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Extra, extra read all about it. Just off the press, the latest newspaper Swahili time.

Newspaper stand – extra, extra read all about it. Just off the press, the latest newspaper from Zanzibar.

During my first week of classes, I booked a couple of small business client appointments at 2:00 p.m. only to be told this was too early. I scratched my head and rescheduled for 4:00 p.m. On both occasions I was stood up. I was told Swahili time was different.

I figured this meant that being on time was about allowing for a more flexible schedule because I was in a hot weather climate (and in the afternoon a slower pace is needed to protect against the heat) or there was more of a cultural focus on relationships (developing relationships requires time to establish trust and experiences to bond). Both are probably true but in Swahili culture there is a different way to view time.

Swahili time starts at sunrise and ends at sunset in a 12-hour block and then is repeated at night. Tanzania is close to the equator and the sun rises and sets around 6:00 about the same time every day. Saa moja asubuhi means “hour one morning” or rather 7:00 a.m. I learned to be very clear when booking village appointments, and to ask, if this meant on Swahili time. So my understanding of 4:00 p.m. translates to 10:00 a.m. Swahili time and 6:00 p.m. is Swahili noon. Many coastal villages still follow the Swahili sunrise to sunset schedule.




When I first started my small business research, I asked village micro-entrepreneurs about how they measured business growth and profit. I learned quickly this did not translate well. Basic business concepts were not taught in school and the Swahili culture is less about long term planning. The local fishermen measured business success by the number of fish caught in a day. I realized I had to change my interview questions to more about basic needs and immediacy. For instance, how many more bags of rice or food does your business bring into the household per month? What do you spend the extra money on?

Many times entrepreneurs were organized into co-operatives. So when requesting interviews with business leaders the entire co-op wanted to be present or all members interviewed. Everyone in the group needed to feel important and included. This became tricky when interviewing a group of 40 people. Sometimes they would all chat at once and at other times there might be competing factions among the group. In these situations, I would sift through the conversations listening for key business people and direct questions to them. This could at times take several hours.


Asking about household income is always a sensitive topic no matter what the culture. This is compounded when up to one-third of the men in Tanzania have more than one wife. This is a normal part of the local culture and religious beliefs. In these situations income inquiries became complicated and the answers convoluted. So it was important to get a clear picture of the number of households, co-wives, children and extended family members involved in income generation. Asking politely about the number of sister-wives helped immensely. I learned this tip from a colleague in the field.

Developing interview questions and procedures based on definitions of micro-enterprises in the U.S. was one thing. It was quite another process to interview an entire village co-op while sitting on the ground barefoot with a translator in the African bush. I learned real-time, and the hard way about the challenges that can occur with interview protocols across cultures, religions, languages and group dynamics.



Food is fresh on Zanzibar. Villagers go to the outdoor fish market to buy octopus or the catch-of-the-day. Fishermen bring in their selection to display proudly and haggle with prospects over price, quantity and size. Retailers offer red onions, bell peppers and tomatoes grown in their own Shamba (food garden) to be mixed with rice or added to salad. The local neighborhood markets are a buzz several times a day.

To prepare the evening meal, firewood or charcoal is collected or purchased. These resources are limited and Zanzibar is running out of trees and charcoal is made from burning trash. This creates a heavy, acrid smoke. People often have sinus conditions from the smog in the air. Water is fetched from the local well sometimes an hour walk away. The fire is lit in the house, the fish is smoked or fried, and kitchen work is done on the floor. Sometimes a little stool is used in a squat position for shredding coconut and chopping vegetables. Dinner sometimes can take several hours to prepare.

The men return from work and children come home after school. Prayers are said at dusk and families sit together on a floor mat to eat. At night women tend to children, gossip on door stoops, and men congregate at local kiosks to sip Chai tea and discuss events of the day. Most cannot afford electricity so without power bedtime often occurs around 9pm. They live on $3 to $4 a day and have few basic necessities but they are still relatively happy and do not go hungry.



I met several African artists on Zanzibar each with a different story to tell. There are painters, sketch artists, and even one who creates post cards from natural fiber paper. Some work in small studios in Stone Town producing colorful animal paintings for tourists; others specialize in reproductions of old buildings, ruins and beaches. It is difficult to be a successful artist on Zanzibar but here are some extraordinary examples.

Photo by Christiane Thompson

John Da Silva, famous artist has made it his mission to save old Zanzibar buildings. He draws, sketches and gives lectures on the architectural history of Zanzibar and collects old post cards of Stone Town. He spends hours trying to archive these works for museums and future generations along with displaying his drawings of buildings from a time that no longer exists. John is an artist who has become an historian. At seventy he is a force to be reckoned with and he tells a great story. 


Hamad Mbarouk Hamad runs the Cultural Arts Center in Stone Town. He paints, designs tee shirts, has a retail shop and supports the local art community. He gives drawing lessons and showcases young artists. He is proficient in many artistic mediums but prefers painting old doors. In Arab culture, front doors were quite ornate and made of heavy wood, embellished with medal studs and unique designs to represent the wealth of a family. There are historical tours in Stone Town that feature the more elaborate family doors. Hamad is an artist who has learned to be an entrepreneur by necessity.

This is my last blog post from in country. My Fulbright experience is ongoing but classes start up in the US next week. I have learned a lot about Tanzania, Swahili culture and doing business on Zanzibar. The people are what make this place special. I hope the small business owners I have worked with challenge the *status quo*. I will check in on them from time to time, give updates, and continue to tell their stories. What has been learned from people like John and Hamad becomes best practice models for future generations. The take away – what it means to be a successful small business owner in Africa. Kwa heri!!! (Goodbye in Swahili)



I went on a weekend safari with colleague Professor Michelle Morin from Johnson & Wales University who was visiting me from Providence, Rhode Island. We started with a short aircraft flight to Saadani National Park with what we thought would be a regular airline flight instead of a 4-hour car ride on a bumpy road. 

The mini plane had a 20 year-old pilot the same age as our students. He was confident, professional and courteous but imagine a go-cart with lawn mower engine and wings landing on a dirt runway with simple overhang for a waiting area. The Saadani Safari Lodge coordinates with the airline to make sure passengers are picked up in a timely fashion so as not to be stranded in the game park. This eco-friendly hotel offers coastal village tours and uses locally made soap products. The proceeds go directly to the village communities. This hotel might be a fit to work with our coastal entrepreneurs to sell their products.

Speaking of stranded, Michelle and I went on a river safari and game drive (twice) because the first time the safari jeep broke down at dusk in the game park. We felt a little like the featured special of the day on the menu but this was all part of the adventure. We saw crocodiles and hippos in the water plus baboons, elephants, and the occasional giraffe on the drive. Saadani National Park is unique because it is the only wildlife preserve in Tanzania to border the sea and there are coastal entrepreneurs we work with around the park. Let me introduce you to one.

Rukia Sefu sells cattle at auction, makes fresh bread, farms vegetables with her family and has businesses tied to park tourism. Since taking entrepreneurship workshops and getting financing from our local NGO group the Tanzanian Coastal Management Partnership (TCMP), Rukia regularly qualifies for loans from the village SACCOS to start new ventures and she makes money. She is a problem solver, risk taker and is independent. 


Originally Rukia and 9 other women in the bakers’ guild received a commercial oven from TCMP. The group could not agree on where to keep the oven. Some of the women didn’t really participate in full time baking but still wanted partial ownership. Rukia convinced the women to keep the oven in her home because she did the most commercial baking. She suggested the guild charge an hourly rental fee including payments from her. This means guild members not participating in regular baking received some income.

More recently, Rukia started buying cattle from the interior of Tanzania and selling them at auction on the coast for profit. She reviews local cattle market demand before each transaction. She is good at what she does. TCMP has hired her to teach business workshops and family planning to area villages. She is a role-model for women’s empowerment.



SASIK (Saada Abdullah Suleiman Industry Karibuni)

Karibuni is the fashionable greeting of welcome in Swahili. The women of Sasik welcome all to browse their artistic and colorful handmade creations. Custom orders are quite possible.

Saada and her daughter Ayda run Sasik, one of the more successful women’s co-operatives on Zanzibar. They make pillows, furniture coverings, and wall hangings based on Arabic designs mainly for island hotels. The retail shop and workspace in Stone Town have a constant flow of visitors.

Ayda is always happy to give a tour. You can see us here as she talks about doing non-profit work that focuses on women’s empowerment. The women become entrepreneurs, learn an important skill set and make their own money for the first time.

MOTO (Community Based Craft Production) 

The men and women of MOTO make fashion handbags and household baskets using palm leaf and cotton promoting the Swahili traditional art of plaiting. Something that has been part of the East African coastal village life for many generations. The entire production process from color dying to weaving can be viewed at MOTO’s museum, workshop, and retail location. MOTO staff claim the project employes indirectly up to 600 people from numerous villages around Zanzibar. A selection of stylish products can be seen in island shops. And we are still taking orders until the end of July so consider gift options.

Upendo Means Love (Women’s Sewing Co-operative) 

This unique NGO offers sewing classes, pattern cutting and embroidery workshops, and retail internships to both Christian and Muslim women alike. This gives village woman of Zanzibar an opportunity to become seamstresses or generate additional income for their families. Situated in a multi-story building in Stone Town, Upendo’s production facility and retail shop feature clothes made from natural weaves and local fabrics in brightly colored African designs. Upendo serves local and European consumers and is quite popular with the youth marketplace.



The wedding industry in Tanzania is a BIG little business. It is almost time for Ramadan, the month where Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset as part of the Five Pillars of Islam. I saw four weddings today on my way home from the northern most point of Zanzibar. Every bus stop on my route was filled with island women in swirling colors of green, blue, purple, orange, yellow and black accessorized with a lot of glitz heading to wedding festivities. It is said that men search for wives at this time because after long days of fasting they can look forward to a home cooked meal and good company.

Swahili weddings are quite elaborate with ceremonies that can last several days for both men and women. During the season dressmakers, food vendors, henna painters, and traditional African massage therapists are in demand for both locals and tourists getting married. I spent time with a northern community discussing tourist options like staying in a local guest house and getting henna paintings similar to the traditional Swahili bride. Here I am having my ankle and wrist decorated with fanciful designs.

Speaking of Swahili bride, it just happened there was another wedding going on during my visit. I was invited by the henna painter to meet the bride as she was covered in special henna designs as part of the young lady’s pre-wedding rituals. The henna painter wanted me to see her more elaborate and custom work. As I entered the young bride’s home, there was a crowd of women dancing, singing and loud music everywhere. What I didn’t expect, to find the saddest bride ever with splashes of pink on the bed, door, window and in her gown. The henna beautiful, bride bittersweet, party makers jubilant and what I thought was an arranged marriage. I wish her the best of luck in her new life.

Young women and their families go through extensive wedding preparations in Swahili culture. A major part of this includes beauty treatments for the soon-to-be bribe involving natural scrubs, traditional oils rubbed into the skin, and incense to perfume herself before the big event. The more common incense burners are small clay pots with side vents. Charcoal is heated and the embers dropped in the burner with choice of flower, spice or other especially made wedding incense. The aromatic smells linger in the bride’s clothes and linens for days. She will then use the burner in her everyday married life sometimes to create a romantic setting for her husband, freshen the laundry or even make her new home more inviting for guests.



On May 26, 2012, riots broke out in the Stone Town area of Zanzibar. It was difficult to get accurate information and there seemed to be a news blackout of sorts at that time. Safely from my apartment, I learned what I could from social media, online communities and international news when available.

According to reports, a sheik was arrested after giving what was considered an anti-government and anti-Union speech. Hundreds of his supporters gathered to protest outside the police station. It quickly turned hostile and the police used tear gas and a riot broke out. Several churches and bars near Stone Town were subsequently burned and the military police spent the weekend tracking down the perpetrators.

I spoke to my landlord and neighbors and was advised not to go into town though my Swahili teacher was able to reach my place that Sunday. She said Stone Town had become a Ghost Town; all the shops were closed and no one was taking public transportation. That same night the main road in my neighborhood was blocked with trees, burning tires and trash. Cars could not enter or exit. Police check points were set up for the next few days.

The violence was blamed on different small fringe groups from Zanzibar separatists, to religious extremists to dissatisfied neighboring island natives and even over ownership rights of discovered oil. Everyone has a theory, but the truth seems a lot more complicated. Zanzibar has a rich and unique history, with many diverse groups but tolerance is the norm. The week following the riots the people were in a somber mood, almost melancholy. Zanzibar is an island of gentle people who just want to live peacefully and thrive economically. These types of uprisings seem to happen every several years mainly because a few frustrated locals sometimes don’t feel heard by the government.

On May 28, 2012 the US Ambassador to Tanzania, Alfonso E. Lenhardt, sent out an official statement where he “called on all parties involved to work together to maintain calm on the island.” Another advisory asked tourists to stay away from large gatherings, skirmish areas and take extra precaution when traveling.

And then, just as quickly as it started, it was all over. As I sit here today in my apartment viewing the city streets, life has returned to normal, with the exception of an increased military presence on the island. The resilience of these people is truly remarkable. Visitors have begun pouring in for the start of tourist season as though nothing happened. The shops have reopened, and the violence forgotten.

I however, consider this week to be a part of my Fulbright experience that I will remember for the rest of my life. My admiration for this beautiful island and its people grows with each passing day.



Pemba, aptly named “The Green Island,” is known for its lush, green landscapes and rolling hills. The rich, fertile soil make it the more agriculturally dependent of the two islands that make up the Zanzibar Archipelago, with an organization of small farmers who sell cloves directly to the government trading company. Tourism, however, is just starting on the island so the infrastructure is not well developed.

What my travel companions (from the US and Israel) and I found at the end of bumpy roads was natural beauty, flourishing wildlife and real opportunity for small business development. We went for a weekend to see the infamous Flying Fox bat sanctuary, tour the main city, sample local cuisine, watch cultural entertainment, and visit old mosques and ruins. What we came away with was an appreciation for the richness and diversity of what makes up the Zanzibar islands’ “natural replenishment philosophy”. 

The fruit bats at the Flying Fox sanctuary are quite large and prefer to eat mangos. This group was once on the endangered species list but conservation efforts have brought them back. The monies collected to view the sanctuary are used towards preservation and economic development for the community that protects the bats. Watching hundreds of bats fly overhead for over an hour in the jungle felt like being in a Hitchcock film. The bats are quite graceful, red and gold in color and almost translucent in sunlight.

We also visited the Chake Chake town museum, trade market and soccer stadium with Dhamir Ramadhan Yakout, Managing Director of Imara Tours and Travel. He set us up in a reasonable hotel and personally guided us through two days of adventure, greeting us every morning with fresh juice and local island stories. Dhamir is a Public Auditor for the island government during the week and runs the tour company on the weekends. He also has one main tour guide who takes care of the majority of clients from Europe. The guide is supposed to be one of the best on the island.

As an ambitious entrepreneur, Dhamir hopes the tour company will take off this year and he also wants to start a dairy NGO to help local farmers. Dhamir has a strong sense of pride in his island and he gives 10% of his profits to the community, well that is what he says anyways. Someone like Dhamir makes sustainable development possible because he offers local solutions to small business enterprises. He wants to work with the area villages to develop cultural heritage tours to accompany the bat exhibit.



Khamis Ali Pandu is the owner of the Jambo Restaurant and Dolphin Safari. This is his first year running the business and depending on how many travel companies he can get to sign up for the dolphin experience in the next 2 months will determine whether he makes it to a second season. We are helping Khamis with business planning, marketing collateral and with public relations.

Through travel companies, tourists can book to swim with wild dolphins at Kizimkazi, a beautiful village and pristine beach set at the southern coast of Zanzibar. This includes a boat trip to learn about the Bottlenose and Humpback dolphin species, snorkeling in a coral reef, sailing option to a small island with picnic or tasting locally caught, grilled Kingfish at the Jambo Restaurant which can also be used for large audiences and private functions.

The dolphin safaris at Kizimkazi demonstrate natural and marine resource management promoting sustainable ecotourism on Zanzibar. Khamis is a strong advocate for the protection of dolphins in their natural habitat. Khamis is also the Secretary of the Kizimkazi Dolphin Tour Operator’s Association and he is actively working to professionalize the boat operators so they can demand a livable wage.

Suzanne Degeling runs several small businesses and one NGO on Zanzibar. Suzanne is from Holland but decided to make Zanzibar her home after working as an adventure tour guide across Sub Saharan Africa. She owns the Kaya Shop & Tearoom that features unique African paintings, jewelry, and souvenirs made by local artists. Shellcraft jewelry produced by our village women is sold at the shop.

Suzanne is the Marketing Manager for Kawa Tours that features spice island and Stone Town tours, Jozani Forest monkey excursions and unique experiences such as the ghost tour and cooking workshop. This is an eco-friendly place that emphasizes culture and community. Along with the tour company, Suzanne started the Kawa Training Center in 2010. This NGO trains local youth to become competent tour guides knowledgeable in local architecture, nature-based resources and are eco-friendly. Suzanne hopes the training program will instill both a sense of historical pride and architectural curiosity in future generations across the island.

Robert Schnetzer is an up and coming entrepreneur on Zanzibar. He rented an apartment to me that I will be moving into later this month. He also introduced me to people in the expatriate community. Robert dabbles in real estate, rents out cars, brokers high end services to expats, provides custom tour experiences and will open some family businesses to include a laundry mat.

When he first arrived from South Africa, Robert lived for several months in a local village away from the hustle and bustle of town so he could get to know the people and learn the language. Robert said he was quickly accepted as an honorary local because daily he greeted the village grandmothers sitting on their porches. Robert has a background in the hospitality industry and he wants to help local entrepreneurs develop their own tourism businesses that are sustainable and resilient to off-season lows.