In only 12 hours, I will be on a ferry watching Stone Town become smaller and smaller…not knowing when I will see its horizon again.  This is my final time with internet before returning to America, and I have not prepared my complete thoughts on my entire summer experience (though I am sure those of you who have followed my blog since June already have an idea of what I may say), so I will make one final post within a week of my return to North Carolina.

For now, I feel it is important to emphasize how much I will miss this island: the people, their culture, the food, the beaches, Stone Town, and the S4Si girls.  Not a moment has been spent here that I will not cherish in some way.  These experiences have molded me into a shape that I can not yet discern…I feel like the final step in this journey begins when I arrive back in America and begin to juggle my love of both worlds and find a balance of peace and passion.  Already, I can feel myself caught between the greedy pull of the West and the vivacious tug of the East (I use this term very loosely and with the greatest awareness of its connotations, though it is worth noting the extremely heavy Indian and Arabic influences here on Zanzibar), and I am unsure of where to place myself on this continuum of priorities and passions.  Though this may take a while (or the rest of my life) to discover, I can be certain that this place has changed me for the better.

Kwa heri Zanzibar (Labda baadae!)!!

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[The following are my thoughts immediately after a Saturday night get-together.]

I just saw the new scholars for the last time.  I cannot even begin to touch upon the emotions that I am experiencing right now.  I am so proud of each of them for how incredibly smart they are, but also for the daily effort they put in to ensure their success.  I have no idea what it is like to have to fight and fight in order to obtain a basic education, so that I can improve the life of my family and my community…no idea what it is like to be hungry as I study before I lay my head down to rest before another rigorous day of school, subject tuition, then returning to a home that needs tending before I go back to studying.  I have no hold on any language other than the one I was taught from birth; yet, these girls are able to communicate with me beautifully.  I like to watch them talk to each other in Swahili: any small reservations they may have had trying to relate to me melt away as they all laugh with and at one another about silly things!  All of them have stolen my heart…and I am not leaving without a river of tears because I will miss them every minute I am away, always wondering what they are doing (probably studying).  I never expected such an emotional rollercoaster this summer; but I have had some of the best moments of my life right here on the island of Zanzibar.  Tonight, Alison, Yu-Jin and I met the new scholars at Forodhani Gardens to have one final time spent with them.  In between eating and talking, the girls had us a take a billion pictures, something I am always fine with!  Afterward, we walked to the internet café and helped some of the girls with the email process again, to make sure they were confident with doing it themselves.  We ran out of time when the café closed at 9:30pm; and this is when Alison and I had to say our goodbyes.  The way Wasila waves, the way Saida tenses up in anxiousness, the way Mirfat silently smiles, the way Hadia beams and giggles, the way Rahma stares at me with a look of knowing, the way Maryam sweetly tells me she will miss me, the way Nargis readjusts her headscarf, the way Asha doesn’t know what to say: Oh my god, why I am leaving?  There is no way that I cannot return to Zanzibar.  Whether it is in a year, or in five, I will not be able to ignore the call of this place; of these amazing girls who deserve every opportunity to succeed!  Hold me to it.

[p.s. As of 9am on Sunday, I have 48 hours remaining on Zanzibar]

The new S4Si Scholars, candidly

“Yesterday…all my troubles seemed so far away”: This is actually a quote from yesterday, compliments of the uber-cheesy (and flat) entertainment at the wedding that Alison, Yu-Jin and I attended.  One of the mentors, Sophie, invited us last week informing us that it would be the final evening of a weekday-long celebration for her cousin’s marriage, beginning in Dar and ending at a hotel by the northern coast of Stone Town.  The invitations we received, along with word from Sophie, were assumedly clear about the time of arrival: 7:00pm.  When Alison and I arrived half an hour late, our worry was replaced with laughter as we gazed over an entirely decorated and empty dining room!  After choosing any seat we wished, the two of us waited…and waited…and waited!  Two hours later, the crowd finally began to trickle in and Yu-Jin arrived having hadn’t missed a single thing…besides the previously mentioned Beetles cover.  Alison and I had eaten at Lukmaan’s at 11am, and what a day to eat an early lunch since dinner wasn’t served until midnight; after the bride and groom had posed for a few hundred pics and had done the lovey-dovey cake ritual which we all know.  I enjoyed a plate of bitter lettuce and bread after denying a host of meat and fish choices, and found my entertainment in playing around with my camera’s macro feature.  It was a much different experience than I expected from a Zanzibar wedding.  There was some dancing, but not really local, upbeat music.  Most people stayed seated the entire time, except for the handful of times that the women decided to gather to dance by the stage.  The roses were wilting, and there was a cat prowling the ledge around us the entire time.  Quite an experience.

I left hungry and hoping for a change in the night pace; and eventually met up with Star, enjoyed a Zanzibar pizza, danced to some Gaga, and watched the sky ever-so-slowly transition from deep black to rainy grey over the ocean as Saturday morning arrived and rain began to lightly fall upon my head as I strolled the incredibly silent streets of Stone Town on my way to write this post.

Macro function - Alison's phone

Cat watching over

The coming of a new day

Since my work is a little more sporadic post-selection, my posts from now on might share this trait…

First of all, sun poisoning and malaria have frighteningly similar symptoms within the first 12 hours!  I say this because after going snorkeling off the coast of Bawe, an island off the coast of Stone Town, I spent some time reading on the boat and assumed that I had properly applied my sunscreen (I mean, I was a lifeguard for three summers); but when I returned home and took a nap I soon noticed that I was awakened by my dire need for a blanket…and then even that was not warm enough!  I was pretty much shivering like I was in the middle of a snow storm, and with fatigue and soreness the only thing that came to my mind was ‘malaria.’  Not even an hour later my entire body did a 180 and I felt like a human oven!  I was doubly sure I had malaria!  After bouts of restlessness, I decided to browse the FM radio stations with my ipod, and discovered the amazing treasure of CRI: China Radio International!  I enjoyed hearing about a day in the life of a rickshaw driver, a movie review on “The Missing Gun” (though appalled at the horribly sexist and just downright rude man who directed all of his failed attempts at humor at his female co-host), the China news, and even some Chinese pop!  Needless to say, I noticed that I felt somewhat better before I finally passed out at 8pm…and when I woke up I felt completely normal!  This is when I began to posit another diagnosis; so after doing some webmd research and getting tested for malaria (for 2,000 Tsh. Yes, that’s $1.38) and also finally realizing the patches of burning pain underneath both of my shoulder blades, I was sure that I had experienced the most extreme symptoms of sun poisoning.  I cannot tell you how relieved I am that I don’t have to spend my final week in Zanzibar in bed!

Second of all, it is not advisable, under any circumstances, that one eat an entire can of Pringles within fifteen minutes!!  I say this because a comment from Maddy that I eat a gargantuan amount of Pringles in one bite led to a brief conversation between Yu-Jin and me: I chuckled that since I eat so many at one time that I could probably eat an entire can in ten minutes, and Yu-Jin was quick to counter that she could easily beat that time.  Being twenty-somethings, what else could follow from this conversation than a challenge to prove the fastest “can-of-Pringles eater?”  Monday night, an audience of Alison and Maddy watched as Yu-Jin and I dove into our pizza and sour cream and onion cans, respectively!  It became clear right away that this was the most silent and boring competition ever, since our mouths were stuffed the entire time and out jaw were crunching at tedious paces.  I will mention that I did win fifteen minutes later, but I am far from proud of this accomplishment after spending the next 24 hours recovering from such a ridiculous idea (in fact, the roof of my mouth is still tender)!  I think it bears repeating that no one should eat an entire can of Pringles within fifteen minutes!!

Third of all, I take my computer knowledge completely for granted!  I have been around computers since I was only a few years old, and so using them is merely a part of my daily life.  On Monday evening, Alison and I coordinated a meeting at FAWE with Bibi Asma and the new scholars and their parents.  After answering some questions and collecting signed documents, Alison and I sat with each of the girls one-on-one and helped them create their own personal email addresses which they will use to communicate with S4Si.  It was then that I became aware of the degree of computer illiteracy that many children (and I’m sure adults too) have.  A few of the girls did not even know how to use a mouse…and it was then that I decided I needed to take a step back in my perspective.  These girls are super intelligent and incredibly caring and passionate, but that does not mean that they have had the same amount of education when it comes to computers.  While helping one of the girls figure our how to type a question mark using the Shift key, I felt a rush of relief as I reminded myself (and the scholars) that S4Si funds several computer classes at the nearby institution, SUZA (State University of Zanzibar)!  Without a doubt, these girls need the instruction and the practice on the machine that they will eventually have to use when they go on to university and to work.

Helping Wasila create an email

Saturday was, hands down, my favorite day since I left home; potentially my favorite day in my twenty one years of life!  Per the scholars’ request, the delegates planned a field trip for everyone to Matemwe, a beach on the northeast coast.  Sophie (mentor) has connections with local non-profits there, and so we made it an educational adventure!  The most challenging part was finding transportation for everyone…since Alison and I had no idea who to ask for a bus!  As with everything that is beyond our knowledge here, we asked Star for help!  The day after our request, Star shows up at Lukmaan’s as Alison and I are having nostalgic S4Si discussion with Amit and Priyanka (Yu-Jin was there too), and he was like, “I got you a bus!”  Suddenly, out of nowhere on Mkunazini Street a huge 30-passenger bus appears behind Star and parks so that we can make plans with the driver!  It was hilariously unexpected!  On Saturday, everyone met at Ben Bella Secondary School and piled into the bus…and we had just enough room!  We had nearly thirty girls attend, and all three mentors!  The ride was about 45 minutes, and when we arrived we followed Sophie to MCAEE (Matemwe Control AIDS/HIV Education and Environment.  We all sat down inside and listened for about half an hour to the directors talk about…well, I’m not specifically sure since it was 100% Swahili, but I think their name gives some indicators to their work.  Katherine joined us shortly after that, since she was on Zanzibar (from Dar) one last time this summer; many of the girls were elated to see her two years after she was here as a delegate!  We explored the village some and then headed to the beach!  There is a great deal of seaweed that is harvested by the residents of Matemwe, and so there are rows and rows of sticks that indicate where it is.  Surprisingly, the girls decided to venture into the ocean and explore even more!  What began as a few girls wading into the low tide soon became almost everyone holding up their long skirts and exploring the sea life around them!  There were many laughs, and good opportunities to talk to the girls!  Eventually we all gathered back to the shade and enjoyed lunch.  The rest of our time there was relaxing, more ocean wading, talking amongst each other, laughing, and even a game of nage (the game for girls here).  Of course, there were many pictures taken; especially of the new scholars after we officially welcomed them into the S4Si family!  We were at Matemwe for about four hours, and then we returned to the bus and headed back to Stone Town.  On the way back, the girls sang some songs, many of which I could sing along to: Waka Waka, Wavin’ Flag, Oh Africa, Down (by Jay Sean), and even Om Shanti Om!!  It was incredible to be with the girls enjoying themselves and talking/giggling with each other; it truly did feel like an S4Si family that day!

So, I have a solution to the transportation problem that I presented last week; I actually thought of this while walking to Rahma’s home during our home visits.  S4Si should start a fund in order to raise money for a bus!  It would be big enough to hold all fifty scholars and the mentors and some guests, and it would serve as daily school transportation along with occasional field trips.  And it would be free!  And who would drive it?  None other than Star himself (though he’ll need to change his sleeping patterns first)!  We could paint it red with white lettering, and along the side its name would be placed: (since it is a dala dala for scholars) The Skala Skala!!  Sharing this idea with Alison, Yu-Jin, Amit, and Priyanka; our laughter filled Lukmaan’s Restaurant as we all posited the steep plausibility of this awesome bus!  You never know: in five or ten years there may just be a Skala Skala!!  Ha!

The 2010 scholars (top left: Asha, Maryam, Me!, Hadia, Mirfat, Saida. bottom left: Nargis, Wasila, Rahma)

Get very excited!  Alison and I have selected S4Si’s 8 new scholars!  We have told them the good news, which were three incredible moment of elated squeals as we traveled to each of the schools yesterday.  The night after we completed all the home visits, Alison and I were up until 2am discussing who of the twelve should be the “deserving” eight (of course they all deserve it!).  I don’t think I can express to you how difficult that night was, though it wasn’t nearly as emotional as having to deliver the bad news to the fifty girls who we could not help (four of which invited us into their homes mere days ago)…my eyes are glossing just typing these words.

I’d love to introduce you to the new scholars!  I’ll ask you to first get official introductions via the S4Si blog, and then to move below for my personal words on each.

Mirfat: Without a doubt super brilliant! Her English is superb, and she speaks it so quickly!  Her sister, Mulhat, is also an S4Si scholar (in Form III); but she definitely needs the scholarship since her father died last fall…and her mother has no job.  She has an adorable laugh is  very nasal “ennnh!”

Maryam: This is the girl I mentioned a few weeks ago, who cried near the end of her interview and then called me to apologize later that day.  She is super sweet.  She lives with her mother, 2 aunts, grandmother, and several siblings…her father is gone fishing at least a third of the year.  She showed us the small board she teaches younger students on, and it had some basic algebra principles on it.  Alison loves the fact she most admires George W. Bush (and not President Karume like 75% of the applicants); even though Alison is almost as liberal as I am!  Also, today is Maryam’s sixteenth birthday!!!!!!

Rahma: I will always remember her because of a few interview moments.  When asked why she wanted to become a doctor, she told us, “We know, mother is mother, there is no one like mother; that is why I have to help mother.”  Even now I think it is the most awesome sentence I’ve ever heard (and I can’t help respectfully cracking up at the wording!)!  I will also remember her because she told us that she cannot see well, and her glasses are expired but she cannot afford new lenses.  Finally, she told us near the end of the interview that she could not remember our names: “I have met you, but all I hear is: ‘I’m nisa, hansen, enhhh!'” (as went down the interviewer line and pointed to Nida, me, and ALISON!!  It was hilarious: apparently Alison’s new name is Enhhh!

Hadia: She is extremely sweet!  I love her because she wants to be an engineer to defy gender norms and be independent from her family and her husband!  She also loves to draw!  After interviews and narrowing down to the finalists, we returned to Lumumba to schedule home visits and she had a gift wrapped for us!  As we walked away from the school we opened it up to find five brilliantly colorful drawings!  One was a card saying Thank You to S4Si (even though no decision had been made yet)!  It was so touching, and it was obvious that she really loves to draw!  She wants to have her own career established, with financial security, so that she can open up a place to teach jobless people how to be artists so that they can lift themselves out of poverty.

Wasila: She absolutely needs this scholarship!  Her father died eight years ago, and things in her family were fine until last year.  Her home does not have working electricity, so in the evenings she goes to a neighbor’s house to eat dinner and study until she falls asleep…the kerosene lamp that she was using at home was hurting her eyes.

Nargis: She speaks pretty good English, but when she has to think of what to say she squints her face sideways and makes an “Err” thinking noise…very precious!  Her father just moved to Norway and did not say why or how long her would be gone…based on the information we have, it doesn’t look good.  Her application mentioned the problem of early marriage in her community, and she made it clear that she understands both the contributing factors AND potential solutions to this issue.

Saida: She smiles a lot a lot, but she also gets super nervous too!  Her home is above her father’s shop, which is on this market alley I had never been down before that reminded me of a cool urban central, especially since it was PACKED with people!  Actually, she doesn’t spend the night there, but at her maternal grandparents’ house farther out of town (and from school) in order to help her mom take care of them.

Asha: She is a bit more reserved, but is very smart!  Since she is the only new scholar at Mombassa, I don’t get to see her as much…but I am determined to get to hang out with her before my trip is up!  I’m hoping she’ll attend an event that we are holding this weekend, which I am SUPER excited about, and will have news of early next week!!

The fact that I have completed the major task that I came here for is still surreal to me at times.  The thing that excites me most is: this is only the beginning!  For the next four years these girls will be working through secondary school, and in early 2015 they will be graduating!!  In 2015 I’ll be twenty-six and I have no idea what I will be doing in life (or where I will be doing it!)!  Maybe I will be as lucky as Katherine, and return to Zanzibar in a few years from now!  For now, I am dedicated to enjoying my final twelve days on this island…and spending as much time with the scholars as is possible, considering the other work Alison and I still have left!

*sigh*

The past three days have been full of “Hodi”s and “Karibu”s as Alison and I (please kindly and most graciously excuse Nida’s absence this week as she climbs Kilimanjaro) have been paying many visits to the homes of Zanzibar.

On Friday, Yu-Jin relayed an invitation from Bibi Asma to her home on Sunday; which I was delighted about, especially after recalling my moment of frustration with her several weeks ago.  When Sunday afternoon arrived, Yu-Jin, Maddy, Alison, and I walked up one of the main roads (its intersection has a traffic light!) until we reached the towering apartment buildings that lined the area.  Bibi Asma, along with her brother Mohammed, welcomed us with a huge meal!  Afterward, we all sat and enjoyed various fruits as Mohammed hilariously served them to us one by one.  He spoke great English, although sometimes he would wittingly tell us, “I only know one word in English: Yes. Yes yes yes!”  The conversation started at organic foods and GMOs, and soon Bibi Asma was telling us of all about her life.  She lived in Germany for many years, and while there she hosted a weekly East African radio program about women and children’s issues.  She has also lived in Kenya; has worked in graphic design, and wants to continue to do work for women’s issues after she has been with FAWE for nine years (3 years from now).  Basically, she is incredible.  Yu-Jin verifies this for me regularly over dinner at Lukmaan’s, telling us of the countless projects and ideas that Bibi Asma is juggling.  It was wonderful to be able to spend time with her when work was out of the picture, and things were more relaxed.

Visiting Bibi Asma

Monday and Tuesday were completely full days!  As I mentioned, we had twelve homes to visit between these 2 days…and by Tuesday evening I was completely drained of mental and physical energy.  Some of the girls live close to school, but some live over a 30-minute walk away.  Since we scheduled visits back-to-back, we would spend most of our time walking (sometimes dala dala-ing) as we following the girls to their homes, and would spend less than half an hour at each residence.  All of the parents (and/or grandparents) were thrilled to have us over!  Most of them could not speak any English, but there were a few who we were able to carry on lively conversations with about politics, life in Zanzibar, education, and general info about S4Si and the scholarship.  One family served us mashed cassava, which is like a yam-potato, with biscuits and juice; and two families cut down coconuts from their home-shading tree and served them to us as fresh natural cups of delicious refreshment (even though we had told all of them that we would not be visiting long enough to share a meal)!  Everyone’s hospitality was overwhelming…which is the Zanzibar way, as I should have remembered.  Thankfully, Sophie or Muhaymina (two of the mentors) were able to accompany us to most of these visits; to assist with translation and to offer slight impressions on each girl’s situation.

I must take this opportunity to illuminate upon an issue that I have come across since I have begun the selection process here in Zanzibar.  I noticed it a little while reading applications, but it became absolutely clear when we interviewed the applicants.  President Karume, apparently, decided to solve the problem that many students have with affording transportation; and mandated a reduced dala dala fee for students (mwanafunzi):

Students: 100 TZS; (other) Passengers: 250 TZS

I’m not sure when this happened, but as result the majority of our nearly sixty interviewees told us that their biggest challenge in life is…transportation.  Why?  Because now that students pay less than half of the normal dala dala fee, most conductors have decided that they won’t transport them.  Not only do dala dalas pass students by as they wait at stops, but they also push and shove the girls away or off the vehicle in opposition!  I need not explain what this means for the girls’ promptness and/or attendance to school.  This is probably one of the most upsetting, unnecessary student issues that I have heard of since I have been here.  Poverty, disease, parental separation or death, political or other forms of corruption: these issues upset me, but they are much more widespread in developing (um, developed!) countries; but this blocking from access to the major form of “affordable” transportation across Zanzibar due to discrimination such as this is infuriating, not to mention heart-breaking.  I have spent a lot of time thinking about what, if anything, can be done to alleviate this issue…Alison and I haven’t really come up with anything (neither have the previous years’ delegations, apparently).  I hope this gives you a bit more insight into the true life of a student here in Zanzibar.

On a much more joyous note: …well, I will tell you in my post tomorrow!