Stone Town, Zanzibar in 48 hours

Approaching Zanzibar for the first time I almost cried. Right below me was an expansive coral reef with ocean water so clear I could practically see straight down from my window seat of the plane. I was in one of those tiny, probably decades old airplanes, with the insanely noisy propellers, which just happened to be right in my line of phone taking making every photo blurry. But that didn’t stop me from trying. Trying to hold my mouth from dropping open in awe, I sat there, coming to the realization that this tropical island was going to be my home for the following two months. I felt at home before the plane even touched land.

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Once I landed I was shuttled off the airplane onto the tarmac – I got to walk down those royal steps like you see in old movies, I think I was way more excited for that than I should be, but whatever — judge me. The “airport” looks like a doctor’s waiting room where I picked up my suitcase and searched through the crowd of locals waiting for my friend Ulrica. Tip: Don’t let locals carry suitcase unless you want to give them some money, it only has to be like 500-1000 shillings (less than $1), but don’t fall for their friendliness if you want to hold onto your cash!

Just a little background on the breath-taking island that is Zanzibar. It is a small island off the coast of East Africa and it is an autonomous region of Tanzania. It’s a tropical island known for it’s spices, fruits, and beaches. Zanzibar is a mix between African and Arabic culture, making it a really unique destination. The population is split between Tanzanian nationals and people from Oman. Ninety-nine percent of the island’s population is Muslim so make sure your wardrobe is ready for that. May to August is the best time to travel, during their winter, which is fairly convenient for many tourists as that’s summer in many parts of the world and time for vacationing. November to Feburary is the hottest time of the year during the dry and summer season. The rest of the year is still hot, but it marks their wet season in which it rains for days at a time. Almost everyday of the year you can be guaranteed temperatures above 80 degrees Fahrenheit, because if it went any lower than that every local would be wearing a winter coat (which they still do even at 80).

Stone Town is the biggest and only city on the island making it the ideal location for any tourist. Many honeymooners head off to the remote beaches on the east coast where everything really looks like it could be on a screensaver, but I highly recommend Stone Town as the best spot especially for backpackers.

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Alright now for the fun part —– What to do in Stone Town, Zanzibar:

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Day One – Things start really early in Stone Town as it is an Islamic city so everyone is up at dawn for prayer, so finding things to do early in the morning is not hard. If you’re an early riser this is a good place for you. My favorite thing to do when I woke up early was go to the main square, Forodhani Gardens, and enjoy the view with an omelet and a masala tea. Forodhani Gardens overlooks the ocean offers a wide array of small food stalls and free wifi. These mini-restaurants are a step up from street food and usually open at around 8:00 a.m. I’d go there regularly for breakfast and for my breaks during my school day (as stated in previous blog posts I taught English in Stone Town).  One of my favorite parts about being up and around that early was that I really got to know the locals as no other tourist was awake during that hour. The waiter and I got to know each other very well to the point where my omelet and tea were already there waiting for me at opening. I got to watch all the local Zanzibari women sweep the streets before all the tourists fill the streets.

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After an hour or so of taking in the early morning sights and of course a full breakfast a trip to the beach is a must. Luckily it is only about a two-minute walk from the main square. The Stone Town beach is small in comparison to the rest of Zanzibar’s beaches, but is still equally gorgeous on my standards. I’m also a city-girl at heart so I like the idea that I can walk to civilization if needed. The beach is an advertising hotspot with every local in town wanting you to get on their boat. These boats are generally safe and reliable, taking hourly trips to and from the other nearby islands namely Prison Island (I’ll get to that later). For now, ignore all those tourist traps and set your eyes on the prize – swimming in the Indian Ocean.

A great spot to relax is at the Tembo Hotel, they have chairs free to use for the public except during tourist peak season, which is mostly just June and July (although Zanzibar’s tourism is way down so you could lucky). I used their chairs probably forty times over two months and only had to pay maybe ten times, probably less than that. Of course it is always polite to purchase something – they have a great selection of different drinks, but I do not recommend eating there. Their food is very overpriced and from my experience not very good. Stay there as long as you so please because odds are it will be beautiful all day long. Tip: I recommend lying on your bag (using it as a pillow) especially if you plan to take a nap because there are some sticky fingers of young locals around.

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If you’re looking for more of an adventurous beach time there are some beautiful sights if you keep walking down the coast line mostly old stone walls that barricade the city from the ocean. There are no chairs going this route, but still a great place to spread your towel out and relax.

By this point you’ve probably spent about $5 on breakfast, $6 if you had to purchase something to use the chairs. Now it’s time to roam around. The streets of Stone Town are really something out of this world. They’re the perfect place to get lost because no matter where you end up eventually you’ll recognize something and be able to get yourself back. Right off of the beach and Forodhani Gardens is the main shopping area for tourists perfect for any souvenir shopping complete with the town’s only liquor store (this is important if you plan to drink, although I don’t really recommend it – the liquor store has extremely random hours so plan ahead). Truly exploring these streets can take hours and with some really beautiful handcrafted items except to throw down some cash if you want some of the classic tourist items. Still, compared to anything in the Western world, souvenirs are extremely cheap and if you know what to say they can be even cheaper with haggling.

Let’s say you spend about $10 on souvenirs, so now you’ve spent about $15. Shopping is tiring and in effect you may have worked up quite the appetite. There are so many delicious places to eat, and I recommend sitting down for lunch over a sit-down dinner. Check out Lukmaan’s for true Zanzibari cuisine.

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On average you’ll spend about $8 on lunch, but let’s say you spend $10 so that brings your total cost for the day to $25. After lunch head back to the beach and this time take one of those friendly locals up on their offer to take you to Prison Island. A boat ride should only cost about 20,000 shillings (approximately $12) and they will wait for you at the island. Once on Prison Island head over the main visitor’s center to purchase tickets to see their world-famous turtles, they’re huge and worth the cost to see them. This “cost” is only about $2, but watch out because they do sometimes overcharge tourists. I had my resident permit with me so I got in everywhere dirt cheap, but even without that the tourist attractions are still extremely cheap. Prison Island is completely self-guided and has a presently un-operational hotel so the pool is up for grabs, as far as I could tell (no one told me not to…). Prison Island also features a gorgeous beach that overlooks Stone Town. I was on the island during peak tourist season and I think there were maybe four other people on the island. It’s very open and a delightful little island.

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By now it should be about 4:00 p.m. as you’re coming back to the main island. To round up your touring activities for the day head over to the House of Wonders and the Old Fort for tours of both. House of Wonder’s has a small fee to enter, but the Old Fort is self-guided and free. If you want a real adventure to end your first day of tourist activities walk over to Mkunazini (a seven minute walk inland) – note: this is where I lived – and squeeze your way through the market place. How long can you stand in the fish market? I think I made it twenty seconds. Smells horrible, looks really cool! This a real local place making it an awesome attraction to check out. Be prepared for stares though, make sure you’re really covered up when going through areas like this. At this point you should have spent about $45.

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If you get hungry stop for some street food – my favorite snack is what I call “mango fries” – essentially mangos shaped like fries. They’re probably like $0.50 so I’m not even going to count this in my total…

Head back over to Forodhani Gardens in time for the sun to set. All the local boys do quite a performance off the stonewall into the ocean – flips and backwards somersaults. On the other side of the park, while the sun is setting, all the food stall operators are getting ready for dinner leaving the park smelling delishly fishy. Get ready for dinner. Go all out with seafood anything; I’ve never had a problem eating any of the street-food here, but definitely be precautious. Everyone comes out to Forodhani for dinner in the square, especially during Ramadhan – it’s one big party. Street food will cost you about $3-5 depending on how much food you want. Now you’re at about $50 for the day.

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To end your day do as the locals do and walk around a lot, just be cautious once it starts to get really dark particularly if you’re a single female. If you’re not tired by that point there’s a couple options. One – go to a hookah bar or two – go to a bar and smoke hookah. The nightlife in Stone Town is centered around hookah, or shisha in Arabic, as Muslims traditionally don’t drink alcohol. Because of Stone Town’s status as a popular tourist destination, there are still plenty of places to grab a drink, but I do not recommend ever being publicly sloshed. It’s technically a crime there. One of my favorite hookah bars and also one of the most expensive places in town is the Livingstone Bar. The hookah waiter, I call him, there is super friendly. You might spend $10 here, but if you share with other people you may only spend $2, so let’s say you share because us nomads tend to be fairly social.

You may ask where do I sleep? I stayed in an apartment for the summer, but I had plently of friends that stayed in guesthouses/hostels and said they were all clean and affordable. For backpackers you can get a decent room in a hostel with a private bathroom in some cases for $30, even cheaper for a shared bathroom (that’s usually $20). So let’s say you spring for your own bathroom. That brings your grand total for the day to $82. Not too shabby for a day jam packed full of stuff.

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Day Two – You can’t go to a tropical island without snorkeling! Snorkeling in Africa is even cheaper than anywhere especially in Zanzibar, where they’re actively trying to boost their tourism. Safari Blue is the highest rated and most popular tour out there, and also the one I took myself. It was top notch I must say. Because it’s so highly rated, the price is jacked up to about $100 per person varying slightly based on the season. This price includes basically a full-day excursion snorkeling the coral reef, lunch, tropical fruit tasting, drinks (beer included), and relaxation. I’d say well worth it. The tours start at 9:30am so as far as breakfast goes I’d just snack on a granola bar and drink plenty of water because the tour will provide lots of food (trust me, you want to save room – some of the best seafood I’ve ever had!). The takeoff point is in a small town called Fumba and that taxi ride is also included in the cost (from Stone Town).

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By the time you get back to Stone Town (the takeoff point is about 30 minutes away from downtown) it should be around 3:30p.m. so I’d recommend doing an excellent slave trade tour at Saint Monica’s, which includes a town of the adjoined Catholic church  (one of the few Christian places of worship on the island) and a former slave market. Just a couple bucks for entry and you get your own tour guide! This should take about an hour or so.

Following the slave market tour, which is in Mkunazini, you should check out the surrounding area – Mkunazini as I stated earlier is home to the market. In addition to the market it holds all of Stone Town true local stores; they have a store for everything – clothes, hijabs, jewelry, tuxedos, watches, DVDs, etc. It’s a really cool site to see. Essentially Mkunazini is one big outdoor mall hidden amongst Stone Town’s narrow alleys.

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After some shopping/people watching head to the Green Garden for dinner, which is just a few blocks away, also in Mkunazini. This is my all-time favorite place to eat in all of Stone Town. I went here so much that I started getting free stuff! The owners and the waiters are some of the friendliest people I have ever met. The whole restaurant is outside, but there are covered parts in case of rain. They also have free wifi and delicious freshly squeezed juices, which everyone needs to try once in their life. So amazing. My favorite thing to order here was any of their curries —- literally to die for. Also their tomato soup is spectacular if you’re looking for something on the cheaper side. I’d say an average meal here costs $8, but the juices can be a little pricy so maybe you’d pay $10. If you didn’t spend any money while shopping that brings the total to $113 for the day so far, and $195 for the weekend.

I’d suggest taking another walk around town after dinner and definitely treating yourself to some dessert for your last night in Stone Town. For dessert I recommend either Mercury’s for some ice cream that is not made with powdered milk (yeah… all the other stuff is gross, don’t buy the ice cream unless you like the taste of fake milk, which I gotta say I kind of got used to) or head over to “Mr. Nutella’s” pizza place in Forodhani. First off, the ice cream at Mercury’s is expensive because it’s really the only place in town with real ice cream, but they have some really cool tropical flavors – worth $3! Then “Mr. Nutella’s” pizza is basically a crepe stand where they’ll make the crepe with whatever you want on it. This is about $3 as well. Whichever you chose it’s going to be great. Or go for both — I won’t judge ;).

Lastly you have to pay for another night in the hostel so add $30. Your final total for two days and two nights in Zanzibar is $128! If I would add anything to this itinerary, especially if you’re into nightlife I would take a taxi to Kendwa Beach because this is where the tourist party is every weekend. It’s a fun time, but also fairly expensive – probably costing you $50 for the night if you didn’t go too hard with the drink purchasing, $70 if you did.

Above all have fun and do what sounds good for you. If you want to just soak up the sun all day long, for 48 hours straight – cool, live it up. I love Stone Town and I hope you do too!

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Chlorofluorocarbons and Best Friends

IMG_1214I met Ruhaila on my first day of teaching. She was sitting quietly, arms wrapped lovingly around her dictionary, with a sassy smirk across her face. She was intimidating and looked like she was not being challenged. Great, I thought. Here I was, my first day, teaching a class not even listed on my schedule with a know-it-all sitting front and center waiting for me to teach about environmental degradation.  As I am neither an environmental studies major nor studying education this all came very naturally.

I saw her judgmental glances; they made me want to run to the ocean and swim back to the comfortable shores of Delaware. She was on to me – she knew I was clueless.

After hopelessly reading the textbook for thirty minutes I gave them an exercise. Of course she was the first to raise her hand.

“Could you explain chlorofluorocarbons?” she asked.

No I cannot. Seriously girl – figure it out. This is what I wanted to say, but instead I put on a smile and told her I’d do the best I could.

After this question we began talking. Her ambition was to be a doctor and her English was one of the best I had heard thus far. Ruhaila’s smile stopped looking so intimidating and transformed into a kind invitation for friendship. I accepted.

The next day I lent her a Time magazine placing posted it notes on every article medicine related. I knew that even if she couldn’t understand everything, she could see that becoming a doctor was possible. In return for the magazine she invited me to her home. Again, I accepted.

Forty-eight hours later bread was being shoveled down my throat and headscarves being delicately wrapped around my sweaty forehead. Ruhaila proudly introduced me to all the people around her village. She taught me Swahili and orchestrated a full-blown photo shoot with the rest of her family and I.

Hours passed of talking about boys and running around the house giving piggyback rides to her nephews. Ruhaila, a seventeen-year old Muslim girl, had her entire career figured out and she would consider boys after she achieved that.

Somewhere along the five weeks I knew Ruhaila we became best friends. On my last day of school I was given a small party where the school selected a representative from every class to give a speech looking back on our time together. I prepared myself and stashed some toilet paper in my back pocket. I didn’t bring enough.

Ruhaila gave one of the speeches and she was already crying before beginning her speech. After I started crying all the teenage girls in the room started dropping like flies leaving the one male administrator in the room to deal with fifteen teary-eyed girls on his own.

I can’t even remember what she was saying in her speech, maybe because I was so focused on trying to hold back my tears.

Ruhaila and I may come from completely different backgrounds, but our silent thoughts at that moment were identical I will never forget you.

Earth Day Post – Tanzania’s National Parks

Making your way to Tanzania’s National Parks like the Ngorongoro Crater and Tarangire is a journey filled with carsickness and dust that clings to your pores like a green tea face mask. It’s a dirty and long adventure, but the end result is nature that has been (mostly) unaffected by technology and pollution, one that looks more like a dream than real life. Six hours worth of hang-banging, gut-wrenching unpaved and unmanaged roads is worth the opportunity to see the Lion King in person, with a front row seat.

Sandy Toes in Zanzibar

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Undeniably Zanzibar’s beaches are my favorite. The sand is soft and almost has a milky consistency which glides over your feet and toes like butter. Zanzibar’s velvety coasts also feature year-round warm waters thanks to the Indian Ocean and tropical climate. Although I was in Zanzibar for work, I still got time on the weekends (and after classes) to enjoy the tourist hotspots.

Even on the most popular beach there was still space to breath. It wasn’t like Ocean City, Md in July – there was open space and self-catering services. This is not necessarily a great thing for Zanzibar’s economy as it has seen a dip in tourism recently, at least in Stone Town – according to my hotel manager friend Ulrica, but it feels like paradise for me.

One highlight of my beach excursions was going to the East Coast beach and The Rock restaurant, which lives up to it’s name as the restaurant is literally on a rock and requires a boat to get to during high tide. What an experience. The food was also to die for and surprisingly affordable (in American standards). I got home-made tagliatelle with lobster mixed in – I’m drooling thinking about it.

Not only beaches in Zanzibar pure paradise, they’re also fun. Local kids will come play frisbee with you and you never know who you’ll meet! Going to the beach by myself was so fun because I’d meet all these other tourists/volunteers, mostly from Europe, and we’d all talk about our experiences and where we’re from. Zanzibar is mostly a tourist destination for Europeans because for much of Europe there’s little to no time difference whereas from the US (mainland) there’s anywhere from 6-10 depending on day light savings time.

The best time to go is definitely during their winter, as during Zanzibar’s summer it is unbearable hot and humid. Their winter usually lasts from May to September, but July is definitely the peak of tourist season. Make sure though before you go for a relaxing beach vacation you know the area in which you’re staying. For example it is never appropriate to show your knees on the streets of Stone Town, but it is perfectly ok to lay out in the sun wearing nothing but a bathing suit once you hit the sand. On the east coast of Zanzibar you’ll have much more privacy and the beaches are apparently more pristine, although I’m not a huge beach snob. All I need is warm water and soft sand, and just about every beach in Zanzibar (I went to at least) had that.

“Half the fun of the travel is the esthetic of lostness” – Ray Bradbury

Getting lost gives you the opportunity to really see an area. Leaving the guidebook at home and just exploring is my favorite thing to do when traveling. I find myself being more observant and so I see what the locals really are doing – what restaurants they’re eating at, the shortcuts they know that no one else knows, even something as basic as greetings.

All my tour books in Tanzania said that “Hello” was “Habari” or “Jambo”. Little did I know until I started pulling my head out of the book that I sounded like a ignorant tourist when I said things like that. It makes sense if they think about it because how often do we say “hello” in America? It’s always hi or what’s up or hey. Same in Tanzania. Instead of “Jambo” you say “Mambo,” which is basically like saying “Hey, what’s up?” With exploration and getting lost in the culture that I’m living in I would have knew that. It’s important to not just “get lost” physically, but also to get lost figuratively. Devour that culture while you can because you will miss it dearly once you’ve left.

Africa Time – Ups & Downs

Africa: a continent so diverse I can’t formulate one general description of it. It’s a challenge to feel stressed in Africa; life is just slower and the air is simply fresher. Unfortunately (and sometimes fortunately) what comes along with everyone’s relaxed disposition is a lack of urgency as well as the joke that scheduling is in Africa.

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While working in Tanzania as an English teacher if class started on time I questioned the sanity of my headmaster. Even in Morocco my pre-arranged car was almost three hours late to pick me up at the airport in Rabat. In South Africa they actually have slang to inhibit Africa’s bad habit; when you say “just now” that means meet you in 20 minutes and when you say “now now” that means maybe 10 minutes – there’s no such thing as being in a hurry. This overarching generalization of poor time management is what the traveling community knows as Africa time. Nothing ever starts on time, which is an adjustment from the structured Western world I come from and comes with its own set of ups and downs.

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UPSIDES – I’m an optimist person as well as someone who loves Africa so I’d much rather start with positives. Obviously having no true schedule is fairly conducive for relaxation and can be freeing to not live your life by a strict schedule. College has gotten me in such a rut with a packed planner varying from odd jobs, club meetings, actual classes, and social gatherings. It’s exhilarating to go somewhere where none of that matters.

Teaching without a community sense of time is actually awesome because it gives me the flexibility to make lesson plans on the fly. If something isn’t working I can change it. My school was grateful for anything I could do for them because my English skills were something they never had before. It’s not like there was a scary curriculum looming over my every move like it is in America. Sure there were standardized exams that were and are a big deal for my students, but I could get through the required information in about five minutes leaving me forty minutes of fun time.

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Another upside to “Africa time” is that no one is ever in a hurry. Yes this can also go into the negative section, but I’ll get to that in a few. Being able to snooze my alarm a couple times without waking up in a rumpus is amazing. It gives me the ability to stroll to my school instead of my fast-paced halfrun I do to get to class here in the US. Think of all the surroundings and people-watching you miss out on when you speed walk. That’s not a problem in Africa.

With a view like this how can one be stressed? This was the balcony on the back of my school - Tumekuja Secondary School

With a view like this how can one be stressed? This was the balcony on the back of my school – Tumekuja Secondary School

calo-bolletteDOWNSIDES – As I mentioned earlier there are many, like lists and lists, of reasons why “Africa time” is really awful. It can serve as a major roadblock in getting anything substantial done in a classroom setting or just with everyday life and it makes tourism less desirable for many people. All of this adds up to the fact that a lack of time management hinders Africa’s economic development on a larger scale. On a more personal level and with having experience teaching in a very disorganized environment, I’ve found that the biggest challenge was never really knowing exactly what my school wanted of me.

Basically when I arrived at my school on the first day they handed me a book and said teach. One day I was thrown into a random environmental science class to teach a lesson on environmental degradation and chloroflourocarbons to students only one year younger than me. I really should have recorded myself teaching that class because it just might have gotten on America’s Home Videos or something of the sorts. But really you just have to go with it – that’s one of the most important lessons I’ve learned from living and teaching in Tanzania.

It’s certainly irritating to have no set schedule, leaving me with more questions than answers, which is only intensified by most locals inability to speak English and my poor Swahili skills. I would go for a meeting and simply no one would show up for thirty  minutes. Break time at my schools was supposed to last 15 minutes, but I cannot remember a single day that it finished within 30. All of my lesson plans were constantly re-evaluated and re-worked because of the sheer quantity of unplanned occurrences. And you know, that’s ok.

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If you let the three hour late bus ride bother you, truthfully, you will never make it in Africa. Flexibility is key when traveling in general, but especially in Africa because of all the unexpected things that could happen – sudden rains, bad roads, violence, and so many more different curveballs that may be thrown at you. Africa is a learning and growing experience. So just go! Africa awaits you.

Interested in volunteering/interning in Tanzania?

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My one friend, Sean Stoerrle, is working with a wondering non-profit called Maasai Children Education located in Arusha, Tanzania including programs all over the country mostly centered in Arusha, but also in Zanzibar. You can doing anything from working with NGOs to environmental work with Roots and Shoots to teaching. Sean is an expert on Tanzania as he’s lived there for the past few years and he’s an alumni from my college, Washington College. Check out more about their program at their website or Facebook!

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Another possibility out there is called America’s Unofficial Ambassadors, which focuses on providing unique internships that connect Americans to the Muslim World in hopes of building better relations between the two areas as well as dispel stereotypes. In Africa, they have programs in Morocco and Zanzibar, but they also have a handful of other programs including ones in Indonesia and Tajikistan. Wonderfully organized opportunity and there are opportunities of funding through the program. Check out their website or Facebook as well for more information.

Oldies but Goodies

On Prison Island, a popular tourist attraction in Zanzibar off the coast of Stone Town, is home to some really old turtles. These guys have seriously been through a lot. The oldest turtle on Prison Island is 189 years old, when America was only on its fifth president and Beethoven was still alive.

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This grandpa has seen a lot of history. He’s seen slavery in America. Both World Wars. The dropping of the atomic bomb, hundreds of revolutions and wars, and a time before blue jeans.

Throughout international crisis after crisis this oldie has remained on the same island enjoying the hundreds of tourists who come through daily. He gets a nice neck massage in return for a few pictures. His life has been the same thing for almost 200 years now. I cannot even imagine living in the same poop covered enclosure for that long…

While so much has changed in the world around him since this elder’s birth, nothing has really changed for him. And I think he is totally ok with that.

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This is a BABY turtle….

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Hunting With the Power of Weed

At the crack of dawn I ease my way out of my tent, wrap my dusty hair into a tight braid trying to forget that my last shower was three days ago, and slither into my guide’s faithful Landcruiser. I feel uncomfortable and dirty, only thinking about the glorious shower I will be taking this evening once my group reaches the hotel. In Tanzania everything is a four hour drive away. Lots of roads are paved, but they’re always magically “under construction.” I see so many idly unchanged roads, that look perfectly great to drive on, but they’re blocked off and we’re forced to drive on the treacherous side roads with bumps so large I frequently hit my head on the roof.

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Needless to say it wasn’t a great start to my morning as it was also still only 6:00am – way too early for a college student to up during the summer… But I was excited and anxious for my next adventure – hunting with the Hadzabe tribe. Excited because my anthropological juices were flowing, so eager to experience a completely different way of life. But anxious because I was going into wild animal territory to hunt with a tribe that doesn’t even speak Swahili, the main language in Tanzania.

This was one of the shorter drives, only 50 km, and after about 30 minutes, we pull off and head down this street sign-less road containing the wondering eyes of locals. My anxiety picked up when the convenience store huts stopped popping up on the road. Then our driver stopped and asked someone for directions. Children ran up to our parked car and held their hands out. How could I say no? I distributed a cookie in each child’s hand and then four seconds later those same hands were back. It’s so difficult to say no, but then when you say yes it then makes it impossible to turn back and make any form of restrictions.

The engine rattled back on right as I gave away my last cookie. Twenty minutes more into the middle of literally no where, we stopped, staring straight up a steep rocky hill/arguably a mountain. Our guide pointed for us to somehow get up the steep rocky exterior. Hah! I thought – don’t get me wrong I’m always up for an adventure, but I’m no rock climber! Problem was he was serious. We struggled up the hill until we found flat group at the top along with the drifting, subtle smell of marijuana.

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I laughed to myself as we walked closer to the cloud of smoke and the scent became more intense until I felt I might actually get high just from this air. I guess yolo? Well these friendly dudes were really serious about their weed because even though they wore nothing but a thin sheet of animal hide covering their packages, they were dedicated to this practically hallucinogenic pot – that’s how good it was (or at least that’s what I was told).

In order to smoke without the modern amenities like lighters and rolling papers, the tribesmen made their own fire and breathed in the straight harsh smoke of the drug. Heavy coughs followed, but they continued on a few more rounds. Only men were huddled around the fire, barely acknowledging our presence. One boy looked only six or seven was also participating. About a dozen hits later they were ready and with the power of Mary Jane they took us along on their hunting excursion.

Since they didn’t even have lighters you can be sure they didn’t have any modern weapons either. It was all bow and arrow. After walking aimlessly following these high tribesmen through the bush and watching them miss a few small animals, they decided oh I guess we didn’t smoke enough… and then they got high. More.

Eventually we come across a pile of large rocks and our guide translates and says that hyenas often live under rocks like these. The tribesmen inspect the rocks hoping that there’s a hyena sleeping while I bite my lip bloody wishing that I chosen to sleep in. Five minutes pass of quietly waiting – watching my high homies use the weed to lead them to a hyena. Then suddenly they shoot multiple arrows into a crack. A squeal follows. Then I feel like throwing up, but I stuck it out because you know.. for the adventure, I guess?

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They pull their prize out of the rocks and do some gross and unspeakable things to kill it completely. I can’t even talk about that part! The one shining moment in this capture is their faces – they were just so proud and happy to have dinner, I was almost supportive of their merciless killing of what turned out to be a baby hyena. What surprised me the most was their commitment to weed. Who knew that marijuana would help to guide them to a prize, and maybe it did or maybe it didn’t, but they sure thought that that pot was their key to success.

So can how can something illegal on American standards lead other’s to enrichment? The simple answer is that cultures value things (ugh I couldn’t find a better word so sue me) differently. But really there are so many levels to this… maybe weed isn’t so bad? I’m not going to say hey go smoke weed because it is illegal (in most US states, or at least the ones I’ve lived in), but I will say don’t knock it til you try it (cough cough US government). Hallucination, for the Hazadbe, brings them closer to the earth and helps them find essential food so that their way of life will endure the overwhelming technology period we all live in. Weed is the norm for them… a method of survival more importantly; don’t we all have something that we need for survival? For me it’s a pen – I don’t think I could survive without the primary tool for writing. Sidenote: it can be used to save someone’s life or to end someone’s life, so there’s that. Maybe I’m taking this too far? Or maybe not. I believe it’s worth recognizing the pure necessity of marijuana for the Hazadbe tribe and how, cross-cultures, tools can be used for many different purposes that one may have never considered.

Scrambled Thoughts

Walking out of Dulles International Airport came with a rush of many emotions.  First was happiness because after two months I got to be with my best friend and mom.  Second was sweatiness. I forgot how the humidity on the East Coast makes you feel like you have to chop down the treacherous jungle of air with a machete while drowning in your own perspiration.

Now after almost a week of being home I’ve adjusted to humidity and to living with my little brother who insists on singing every other sentence. I’m happy to be home. I’m happy, but not completely content. Now that I have stepped so far out of my comfort zone I feel a little bored with the mundane tasks of my everyday life in the states. I am already thinking of where I will travel to next.

I am also constantly thinking of the amazing friends I left behind. I have already been imagining ways in which they could come visit me in the states. I would love to show them around my corner of the globe.

The young adults that I taught at Tumekuja Secondary School have left such a huge impact on me. They have taught me just as much, if not more than I taught them. They taught me that I do not want to study the world from behind a book and then get a job “solving” the problems of the world from behind a desk. All I can do (and want to do) is lend a hand.

They taught me that beauty really is in the eye of the beholder. Growing up I saw girls dressed in belly shirts and thought, wow they are beautiful. I saw girls wearing hijabs and dressing conservatively and thought, wow that sucks! They must be so hot. They did not fit in my molded view of beautiful.

On the first of Ramadan I wore a hijab for the first time. I walked into school with a continual stream of compliments following me.

“Oh teacha’ Emma, you look so beautiful.”

I felt so awkward in the hijab, definitely not beautiful. I was completely covered with no hair; how could I look beautiful?

Just as I grew up seeing beauty as showing more skin and having long hair, my female students grew up seeing beauty as the complete opposite. They looked at someone’s eyes to see her beauty. Beauty was defined by how much a woman was covered – not by how much skin she was showing.

Sure I have read about the many cultures of the world, but seeing it first hand is completely different than just reading about it. I have learned so much from my students. They have helped me figure out what I want to do next as far as my academic career goes and they have given me more confidence in my own beauty.