“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” ~ T.S. Elliot
When the former Director, Program Development at Youth Challenge International (YCI) asked me to work with them in Zanzibar, she was as enthusiastic about the opportunity to work with me as I was to work with them. She added, “I know it’s very short notice. Is it possible for you?” I responded without hesitation, “It’s Zanzibar. I will make it possible.”
The work involved collaborating with YCI Zanzibar and the Zanzibar Youth Forum (ZYF) to focus test a sexual and reproductive health manual with youth peer educators. It was a fortuitous integration of my early public health career in reproductive health and my more recent focus on building capacity for peer support to promote health. But for me, there were even stronger pulls towards the exciting opportunity.
For me, going to Zanzibar was coming full circle. I was going back to the country my grandparents, and parents migrated from. And I was going back to the last place from which I communicated to my dear friend Josh Fattal, before he was captured by Iranian forces and held hostage in Iran for 2 years and 2 months. Both circles I longed to close to fill the fissures in my life’s journey.
On the long flight from Toronto to Dar es Salaam, where I stopped for an orientation session with YCI Tanzania staff before heading to Zanzibar, I listened to iTunes on shuffle to help me relax and doze. I was jolted out of my reverie by the sound of my late grandfather’s voice coming from iTunes. I had forgotten that I had uploaded a recording an uncle made of my grandfather telling his life story. I had it on iTunes for some time, but found it hard to listen because even though it’s been years since my grandfather died, I miss him a lot. This time, as I was flying towards Tanzania, the country he made his home since childhood, seemed like the ideal time to listen.
I knew he had gone to Tanzania from India as a child, but much to my surprise, as I was listening, he told the story of going to Zanzibar at the age of 12 to work in a shop owned by his father – a shop that sold things from the plantations. So my great grandfather lived and worked in Zanzibar for some time, and my grandfather with him. My trip there grew in significance instantly. I imagined him wandering the streets of Stonetown, making his way to and from the plantations each morning to gather produce for the shop.
When I shared that story with my Zanzibar Youth Forum, and Youth Challenge International Zanzibar colleagues, they welcomed me as one of them. After my first meeting at Zanzibar Youth Forum, we walked out onto the street so that I could catch a bus to the YCI office. Taxi drivers, assuming I was a tourist, called out to me asking if I needed a taxi. My key ZYF liaison called back to them (in Swahili of course), “She’s not a guest! She’s from here. She doesn’t need a taxi!”
I beamed with historical pride, and the warmth of inclusion. Those deep feelings carried me through my transition from feeling overwhelmed in Zanzibar, with everything including food, language, transportation, cell phones, internet, and more being different, to feeling welcome and at home there. I have come full circle.
Farah N. Mawani, Health Innovator, Youth Challenge International
Check out our summer and fall line up of incredible health, environment, and education programs in Tanzania here(Link this –http://www.yci.org/html/volunteer/globally/calendar.asp. Check back for more blog posts from Farah’s experience with the Zanzibar Youth Forum soon.