Each time I sit down to write my next blog post I am continuously faced with the challenge of finding my next topic. This is not because I need to search through my daily schedules, digging deep into the corners of all that exists around me, to find something worthy of sharing with the world but instead because a forceful magnitude of information, possible topics, things and events that shock, surprise, intrigue, and challenge me is thrown at me every moment of every day. Searching through and attempting to organize this overloaded pile of confusing newness proves to be surprisingly more difficult to find something the correct topic out of than if I was struggling to find something worthwhile out of nothing of any particularly interesting peculiarity.
There is however one over arching topic that I believe we can all relate to. We each have the comforts of our own home. Our own space where we know how everything works and where everything is. In our homes we do things the way we want because there is no one to impress and no one to tip toe around. I pull food out of the fridge whenever I am hungry and for the most part, I know what I am going to find when I open the door, and know where to find the necessary utensils need to prepare whatever items I pull out. I know how to do my own laundry and have more times than I can count. My room is organized (or disorganized) in the exact manner I choose and when laying in my bed I feel fully at peace and perfectly comfortable in a way one can only feel in a space they know is entirely their own.
With this sense of comfort in mind, I decided to write about some of the differences between my home back in America (and I am assuming many of your homes as well) and the home I am living in here in Zanzibar.
I first want to say that these in no way are differences I consider to be problems, too challenging to handle, but are instead simply interesting cultural changes I thought would be useful to discuss with a group of peers who may not have experiences this way of living before and want to develop a fuller picture of the whole of my travels. After getting used to these differences in the first few days I actually have become quite comfortable in my home stay. My sister and grandparents are very friendly, caring, and concerned with my happiness and well being. I truly feel welcomed into their family and I already plan to keep in touch with my sister (the one who cooks such scrumptious food) long after I return to the states.
Alright, here we go…
*Eating With Your Hands – I was warned about this one before I arrived at my home stay. I have no issue with it and honestly have come to enjoy it (Mom, Dad, did I play with my food a great deal as a child? Knowing me I’m sure I did). At my first meal with my family my grandmother asked if I would like a fork and I confidently said, “no thank you, I will eat with my hands”. However, it still catches me off guard from time to time. Especially when I am using a piece of bread as a make shift spoon to scoop up a pile of beans and rice and my fingers either don’t clench quite properly around the bread and it slips out of my fingers or, if the beans are particularly soupy, I attempt to pinch a sizable glob but in the process of doing so unfortunately slide a portion of beans off the side of my plate and onto the table. My sister laughs at me and I stick out my tongue at her while having a good chuckle myself. Hey, it’s a learning process right? The real reason this whole process is often such a challenge is that this all need to be performed one handed, right hand ONLY. The left hand is used for something unsanitary that I will mention later.
*Sleeping is different for two main reasons – The first reason has to do with the bug net dangling from my ceiling. Tucking it into the sides of my mattress and then positioning myself perfectly in the center so that the net is far enough above me, making it so neither my hands or feet are pushed right up against the net which renders it entirely useless, is a personal struggle every night. It is particularly entertaining when I wake up to the bug net tangled around me. Often I look at my hands in the morning only to find small red bites on my fingers. Even though I tuck my hands away as I fall asleep, I am known to toss as turn a great deal in the midst of unconsciousness.
The second way sleeping here is different from home is the added GREAT necessity of a fan. Positioned right up next to my bed and pointing directly at my body. I turn that sucker on the moment I walk into my room otherwise after the passing of only seconds I feel sweat pouring out of pores I never knew previously existed. Unfortunately, occasionally the power will go out in my house and I am awoken not only by the sudden lack of air flow but also from missing the calming whirring noise that accompanies my beloved fan and downs out the combined noise from motorcycles, shouting, or animals of various kinds than can be heard out my bedroom window. When this occurs in the middle of the night I find myself lying awake, curled in the middle of my bed, precariously placed underneath my net, staring at the outlet until the promise of the little red light comes back into view. Luckily this has never happened for more than half hour and I am often so delusional from still being half asleep that once I see that light again, my own light shuts off as if it never happened.
*Washing Laundry – Since arriving in Zanzibar, I have done laundry a total of three times. So about once a week which is significantly more often than I do it at home but necessary here for the two reasons of, I only really have three appropriate outfits (I am doing my best to be as thrifty as possible), and the sweat is so powerful that by the time an outfit has been worn three times it desperately needs to be washed. I mean DESPERATELY. I washed my clothes at my home stay for the second time last night, my sister showed me how to do it the first time but I was confident enough to do it on my own last night. Pretty impressive, I know. Anyway, this washing process definitely takes more effort than turning all my clothes right side out and tossing them into a machine. This process requires three large buckets (If you are trying to imagine the experience first hand, the buckets belonging to my family are red), about 3 cups of bright white powered soap, and more water than I feel comfortable saying. The process seems inefficient (honestly just water wise, I don’t mind spending some good time washing my clothes and am willing for work for the necessary outcome of smelling decent for a day or two), but this is the way my sister taught me, it is the way her whole family washes their clothes, so while I am living with them, it will be the way I wash my clothes as well. Basically the process goes as follows:
-You are sitting on a small stool very close to the ground for this entire process.
1) Fill two tubs with water.
2) Add a large cup full of soap to one of the tubs with water and splash it around so it gets nice and sudsy.
3) Choose your first item of clothing (ideally something lighter in color with less dye or the cleanest item you can find)
4) Get it suuuuuuper soapy and start scrubbing parts of it against other parts of it. Focus mainly on the parts that would get particularly dirty for reasons I don’t need to tell you.
5) SQUEEZE out all the soap you possibly can.
6) Put that item in the tub of just water.
7) Repeat steps 3-6 for about four more items of clothing or until the water looks really gross. Use your own judgment here guys. When I first washed my clothes with my sister, I would have used the water for a few more items but she insisted that I dump it out and start fresh. I felt very wasteful but also extremely clean so I am not complaining.
8) Once your soapy water is too dirty, dump it out! Then refill it with fresh water.
9) Take the clean clothes from the one tub, squeeze them each out individually, then finally put them into the second tub of clean water.
10) Move them around more in this second tub. Make sure ALL the soap is finally out of them.
11) Squeeze them each out one more time, and place them into the third, empty, tub in little bunches. Make sure not to touch one item that has heavy dye with another lighter colored item.
12) Take the still clean second tub of water, add more soap, refill the first tub with fresh water, and restart the entire process until all of your items wind up in the third tub.
*I have 2 pairs of pants, 5 shirts, 1 skirt, 2 headscarves, 2 pairs of socks, 2 bras, and 6 pairs of underwear (sometimes I go commando). With this many items you can only imagine how many times I had to fill and refill those buckets.
*Bathroom –Literally bath ROOM because although there is a toilet (I feel very lucky to have a seat to sit upon while some of the other students simply have holes in the ground) and a sink, the room as whole acts as the shower. There is a shower head jutting out of the wall and a drain off to the side of the room. This set up works by simply having the whole floor at the tilted ever so gradually, forcing the majority of the ejected water into and down the drain. What water does not make it into the drain by gravity alone is then squeegeed along the floor towards the drain using what looks like what one would use to squeeze the last drops of water off your car windshield at a gas station, only with a significantly longer handle.
Lastly, I want to quickly, and without great description, mention that instead of using toilet paper after doing your business, you instead use this small sprayer attached to the wall next to the toilet (Use your LEFT hand). Yes it cleans you nicely but leaves your special place awfully wet. This is a feeling I am not yet sure what to do about but as I said, that is all the detail I am willing to share. I’m sure you could figure out how to reenact the experience for yourself if you so desire.
Before I leave you all this time, I want to give you a taste of where I am staying. Below is a photo of the upstairs living room outside of my bedroom. Pets are not common here although some people have cats. Dogs sadly are thought to be dirty in their religion. We have no pets (good thing because I am allergic to cats) however, because of the majority of our doors leading straight outside, I often find pigeons in the living room. I happened to snap this photo right before they flew away. I hear their cooing day and night.
Alright my lovelies, the other students and I are off to a fishing village to spend time with a woman who heads a NGO called Creative Solutions.
Live your lives doing what you love and make sure love everything you do. At the very least, love the things you spend the most time on and love the people you spend your time with. Smile. Breath. Enjoy the day.