, I can do my work successfully just in English as I am primarily working on reporting, which is done exclusively in English, but from a personal level, if I am going to spend six months living on this island, I want to be able to communicate comfortably, in the way I am able to in Latin America.


I bought some language CDs which I have been studying at home, but this hasn’t been very successful. So I decided I needed to find myself a tutor to help me out with the language. There is a young man that always hangs out on my doorstep and who I have become very friendly with, named Awadh, and we have been having conversations about music and about life on Zanzibar. I just contracted him to become my informal Swahili tutor. He has been quite persistent about wanting to hang out with me all of the time, and the other day he was talking about the need to find a job to help support his family, so I am going to pay him a small amount to give me lessons 2-3 days a week. Additionally, my co-worker, set me up with a Swahili instructor at the local university, Shani, to give me private lessons. She is also the Spanish teacher at the university and I will help her with her students who are learning Spanish. I’m hoping to not feel like such a mzungu (European, used for white people and tourists in general. It has the same meaning and connotation as gringo in Latin America).

Work presentation in Makunduchi.

Work presentation in Makunduchi.


Swahili is a beautiful language and has a very warm tone and rhythm to it. The construction of the language seems fairly straightforward (from what I’ve learned so far) and the sounds of the letters are very similar to English, with the exception of the vowels which have the same sounds as Spanish. I think with a little bit of practice, Swahili should be relatively easy to learn. The main difficulty however is that, much like Guaraní, with the exception of words that come from English, Swahili is not connected to any root language (such as Latin) that can serve as a basis for understanding the words. To start out, I will just have to memorize words and sounds. Then as I begin to have a better understanding, I will be able to put them together and make sense out of the language. It will be difficult, but I think with the help of Awadh and Shani and constantly practicing with people when I can, I will be able to have a decent grasp of the language after my six months here.

A Turbulent History

The other evening a met a small group of British and Dutch tourists at a waterfront bar where I was unwinding from my first day of work and three previous days of travelling. I mentioned that I was an intern at a peacebuilding and conflict transformation NGO on Zanzibar. They gave me a funny look and finally one of them asked me, “Is there a conflict going on here in Zanzibar?” With large numbers of tourists pouring in recently for the Sauti za Busara music festival, the only sign of any conflict seemed to be a spirited haggling over prices for hakuna matata (no worries) t-shirts.


While there are certainly no ongoing crises in Zanzibar as there are in many other parts of Africa, and there has been very little direct violence since the bloody 1964 Revolution, there are simmering tensions on the island that have very deep historical roots.


Zanzibar, due to its strategic location, has always been a mecca for trade across the Indian Ocean, and because of that, it has always been very diverse and multi-cultural. There was a long history of early traders from all around the Indian Ocean, followed by a short period of Portuguese colonial rule. The modern situation, however, began in 1622 when the Omani dynasties ousted the Portuguese in the battle of Hormuz. This began a long period of Arab and Omani control that has had a lasting effect on the present-day situation.


The Slave Market

The Slave Market

The Omani’s were in control of Zanzibar for almost 300 years and became very powerful through profits from the slave trade. The sultan of Oman even moved the seat of his government to the island in 1841 and the notorious and brutal slave market in Stone Town was said to have traded over 1 million lives. The period of Omani rule came to an end in 1890 when Zanzibar became a British protectorate, but the Omanis were still held in positions of power in a form of a British puppet regime.


Another large and important minority was the South Asians who had come as merchants from the Portuguese colony of Goa in southern India nearly one hundred years earlier. They, along with the Omanis, were the preferred groups of the colonial powers and were given all of the top positions in government and comprised most of the business leaders and land-owners in Zanzibar. The native African population were left marginalized and impoverished, no longer facing the horrors of the slave trade, but suffering from a great deal of structural violence that kept them in a position of permanent oppression. This led to the need for a change.


Beit al-Ajaib, or The House of Wonders, the most prominent of the lavish buildings built by the Sultan of Oman and once the tallest building in East Africa.

Beit al-Ajaib, or The House of Wonders, the most prominent of the lavish buildings built by the Sultan of Oman and once the tallest building in East Africa.

The change came about shortly after independence was granted to the island. On January 12th, 1964, the Zanzibar revolution started and the old Arab leadership was quickly overwhelmed and overthrown. Unfortunately, this led to many days of indiscriminate killings and rapes of Arabs and South Indians around the island, with some people claiming that this was a genocide. Estimates for the death toll have ranged from just a few hundred to 20,000, nearly all Arabs and South Indians.  The Afro-Shirazi Party (ASP) came out on top, which is the political party that, in its new form, the Chama Cha Mapundizi (CCM), has led the government since the revolution.


However, Zanzibar is a classic case of the oppressors becoming the oppressed. Centuries of slavery and unequal land ownership ended very quickly with a brutal killing of the ethnic group responsible for the oppression and a new political structure was developed that didn’t fully rectify all of the inequalities present in Zanzibari society (something that would have been an impossible task).


Fastforward to 2000 when political tensions began developing again around contested elections. The CCM/ASP had won every election since the revolution and hadn’t succeeded in making a just and inclusive society. The main opposition party, the Civic United Front (CUF), emerged from some of the political coalitions of the old Arab government (although no longer based on ethnic lines), with its base of power on the often-neglected northern island of Pemba, began getting a large percentage of the overall vote. They were never able to defeat the CCM, though, and they cried corruption. This resulted in riots surrounding the 2000 and 2005 elections, which left many dead and wounded. The worst violence during this period came with a massacre on January 27th, 2001 that left 35 dead and more than 600 wounded, according to Human Rights Watch. The centuries-old political divides were re-emerging to cause new episodes of violence in the 21st century.


To avoid political violence around the 2010 election, the leaders of both parties decided to work together and form the Government of National Unity (GNU). While the two political parties would still exist at the local level, at the national level (I’m using nation here to refer to Zanzibar, although Zanzibar is really only a semi-autonomous region of Tanzania) there are no political parties. Fortunately, the 2010 elections were peaceful, but there is still a great deal of concern surrounding the 2015 elections, which are less than a year away.


This is where Search for Common Ground comes in. SFCG is working closely with the GNU to assure that both political parties continue to work together and avoid future violence. They are working with 7 radio stations, 2 on Pemba and 5 on Unguja (the main island, often just referred to as Zanzibar), on programs focusing on good governance to help people understand the workings of the government and allow them to both support and hold the GNU accountable. They are also working directly with government officials and civil society groups to support the idea of an accountable, transparent and just GNU. As an intern (who still understands very little Swahili), I am working mostly behind the scenes on all of these programs.


This is the political background leading up to the work that I am currently engaged in, as I understand it, and based on the reading I have done and the conversations I have had. I feel it is a pretty accurate representation, although I absolutely understand that I have broadly oversimplified the situation. The CCM and the CUF are no longer divided clearly on ethnic lines and to say that the current political situation is neatly tied to Arab domination and slavery from two centuries ago, is a misrepresentation. However, history has a way of repeating itself and preserving the structures of conflict and oppression, even if the context may have changed. As I learn and understand more, I will update this blog and my analysis of the conflict may change, however, I believe that the present situation on the island can be looked at in the broader picture of Zanzibar’s turbulent and contested history.


Most of the historical facts for this blog entry came from my guidebook, The Rough Guide to Zanzibar, and Don Petterson’s account of the Revolution in Zanzibar. Additionally, my information comes from historical plaques and sites in Stone Town and conversations that I have had since arriving here.


On Thursday and Friday of my first week at work I had the opportunity to travel to the northern island of Pemba to participate in a midterm review meeting with our two radio station partners on the island. Kheirat, the program assistant and the person with whom I work most closely, and I boarded a 12-seater plane on Thursday afternoon and took off for the 30 minute flight to Chake Chake, the main town on Pemba.

Chake Chake, Pemba

Chake Chake, Pemba


Pemba is the ignored younger brother of Zanzibar. It has just a fraction of the population, is very quiet and rural and has very little tourism (quite shocking, actually, compared to the hordes of tourists that are everywhere on Unguja). Unfortunately, it is also very neglected and extremely poor, again, because it doesn’t experience the influx of tourism dollars that Unguja does.


We landed at the tiny airport and took a taxi in to the Hafidhi Hotel and Conference Center, one of the nicest hotels on the island and the site of our radio meeting the following day. After settling in to the room, I went for a walk around the town.

Kids at the jetty.

Kids at the jetty.

Chake Chake was quite run down and, at only 5:30 in the afternoon, had already almost completely shut down for the day (people on Zanzibar joke that after 5 the only thing you can do on Pemba is sleep). People were extremely friendly, though, and most everyone seemed to want to say “jambo” to me without trying to sell me something or offer me their services. I made my way down to the jetty on the waterfront where I met a group of kids that were splashing in the filthy water. The called out to me “muzungu” (white man) and urged me to come down and join them. We managed a few words of a conversation in Swahili but my “unasema Kiingereza?” (do you speak English?) was met with many shaking heads. I turned around and headed back to the hotel.


The following day the meeting began in the hotel conference room and was conducted entirely in Swahili. I tried to pick up as much as I could and some of it was translated to me in English. Only my counterpart, Kheirat, and one of the radio producers could speak any English, though. Even though I didn’t understand much of what was being said, I could tell that the meeting was a success. After the meeting we visited the office of one of the radio stations and then returned to the hotel with a few hours to kill.

Village of Pujini

Village of Pujini


We had a little money left over in our budget for the day, so we hired a taxi to take us out to the ruins of Pujini before dropping us off at the airport. This was what was left of a mosque and a small city built by a 16th century tyrant named Mkama Ndume, or “grasper of men”. This small rural village was once a center of commerce and there was an ancient channel into the city where dhows could come in and unload their goods. The steps up the rampart to this port were one of the best-preserved parts of the ruins. There was also the “jealous well” which was allegedly constructed so Mkama Ndume’s two wives could both collect water without having to see each other. It was an interesting excursion for the afternoon and amazing to see how much more urban and cosmopolitan Pemba was 500 years ago.


The extraordinarily beautiful water from the airplane.

The extraordinarily beautiful water from the airplane.

We finally headed back to the airport and had a nerve-wracking flight into a big storm that was soaking Zanzibar at the time. We landed safely, though, and got some incredible views from the airplane on our way in. Travel even between the islands is prohibitively expensive, so I don’t know how many more opportunities I will have to do this, but it definitely made for an interesting experience during my first week.

First Impressions

IMG_2537I am now a week in to my internship and my time in Zanzibar. After a five long, tiring flights, I arrived at Karume International Airport, named for the famed first president of Zanzibar’s Revolutionary Government. The last leg of my flight was a twenty-minute-long journey on a tiny and crowded puddle-jumper plane that offered an amazing view of the approach to the beautiful, tropical island that will be my home for the next 6 months. I was accompanied by my future supervisor and we were met by the company driver who took us from the airport on the outskirts of Zanzibar City to the heart of narrow, winding streets that make up Stone Town, the historic core of Zanzibar City. The car made it to the front of my new office, but then we had to get out and walk to my apartment as the streets became too narrow for anything more than motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians. We arrive to the guest-house and I am shown my new room, a small bedroom with an attached bathroom and a nice balcony looking out over my narrow street to St. Joseph’s Catholic Cathedral a block away.

View of my street and St. Joseph's Cathedral from my balcony

View of my street and St. Joseph’s Cathedral from my balcony

Stone Town is like no place that I have ever been. It is a labyrinth of narrow streets and alleyways with beautiful, but crumbling, old buildings, stores, mosques, and churches packed in on either side. The buildings block out all views of landmarks and only leave a narrow strip of sky to appear between their roofs. The streets are filled with children playing pickup games of soccer, niqab-clad women returning from the market with only their eyes showing, hordes of tourists taking pictures of everything, people shouting jambo (hello) and rafiki (friend) getting you to come into their stores, chickens and stray kittens.


After getting everything sorted in my room, I took a quick shower and headed down to Forodhani Gardens, a waterfront park that turns into a giant outdoor food court with tables overflowing with skewers of fish and meat, the famous octopus skewers, chapatis, sambusas, naan, falafel, rice cakes, cassava, breadfruit, corn on the cob, grilled bananas, and the famous “Zanzibar Pizzas”, chapatis that are stuffed with a variety of ingredients and then cooked in front of you.

Forodhani Gardens during the day (before the food stands are set up).

Forodhani Gardens during the day (before the food stands are set up).

I got my fill of street food (so far I have eaten mostly street food and haven’t suffered any consequences yet) and headed back to my room to pass out. I was exhausted from my five flights and had to be ready to go to work the following morning at 8:30.



My first few days have been spent mostly in the office as my working hours are eight to five every day. I have also been trying to work on my Swahili and take care of other business in the evenings, but I have managed to get out and explore my fascinating new home each afternoon. Today I grabbed my map and set out to work my way through the maze of streets surrounding my apartment. It is extremely difficult and very easy to get lost, something that does concern me a bit. I have been attempting to map out known routes back to my place and stick to them, while trying to explore as much as possible. This afternoon, I had chosen my route and attempted to stick to it. I was going to head from my apartment through the narrow streets to the north end of Stone Town and then follow the waterfront back to Forodhani Gardens. After leaving my apartment I set out to Jaw’s Corner, a junction of 5 narrow walking streets where men sit and play cards and drink tea. I left the corner on the road heading north. After 30 minutes of wandering through narrow streets, thinking I was heading in the right direction, I come around a corner and realize that I am right back where I started, at Jaw’s Corner. All I could do was laugh. I somehow managed to walk in circles. The saving grace is that Stone Town really isn’t that big, so no matter how lost you get, you know that you will either end up somewhere you recognize, if not the very same place that you started your journey.IMG_2582


I am still in the stage where everything I encounter is wondrous and amazing. I want to say that Zanzibar is even more exotic than the images conjured by its name, but I hate using the term “exotic” as it implies a certain level of objectification of a very real place and very real people going through very real struggles. But still, Zanzibar is stranger and more exciting than any place I have ever visited, much less lived. I’m sure I will adjust, but like everything else, it will be a process.

Off to Zanzibar!

Today is the eve of my departure on my next big adventure, this time to the island of Zanzibar, Tanzania. I will be starting an internship with Search for Common Ground, an international peacebuilding and conflict transformation non-profit that is working to end violent conflict throughout the world. This internship will make up the final semester of my graduate degree program at the Monterey Institute for International Studies, where I am studying International Policy Studies with a focus on Human Security and Development and receiving a Conflict Resolution Certificate. This trip is not only my latest adventure to a different part of the world, but it is the next step in the fascinating, unconventional path that I have taken since finishing my BA. As can be expected, I am both nervous and excited for this huge step!Zanzibar map


I want to catch everyone up briefly on what has been happening in my life over the past decade and what has led up to this point where I am heading off to Africa. After finishing my BA in Film Studies at the University of Southern California, I shipped off to South America to serve as an Early Elementary Education Peace Corps Volunteer. I kept a blog during that experience as well and I’m hoping to maintain a similar framework for this blog. After returning from the Peace Corps I went through a long and very difficult readjustment/job hunting period that was complicated even more by the fact that it was perfectly timed with the 2008 economic crisis. After a summer spent living at home and working at a coffee shop, I eventually moved back to Los Angeles and got a job as a Spanish teacher at a small charter school in a rough, inner-city neighborhood. This was an extremely difficult position, but I stuck on for a second year, although in a different position, as the coordinator for the After School program at the school. At the end of this year, the school was in the process of being shut down and I had already started my plans to go to graduate school.


However, as things have a tendency to work out, the school didn’t shut down. Given that I was one of the few remaining employees, I helped the transition into a new administration and was offered a job as a guidance counselor and made up part of the administrative team. I worked as a guidance counselor for two years and, although the school was always an extremely tough place to work, I really enjoyed that job and that position. However, after two years, I needed to go back to graduate school, either to receive my guidance counseling credential or to shift careers. While I loved counseling and could see myself happily working in this career path, I felt like that wasn’t my calling, so I decided to shift gear and return to graduate school.


I began my program at the Monterey Institute in August of 2012. My classes were excellent and the friendships that I developed will hopefully be life-long. However, the classes I took in the Conflict Resolution track and with my professor, Dr. Pushpa Iyer, were truly inspiring and led me to my current internship position and a hopeful future career in conflict resolution or human rights. In addition to my classes, I went on unforgettable research trips to Gujarat, India (see our blog for this trip) and Cuba, I did an independent study project in international LGBT rights, and I completed an excellent internship at Global Exchange in San Francisco.


Now, however, I am beginning my final project in graduate school and hopefully the first step in a future career. Africa is a completely new continent for me and will definitely be a step away from what I am accustomed to. I will need to learn Swahili (although English is widely spoken in Zanzibar) and adapt to life in a very different culture. However, it is a transition that I am looking forward to and I’m quite certain that it will be an excellent and memorable experience.


This blog will serve as a journal, a way to keep in touch with friends and family, and also a professional document to discuss some of my observances, experiences, and findings from my internship in Africa. I hope to come up with a balance of personal stories and material that will eventually support the report that I am writing as my final deliverable for graduate school. Please feel free to follow along and comment on my entries!


Tomorrow I will head to the Seattle Tacoma International Airport to begin the first leg of my 5-leg, 2-day long flight to Zanzibar (Seattle to Vancouver to Toronto to Addis Ababa to Dar Es Salaam to Zanzibar). I don’t anticipate much sleep these next few days! I will be in touch shortly with my first impressions.