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Changes Around the House

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.

 

Home to Pigeons

 

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.

~Olivia~

Let us talk about FOOD

First off, the food here is delicious. Especially so because my older sister, “dada” in Swahili, at my home stay loves to cook and thankfully also seems to have a talent for it. You know how they say you love the things you’re good at? Well unfortunately that is not always true but I promise you that in this case, it very much is. However, although almost everything I eat is chock full of scrumptious flavor, the vast majority of the food I am fed on a daily basis falls within the categories of bread, sugar, or one substance or another that has been coated and fried in oil. As I said, delicious. Not, however, healthy. Being used to a wholly vegan diet back in America which consists mainly of fresh vegetables, fruits, and grains, my new diet here has been a bit of a shock to my system.

While living with a family, I truly have had the opportunity to experience traditional Zanzibarian food and I greatly appreciative of this. I let my sister know what of each meal I especially enjoy and which items do not particularly strike my fancy however I only have so much control before I either am no longer eating traditional food what so ever, or I stop being fed because the foods I am used to in America are simply not available here. Because of this, even before my arrival, I chose to expect the expansion of my horizons with the exception that I would continue to be vegetarian. I kept this restriction for two reasons. The first being that non meat items seem fully more sanitary and the second being that because I have not eating meat since I was in 6th grade there is no doubt that it would make me sick and Africa is not where you want to get sick.

I am writing this to in no way complain about what I am being fed but to instead bring out the differences in diet (major differences for me compared to the other students since I am coming from a plant based vegan diet) and share my feelings about suddenly going from one way of eating to another and the effects that change has had on me.

I am going to take you through a usual day for me from the perspective of what appears on my plate.

One beginning side note, which makes me appreciate even more deeply my choice to study on an island: THE MANGOES ARE INCREDIBLE. I thought I knew mangoes but when I cut into my first one here, the deep, rich orange pulp reminded me more of the inside of a pumpkin than any mango I have ever seen before. The feelings of both shock and excitement overwhelmed me. After my first taste I was hooked and on the first day of my home stay I happened to mention to my sister “I like mangoes” (“Ninapenda embe”). She told my grandfather and now like clockwork there is a cut mango waiting on the table for me every morning when I come down for breakfast.

Okay, back to my day.

Breakfast:
*As I said, mangoes mangoes mangoes mangoes and I could not be happier.
*Always a mango but often other fruit is included as well. The bananas (ndizi) are tasty, as is the pineapple (nanasi). However, the watermelon (tikiti maji) is seriously and surprisingly lacking. Not only from lack of flavor but also from excessive seeds which makes each bite a small excavation in attempt to consume the actual fruit.
*Eggs (which I was not used to). When I say eggs, I mean eggS. Usually 3, which are honestly 3 more than I need, but I eat as much of them as I can fit inside me because my busy schedule demands protein for energy.
*Bread. This is a staple in almost every meal but the specific type differs depending on what my sister chose to make the night before. I am not used to eating this much bread. I am full (“Nimeshiba”) has become a frequently uttered phrase.
*Chai – This is the Swahili word for tea, any type of tea. My sister’s favorite to make is milk tea (chai ya maziwa), which contains a nice spice however the milk base is also new to my diet. It is honestly also challenging to drink such hot liquids while already sweating from every pore in my body.

Lunch:
SWEET FREEDOM
Each student receives a weekly stipend to use on lunch at a number of locations of our choice. Often, we end up saving the majority of our money either because we are too full from breakfast, expecting to be stuffed full at dinner, or want to use those extra shillings on a chilled milkshake at an internet café once classes are over.

Dinner:
This meal is often eaten as late as 9pm although I think my family believes I like eating earlier so my sister will often serve my food closer to 7:30 or 8 and kindly sit and chat with me as I consume deliciousness. Dinner includes a much greater variation than breakfast. This is appreciated however the meal is more often than not still centered around some form of carbohydrates.
*Bread is almost always present.
*If bread isn’t there, rice will always be. Often both.
*Luckily some kind of vegetable.
*Beans (often cooked with onions).
*Yummy fried foods (anything from bananas to potatoes to something unfamiliar)
*Chai chai chai
*I always add hot chili sauce to kick the meal up a notch!

Lastly, it is common and expected of us to consume gargantuan quantities at each meal and if we do not, our reasoning is questioned.

Here’s hoping I don’t come home 20lbs heavier!

Oh what a beautiful place this world is, let it inspire you. How lucky we are to call it our home.

~Olivia~

Cultural Differences and the Official 2 Week Mark!

Although my time in Zanzibar has only been a mere two weeks, there is already a wealth of amazement I could share about this beautiful little Island. This second weeks seems to be moving faster than the first but that honestly only means that each adventure we partake in is rapidly becoming squished closer and closer together. I already know by the second week that my future self will look back on these days and only see one long, progressive event rather that the compellation of smaller, detailed stories building upon one another, piece by piece. This worries me because I don’t desire to forget a moment of my time here. I don’t want to remember solely the main events but instead understand how each separate day, each separate story, helped strengthen the experience as a whole.

 

There is too much detail to be shared at this point, my time here has been fully packed day in and day out, I feel overwhelmed when attempting to choose one topic to focus on when projecting my experiences out into the world.

 

Because I have plenty of time to tell my tales to the world (sometimes it feels as though the next few months are going to last a life time however at the end of each day I am consistently surprised that I am already staring head on at its completion) and because I believe these are some of the key differences between my American home and my new found home here, I am going to share a few of the major cultural differences that I find to be the most prominent in the way each Zanzibarian (and now the other students and I included) lives their daily lives.

 

*First I want to mention the importance put upon greetings in any situation. Yes, even if you are already twenty minutes late and only quickly asking for directions with the confidence that you are still ten minutes away from you final destination. It is not only polite but it is expected and ingrained into the culture to first say “Habari gani?” (What’s the news?). They may answer with anything from “salama” (peaceful) to “nzuri” or “njema” (both meaning something along the lines of good). The greeting section of the conversation could go back and forth maybe three times before the true purpose of the interaction is even mentioned and to be honest, even if after the greetings one person shares the pain they are feeling due to a loved one passing away or some other even that has brought sadness into their life, it is still custom to when first asked “habari gani?” to respond by saying they are just fine.

 

*The “loose fitting” clothes I brought are in no way appropriate to be worn here. The other students and I have already decided to add photos of our selves properly dressed to the student handbook for future semesters because the simple description of “loose fitting” is not enough to go by. With the pants and shirts I purchased from R.E.I. I honestly believed I was packing correctly, however I was quickly told that practically everything I brought was unacceptable and I started my trip off having to shop for a whole new wardrobe. “Loose fitting” by Zanzibar description means that if you are wearing something that makes any person walking by you see your shape or know that there is a curvy body underneath your clothes, your clothes are too tight. Now, I am in no way complaining. Trust me, I love wearing baggy, comfy, truly truly loose fitting clothes, but what frustrates me is that one could have already come to this conclusion by looking through my dresser back home. If only I had a stronger sense of what was worn here, I could have brought the correct clothes that I already own. Good thing a girl can never have too many pairs of soft, colorful, breezy pants.

 

*Along with the loose fitting clothing, truly we are not even supposed to we wearing pants if we were dressing traditionally, the other six girls and I have also been wearing scarves around our heads when going out in public (expect we occasionally slip up when eating inside at café dominated by tourists). At the very beginning of out time here, the head of SIT and our teachers gave us each a basket/bag with all of our school materials and two colorful kangas. A kanga is a large piece of fabric each colorfully printed with a design and a saying in Swahili. My kanga’s saying translates to something along the line of “be respectful to your parents and you will have a full life”. Every day since, we wear one of these beautiful scarves around our head in order to cover our prized hair so no one but our husbands can see. To be honest, I don’t even mind it anymore and actually feel uncomfortable/scandalous/naked if I walk out without one. The other ladies and I receive so many compliments when walking down the streets in our head scarves that sometimes we wonder if we would receive less attention if we just dressed like all the other tourists. At this point though, we choose cultural respect. Although it does not help with attempting to stay cool in the heat…

 

Until next time my loves

 

I am off on an all day excursion to take a look at how proper seaweed farming is done, visit some sea turtles, and explore a fishing village for the day.

 

I will post photos as videos as soon as I have the time!

 

Be happy and enjoy the day!

 

~Olivia~

After three days in Zanzibar…. a brief summary of my experiences thus far.

I have now spent three full days in Zanzibar. However, every time I remind myself of how short my trip has been thus far I continue to be shocked because these three days have been so packed with activities that it easily feels like I have been here for at least a week. The other students agree with this feeling. We discussed this with Helen, our academic director and she said these first few days are long, exhausting, and seem to go on forever but very soon our days will feel like they are flying by. She said this semester will be the quickest three and half months of all of our lives.

Unfortunately this is going to be a rather short post because I have a fair amount of homework, have to pack to go to Paje, and am waking up early (6am) to get some exercise by walking along the beach with Helen and a few other fellow students. I did want to get at least a short post in thought because we will have very little internet access in Paje and will be there tomorrow afternoon until Friday afternoon. I’ll give you all a little peak into my future, Friday we are all swimming with dolphins!! I plan to bring my gopro so get your selves prepared for some spectacular video footage. The content will be surreal however I am promising nothing in the actual quality and skills relating to how the video is taken. It is only the first week, I am still learning, so please give me some time!

Because of my rushed nature, I am just going to go over a few of the highlights of the past three days!

*First off, the other students are great! They are all very friendly, extremely supportive, optimistic, and excited and ready to learn and soak in all that is offered to us.

*The food is very DELICIOUS! Chakula ki tomu sana! Some of my favorites have been sesame bread, mashed sweet pumpkin, sliced eggplant fried in beans, and tonight we all went to a fairly touristy restaurant for our first dinner on our own and I ate a very much needed chickpea mango salad! Too many carbs and not enough fresh veggies in my opinion but we have to be careful with the produce we purchase.

*WE WENT SNORKLING! The water was excessively choppy which made the twenty minute boat ride to and from the reef slightly nauseating. However, once we were floating in the water, looking down upon the gorgeous fish, I could have stayed floating there for hours on end. Again, I will bring my gopro next time so expect exciting videos!

Again, I sincerely apologize for the brevity of this post. I will do my very best to post again later this week but if not, I will catch up with all of you next week when I will have much more reliable internet and my laptop frequently on hand.

I do also want to share with all of you the challenges of living in a drastically new place and the wide array of cultural differences I have experienced thus far.

Remember to enjoy the day and love yourself even when times are tough.

Life truly has great beauty to offer in so many shapes and sizes.

 

Talk to you soon,

~Olivia~

Tomorrow is the day we have all been waiting for.

Today is Wednesday, January 21st and my plane to Zanzibar takes flight at 10:14pm on tomorrow. Well, truly the first plane takes me to my layover in London, the second will take me to Nairobi, then finally the third plane I board will deposit me onto my final destination of the tiny African island called Zanzibar, right outside of Stone Town. I arrive at 10:10am on January the 24th which, even taking into account the time difference, leaves me about a day and a half residing solely in the mode of what I have decided to deem “travel limbo”.

For this time I will be not where I began and not where I will end. This leaves me in a state of uncertainty. I wonder of the ways in which the life I am going to leave will continue to develop with my absence and how the new life I am gearing to enter into will mold around me as I find my niche within their current existence. This state of travel limbo leaves me unable to answer either of these questions with certainty. Therefore, I plan to bring two novels along on the ride, each hopefully holding the power to take me out of my lost world and encapsulate me within another. The novels I have chosen are, Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer (for the novel’s adventurous theme and the pure practicality that its a thick but stout book which, to a traveler, translates to the two key points of   *the novel is long so it’ll keep me occupied for a great deal of time  *the novel is small so it fits unobtrusively in my pack), and Americanah by the African writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (a few days ago I went to Literati, my favorite local book store in my hometown of Ann Arbor, inquiring about novels by African writers. This one stood out, obtaining high praise from the woman at the store and after glancing at the back of the novel, seemingly high praise from the rest of the world as well). Without having read more than a couple pages of either of the two novels, I am hoping and expecting one of two outcomes from each. The novel either transports me into a new world, more grounded, secure, and after a while, more familiar than the one I may at the present time find myself in. Or, it, as I always hope each novel I read in one way or another will, gives me insight into how drastically people differ in every aspect of who they are, leaving me with everything of a new perspective and deeper understanding of the greatness this world holds. All of which I am lucky to even begin to comprehend.

Once I arrive in Zanzibar and begin to figure out who I am going to be in this new place, I will be living for the next three and a half months moving from location to location carrying around all of my possessions on my back. I have always loved being in small spaces and even as a child expressed to my parents my wish for a smaller room while they responded with confused looks regarding my uncommon desire. As I have gotten older and learned more about the world outside of my little bubble, I have come to want to let go of my large quantity of unnecessary possessions and instead live a simpler life where I focus on collecting experiences rather than tangible things. This upcoming experience of bringing with me only the items I can carry on my back will hopefully begin to fulfill the need within myself to live simply.

That being said, I admit to purchasing numerous items in preparation for my adventures. However, rather than making these purchases purely out of want, the items I bought were all required by my program and will be necessary to have in Zanzibar’s foreign environment. Some of these items include…

*Head lamp (necessary for the uncertainty of when I’ll have electricity)

*STERIpen (to insure I always have safe drinking water)

*Wide brimmed hat (oh the sun)

*Chacos (said to be the most durable, supportive, water proof, and secure sandals available)

*Just a few quick dry shirts, pants, and underwear (along with a sink stopper to aid in many easy washes)

*Snorkel, flippers, and mask

*Swahili phrase book

*Sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen (I burn so yes I am bringing four bottles)

Luckily, when I traveled to India a few years ago, the airport broke the handle off my luggage. Therefore, before returning I was forced to purchase a large backpacker’s backpack to replace my rolling suitcase. I say this is lucky because I purchased this pack for the equivalent of about 40$US where as if I were to buy a similar pack in the states, the cheapest one would be nearly 200$. Sometimes life makes you understand why people say an unfortunate event could really be a blessing in disguise.

Below is everything I have stuffed (and attempted to organize) into my pack which is what you see on the left side of the photo.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0006.

For Christmas my parents gave me a GoPro video camera to record my adventures. So stay tuned to see some amazing shots of this beautiful little island, including the intricate yet expansive under water world I will uncover while snorkeling! My goal is to be conscious of the present and enjoy the lessons and experiences each day bestows upon me 🙂 This planet is implanted with amazing wonders and I wouldn’t feel as if I was living up to my full potential if I did not try to go find them.

I am going to leave you with the Calvin and Hobbes quote I got tattooed on my feet a couple of years ago and what I consider to be my life motto and the base of how I treat the world around me and myself within it.

“Explorers are we, intrepid and bold. Out in the wild, amongst wonders untold” -Bill Watterson

Talk with you again soon, and remember to appreciate all the world has to offer you!

~Olivia~