When I first arrived on Zanzibar Island off the coast of mainland Tanzania, it was my first time setting foot on the continent I had longed to travel to. Africa had always attracted me. Everything about it drew my attention; it’s rich ethnic and linguistic diversity, its vast landscapes and wildlife, its unique history and often troubled political climate and its vibrant and lively people. So you can imagine I was thrilled when I got the opportunity to volunteer in Zanzibar for six weeks teaching the Emerging leaders program with the NGO Youth Challenge International. Being an overseas volunteer virgin I was not sure what to expect but what I found was challenging, surprising and a whole lot of fun!
The first thing that struck me when I arrived on Zanzibar island was the assault on my senses, the sights, smells, tastes, and sounds were all new to me. As I walked through the endless array of market stalls in Sokoni, Mwanakwerekwe the smells of fresh octopus and fish hit me immediately. I was not prepared for the sheer amount of market stalls brimming with fresh fruits and vegetables, spices and herbs, grains and rice, and the assortment of fresh sea food from red snapper to octopus, laid out expertly for my eyes to feast on. I wandered the endless pathways looking like a child in a candy store admiring the fresh produce stacked in their neat piles and enjoying the waft of cloves and cinnamon that filled the air around me.
I smiled politely as the stall owners attempt to sell me everything from dried octopus skin to sugar cane juice spiced with ginger. I declined the former and savored every sip of the latter. The local stall owners and fellow shoppers seemed to find my presence both surprising and amusing. I was visiting a market rarely frequented by foreigners or mzungu as the locals refer to me as, I am sure I looked out of place and disoriented by my surroundings. However, they took my naïveté in stride and politely welcomed me and offered me their produce at “the best price”. Once I emerged from the hustle and bustle I was carrying three spice boats, a loaf of Zanzibar bread, one pineapple, and two passion fruits and the store owners I purchased from smiled at their small victory. I felt 9,000 tsh lighter but I was thoroughly satisfied. I awkwardly dodged my way through the pedestrians, dalalas, street venders, and the occasional donkey cart to Kivulini Street. I only know the name of the street because I was told so, there are no street signs to speak of and I recognize the street based on the size and quantity of potholes that adorn it. One risks the integrity of their vehicle undercarriage attempting to cross its narrow rocky crevices.
Thankfully for this journey I am on foot. As I make my way through the street; I pass local shop owners, a car repair shop and a welder who looks up from his work to greet me with a large smile “Karibu Kwetu” (welcome to our country), “Asante sana” (thank you very much) I reply and pause to admire his handicraft. He is expertly welding gates for residential purposes the hot sun is beating down on him as he completes his work. His hands show the signs of hard work and his face years of experience, he holds his welding mask in his left hand, unused while he works. I give him a thumb up to acknowledge his craft he smiles and I decide to leave him to his work.
As I continue down the road I notice here are several goats grazing in the soccer field adjacent to my homestay and they look up as I pass by unimpressed with my presence. The hot mid-day sun ensures that football field is devoid of presence unlike after sunset when the throngs of young football hopefuls flock to practice their skills. As I walk, the neighborhood children call out to me mzungu…mzungu…mzungu…I smile and greet them with “mambo” to which they reply “poa” I give them high fives and they follow me with more children gathering as we walk. I turn right down the next road and make my way to my modest homestay, a refuge from the hot African sun.
Christine Hunter, Youth Innovator, Tanzania, 2013
YCI is currently recruiting for an 8-week project in Tanzania this May 6 to July 1st to work with our partners on leadership, health and education initiatives.