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May 24, 2012

WEEKEND VISIT TO PEMBA

by Erin Wilkinson Hartung

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.

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