Zanzibar- A Farewell Address

The day has come, and I have officially left Zanzibar. My semester is over at SUZA, and the AFLI swahili program is done. The people who I have spent the majority of the last 5 months with, are all splitting paths. Our strange spat of bumping into each other has come and gone. Some of us are going home to the USA, a lot of us on to new places, new people, and new adventures in East Africa. If I could describe Zanzibar and the experience it has been with all of my fellow Swahili kids, I would. But no matter what I say, no  matter how I attempt to illustrate my life here, it will never be enough. I could use words like challenging, love, hate, friendship, struggles, learning, or growth, but all of those words are too small for the concepts, people, and sheer amounts of life that they are supposed to represent. I would love to wrap up Zanzibar into a neat little package of lexicon, so that other people could share in it the way I have done. But sometimes there are no words that will ever be quite right. Zanzibar is one of those places. Its messy, its beautiful, its feisty, its strange, and its full of Italian tourists, but its also so so soo much more. Sure, I learned a language. But I also learned so much more. Zanzibar and all of the folks who I have met along the way will always hold a special place in my heart. So, thank you Zanzy. See you on the other side.

IMG_8101IMG_8089

IMG_8105

Onwards to a month of travels and adventures, and to 6 more months in Tanzania!

All the best,

Lauren.

Advertisements

Nimeshinda- A Final Mtihani in Zanzibar

So here it is, my last full day in Zanzibar. I have a few things on my to-do list and I’m feeling good about it. My top priority is to go to the DHL office and track down my package, which according to my online account has arrived on the island. I can handle this… how hard can it be?

Upon arrival at the DHL office I am instantly relieved because I know the guy working and he’s usually good at his job. Excellent, excellent. Allah is finally on my side. I proceed to explain my predicament “Yes, I know it’s here somewhere, but I’m leaving on a ferry this afternoon, so I came to pick it up myself…Yes could you look please? Okay great, great… It is here! Oh, Perfect.”

Too easy…Wrong.

My DHL friend tells me “Yes it just arrived today (lies), however it is at the airport.”

Me- “Can you get it to be not at the airport?”

After a series of phone calls and “asante sanas” my DHL man fails me slightly. It cannot be delivered because there is a line for packages at the customs desk of the airport, but yes sure I can go pick it up in person. Fine, fine. This is more work than I was hoping to do, but it always is in Zanzibar. Off I go, release form and official DHL customs receipt in hand, blaring down the road in a taxi to the airport.

When we get to the airport, my taxi driver agrees to wait for me until I am done, and I’m hoping this remains simple. After finally persuading a large and in charge bibi with a security wand to let me in the airport without a ticket, I make my way to the “customs office”. The customs office is everything you would expect out of a crooked government agency. A small, white room with cracked walls, and a less than enthusiastic official in an all khaki suit twiddling his thumbs at the desk. I knock on the door, explain that I am the girl the DHL man from town just called about, and that I am here to get my package. “Sit here miss, I will find this package, miss. Sit, sit. Karibu kaa.” Alright I sigh, as the door to this Slum Dog Millionaire style detention room slams definitively shut behind him.

After waiting for what seemed like an eternity, and realistically was, my captor returns, bright and shiny yellow and red DHL package in hand. Yes! As I reach across the desk excitedly, wild eyed at the prospect of the pair of J. Crew jeans and the Kindle gift card that await me from my sweet mother, my captor rips that ounce of happiness away from me, and slides my package into his firm grasp. This, is where it gets complicated.

“Miss, I must take this to the cargo deck. This is standard procedure (lies), miss. I must take it to be searched and for your “import tax fine” to be evaluated. Miss, please.”

No. Not today. I am not letting Zanzibar win this one.

“There is no tax. I have the receipt that says there is zero import taxes.”

“But miss you do not understand the form.”

“No honey, the form is in English. I understand entirely.”

I demand the package, am met with firm resolve, and we come to a stalemate. I offer a compromise, as I reach over to physically tear the package out of this bwana’s hands. “I will take it to the cargo deck myself. You can follow me, but I will take it.” Reluctantly, and now without his chief bargaining piece (control of the package), he caves. “Yes miss, but I will follow you. It is this way.” As I am stepping out the door I do a quick 180 with my eyes and assess my options. “Which way?” I ask, just to buy my brain a few more seconds to think. He’s maybe a few paces behind me. I decide to commit. I’m stuck in, this is it. I’m running a Wildcat and hoping for the best. There is the door, there is freedom, just beyond the horizon. My loyal taxi driver is waiting in the loop. Surely, I can make it. I glance back, and for a second I know he can see it in my eyes. “Miss come this wa-” And I turn on a dime, full sprint past the security guards, out the sliding glass doors of the airport. My captor is running behind me, and I’m putting forward my finest footwork, Heisman-ing off of porters and drivers beckoning my patronage. Run, Lauren, Run. The woman who helped get me into the airport earlier is laughing hysterically, as she watches me evade the bribery and corruption offered by this pathetic little man. I reach the door of my taxi, throw the package through the window, and hop in. With the door still open I’m screaming, GO GO GO , DRIVE. My taxi driver throws his 1987 fake Toyota into gear and there we go, Tokyo Drift style, peeling out of the airport. Nimeshinda, I’ve won. In the rearview I see my former captor still running behind the car “Miss, cargo deck. Cargo deck!” I laugh at him in the mirror and throw him a series of celebratory hand motions, as he accepts defeat, bending down at the waist, hands on his knees, no rushwa in hand. Take that crooked, corrupt customs guy! The taxi driver and I are laughing all the way to the bank. Finally, Zanzibar, I have won.

The Battle of the Buku (and how I lived to tell the tale)

“Only the dead have seen the end of war.”

-Plato (aka Me), after the Battle of the Buku: November 2012, Zanzibar

I’ve just returned to my pleasant room after a long, mentally exhausting day in Swahili land. The power is on, miraculously, and my only request is to take a bucket shower and pass out underneath my barely turning, yet highly valued ceiling, fan. As per us, even an ounce of amani (peace) is too much to ask. Enter- the Buku.

A Buku is something that can’t be written about. It must be experienced. The buku has not a fear or a care in the world. It can’t be tamed or reasoned with. It can’t be met with compromise. The buku is the life form of the depths of suffering and destruction in the world. It is the Axis of Evil. It is terror in a child’s eyes after seeing a monster in their room. It is the infinite darkness of a mine shaft full of stranded Chileans. It is the emptiness you feel when all hope is lost- when your faith in humanity or God or good vibes or the spirits is gone. The Buku is the world’s largest raptor rat. Yes, Rat. Yes, Raptor. It is larger than the average house cat, by the International Standardized Meow Size Metric, as adopted by the scientific community et al. The Buku has no repect for life other than its own. And there it was, just staring me in the face, contemplating the end of my sanity, slowly, methodically, and with a haunting, unfathomable sort of  joy. We share a moment there, eyes locked on each other. And for a minute I think he might spare me, but the moment fades, and the depravity of the situation is realized.

I’m at my wits end. This is it, I think to myself. This is where it ends. I’m finished. I should have sprung for the rabies vaccination. Bad call. How could I have been so careless? He’s about to go Ol’ Yeller on me.

And then by a strike of human resilience, I decide that I cannot cave to the buku. Call it God, call it the almost absurd capability of humankind to endure even the most trying of times. I’m not giving up,  not without putting up a fight. I have the technology. I can defeat him.

From the temporary safe haven of my bed I clamor to gather any materials within arms reach, which do not require me to do the unthinkable- leave my bed.

Materials within reach:

1 Can of strange arabic air freshener

1 Can of pesticide, composed of inexplicably dangerous chemicals

1 Stack of Swahili textbooks, dictionaries, and folders

1 Empty trash bin

Alright…I can work with this.

I run through the tactical options in my head.

A) Ambush Buku with hail of book bullets, hopefully stunning it into a state of paralysis

B) Maintain the advantage of distance, attempt to tear gas Buku into submission with pesticide and equally potent air freshener

C) Beat the living tar out of Buku with books and sweep it’s pulverized body underneath trash bin.

After a short conference with myself and the security advisors in my head weighing out these options I decide to combine B and C. There I was, in the War Room. This was the moment Seal Team 6 beat down Osama’s door. This was the moment JFK picked up the phone to call Kruschev one last time. I was pulling the trigger on a Predator drone. This was it. There was no turning back.

My years of playground army games came in handy, and with ridiculous skill and speed, I trench crawl silently to the end of my bed, where I know the Buku is hiding in the corner between my backpack and the wall. I take a deep breath. Inhale. Hold it for 1. 2. 3. Exhale. And then in a raging fury of chemicals and and aerosol sprays, headlamp blaring through the darkness, I meet my maker. I reach over the bed with arms crossed, Rambo style, for added flare, and assault the Buku with my cloud of vengeance. In a spat of confusion he spins in circles until the power of unregulated consumer  chemicals is too much for him, and falls down limp and defeated. After my canisters of hope and salvation are completely emptied, I slam the trash can over the Buku for good measure and additional containment, to limit the possibility of retribution. I slide my now pathetic enemy into the hallway, and cover the trash can  in heavy books, for my host dad to deal with the next morning. I shut my door, locked tight from the inside, and at last I can lala salaama (sleep easy).

The Buku and all other Zanzibar induced challenges may in the end win this war, but this is a ‘W’ in the Lauren column for now. Freedom and humanity prevail, and I live to see another day.

Nashukuru- Thanksgiving

Well I’ve just had a fantastic Thanksgiving here in Zanzibar, even if it was very far away. For all of its strangeness, I cannot express how much I appreciate Zanzibar. I am thankful for the opportunities it has given me to grow and to learn, and in that process to cross paths with some of the world’s finest humans, whom I now hold among my nearest and dearest friends.

So in honor of Thanksgiving, this is just a short list of the things nashukuru (I appreciate)…

1. That someone in the world enjoys reading my internet ramblings on occasion (Here’s to you).

2. My mother- for always inspiring me to make big adventures for myself, and supporting me when I do.

3. My father- for showing me the value of hard work and finding something in the world that you really love to do, and committing to it.

4. Both of my parents- for the love they gave (and continue to give) me, and the home we’ve made together, even far apart.

5. The ability and opportunity to travel and to soak up this beautiful, bright blue world of ours. Especially for the Boren program, for USF, and my former teachers, coworkers, and peers everywhere who helped my along the way.

6. All of my friends, near and far, old and new- for being the most spectacular, hilarious, brilliant, and beautiful people I have been so lucky to know. You make me better, every day.

7.For being healthy, happy, and ready for the future (as best you can, I suppose).

So happy Thanksgiving to all. And remember that you can’t be grateful and bitter. You can’t be grateful and unhappy. You can’t be grateful and without hope. You can’t be grateful and unloving. You can’t be grateful and full of want. So just be grateful. Even if things feel perfect for just a moment, that’s enough. Its probably all we can really ask of perfection anyways.

All my love,

Lauren.

PESD and a Healthy Dose of Perspective- An election abroad

Are you suffering from Post Election Stress Disorder (PESD)?  Wondering what in the world  you can do about it? Try this- a healthy dose of perspective!

For those of you who know me, it ought to be very clear where I stand concerning the reelection of President Obama last week. But for the sake of this blog post and making a point, I’m going to try not to dig into the partisan commentary that will detract from my overall goal here. This isn’t about whether or not your man won or lost last week. This is a perspective from abroad about being an American. Actually, no… about being human. Regardless of what you think about the election results, the electoral college, or which side of the aisle you fancy, this is about being a human being.

I watched the election results come in with fellow Americans abroad in Zanzibar at 5 am. Obviously, I am a political junky. When the results became fairly clear, like a lot of people I decided to get on Facebook. Mistake. I was not only shocked but appalled at what some of my peers, friends’ parents, and others had to say. Across my newsfeed there were calls of a return to the “civil war”, prayers to “god” to make up for the insanity and apocalyptic inhumanity of the electorate that saw it fit to reelect the President, to a “tragic day” for America likening the reelection of Obama to the scale of a “terrorist attack”, to “worry for the safety and well being of my family.” The backlash was outrageous, the offenses and the fatalism egregious, and the ridiculousness of it all astounding. Really America? Really? Three words- Get a grip.

Shame on us, America. We seem to have forgotten the weight of the statements we make. We were absolutely absurd, and the worst part of it all was the acceptance of that kind of platitude. Yes, its only Facebook, yes it is a public forum, yes you have the freedom to say whatever you want, but NO that does not mean whatever you say is appropriate or acceptable. Have we forgotten what the word tragic means? Tragic is not a peaceful and fair transition of power through a democratic election process. Tragic is a small but loaded word. Tragic is two planes crashing into the World Trade Center. Tragic is the destruction wrought by Hurricane Sandy on our East Coast friends and families there. Tragic is the condition of a lot of the world, but it was not the condition of the US election results on Tuesday. Just because you lost, doesn’t warrant outrage. It especially doesn’t warrant a call to arms to return this country to the bloodshed of 1865 or assert that the people who disagreed with you over who should be the president for the next four years are members of Al Qaida.

You’re allowed to be disappointed. I would have been too if the election had gone a different way. But at the end of the day, we live in a country where every four years, regardless of how difficult it is or how ridiculous it sometimes seems, we have a voice, we go to the polls, and we choose which direction we will go for the next four. I currently live in a place where “free and fair elections” is a nice tagline for UN monitoring and evaluation teams, but not much substantially on election day. A place where there is a “shoot to kill” order to silence opposition groups for fear of the outbreak of mass rioting or political unrest. So how dare you damn this country for four more years. How dare you be ashamed of this country for its diversity and our ability to somehow make all of that work. How dare you call for a “take back” of “your country”. Just what country are you referencing? Because America, OUR country, has spoken. This is how its going to be. The post election stress disorder that seemed to engulf so many of us  isn’t patriotic. Its the absolute opposite. Its brash, its unappreciative,  its cowardly, and it is anything but American.

If you don’t like the president, fine. Duly noted. 48% of the country wanted otherwise, but that just isn’t the way the cookie crumbled. But instead of posting a hateful Facebook status and priding yourself on 25 likes, why don’t you do something active in your community to better it in the next four years? Why don’t you get your hands dirty instead of just running your mouth with empty, callous, emotionally charged, value based statements about holding out until 2016 or moving to Canada  to escape the evil communist plot that is universal healthcare (Please ignore the inherent lack of logic in that sentiment, Lord knows I have). In case you forgot, a lot of people tried that once in 2008, and news flash- it didn’t work.Obama got a second term. The only loser from that game plan was the country as a whole. In light of Veteran’s Day, we owe it to the people who fight the hardest for us on the daily grind to get over our egos, shut up, and get to work. My father was in the Air Force for 27 years. They don’t get to quit just because their guy didn’t win. Maybe we all ought to take that oath.

If you have some kind of healthy, constructive, or thoughtful commentary or dialogue  I would love to hear it. Otherwise, don’t bother. Voices of reason only, please.

Sawa, Sawa

In Swahili, “sawa sawa” is a statement of similarity or equality. Basically,” sawa, sawa” is “same, same.” Often when people study abroad or travel, the motivation is to learn something new about a new place. We assume that what will strike us about our destination will be all of the oddities and idiosyncrasies that separate it from what we already know. Recently in Zanzibar, I am more at awe by the amount of sawa sawa I seem to find, than by the differences. Rather than being most impacted by things that are contrary to what I know, I find that the most influential knowledge to be had from travelling or exchange of any kind is actually self reflection, introspection, and a realization that life, anywhere and everywhere, is a shared, common human experience. By opening yourself up to a new place, you realize that the problems that other countries face are not so much different from our own, and people are simply people, no matter where. Allowing for that realization gives us the opportunity to reflect on our own lives, social issues, and experiences more constructively and more critically.

In Zanzibar there is a strident political movement, departing from the agenda of the generally speaking more conservative political party, the CUF. A growing number of people who at once were ardent supporters of the opposition party are pulling further and further  away from the center, toward the extreme and the fringe. The middle is now what once was the right, and the right is a new kind of animal, threatening to change the political game in Zanzibar for the long haul. They embrace a romanticized history of Zanzibar, and demand a return to purely Zanzibari values. At first glance, the politics here seem to be… well… a  cryptic mess. But don’t they sound familiar? In the aforementioned explanation, by deleting just the words Zanzibar and CUF, I could have just as easily been describing the rise of the Tea Party in the United States in 2010. Often when we think of Africa in particular, people in the West decide that Africa is just too hard to understand, that the continent’s problems are larger or more egregious than other countries in the world. But what can be said of corruption, siphoned off aid dollars, and elitist politicians in African countries, when in the USA we have a presidential candidate who will hardly release his own tax returns, or the amount of money he has buried in off shore accounts? What can be said of transparency in elections, when we have super PACS that meddle and distort at an unprecedented rate, as they flourish relatively unscathed? What can we say of income inequality in the developing world, when the gap between the wealthy and the poor in the United States today is akin to that of the Robber Barron era, and the disparity in wealth between African Americans and Caucasians is as large as it was in the early 1960s, before the Civil Rights Movement? And of beliefs, what differences can be found between Zanzibaris who believe in cat wizards and Evangelicals who speak in tongues? I could go on, and on.

I do not attest that the degree of all of  these issues is the same everywhere or that all cultures, religions, and political systems are equal. But I find that more often than not, regardless of place or stature, we all share a common human experience. The most dense of social issues in the world are not entirely unique to place, but rather are the result of a similar human experience. When you open yourself up to the world beyond your shores, perhaps the hardest lesson to learn is that the world is not as vastly divided and drastically different than we’d like to think. It simply isn’t that easy to divide the world into a a Manichean venn diagram. Their struggles, are our struggles. Their ambitions, our ambitions. The big problems of our age- poverty, politics, the environment, security- are human problems, not distinctly Western ones or developing world ones. And with this, human problems inevitably have human solutions. In order to tackle the most important social issues that we face, we must require and demand a radical rethinking of what it means to share in this human experience. If we are honest with ourselves concerning the underlying similarity of the world, we take a vital step in the direction towards finding creative solutions for the challenges ahead.

Binders Full of Women

A tribute to the women I have met along the way so far in Tanzania! Here’s to you.