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.
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. http://tanzania.usembassy.gov
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.