Asante na kwaheri, Zanzibar

Now I have left Zanzibar. I feel kind of ambivalent about it. I am tired, actually very tired after a lot of work the last few weeks, and look forward to be able to relax. And I miss my closest back in Norway, so it will be very nice to see them again. But Zanzibar has also been a big part of my life for a while now, I have gotten to know a lot of nice people, and it is hard to leave the hospital, knowing that there are still so enormously many unsolved challenges there. So I think this will not be my last time in Zanzibar; I want to come back.

The last that happened before I took off from Zanzibar was both frustrating and a little funny, and in that respect it represented the conditions here very well: Carol and Gunn Elin (the two Norwegian nurses that I have very worked so close with in the hospital) drove me (and Vita, who works in the blood bank and was going home for her vacation) to the airport. The car was almost out of gas, and to avoid leaving the girls with a car with no fuel, I suggested filling gas just before arriving at the airport, so we stopped and got 20 liters. The minute we left the gas station I felt the car was behaving differently and exactly the moment we reached the airport the engine stopped. I have heard a lot of stories about people adding water in the fuel on Zanzibar, but it has never happened to me before, but I guess that was the problem. So this is Zanzibar at its worst.

But at the same time we got a demonstration of Zanzibar at its best: We didn´t even have to ask for help; the minute we started pushing the car (to get it out of the way for other cars), a big group of guys came to help us. I guess they did it both to be helpful and because they saw the opportunity of earning a little bit. And both of these things are also typical for Zanzibar. A taxi driver offered to drag the car to a garage, after some negotiation about the price Gunn Elin and Carol went off. I felt bad leaving them with a problem like that, but also this can be seen as a symbol of my departure from Zanzibar and Mnazi Mmoja Hospital: I feel a little bit guilty about leaving something so unfinished and feel that I am abandoning my nurses before our mission is completed. But to be honest; it will probably take many years before we are close to a result that we really can feel content with.

Transitions from one reality to another can be a challenge, especially when the realities in question are as different as the reality of Zanzibar and the reality of Norway. The last 8 months I have seen many things I never could have seen in Norway, I have experienced a lot, I have learned about a very different way of life and a complete different way of relating to stress, obligations, responsibilities and expectations to people around me. I have worked a lot and achieved something. I am actually completely exhausted, and very happy and thankful to know that the Peacecorps program includes a month off time to write reports and readjust to the home country. I can need that now, and I guess my understanding of Zanzibar will continue to evolve as I digest my impressions. So even though my stay in Zanzibar is over, the last post on this blog hasn´t been written quite yet.

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Generally Zanzibar is a very peaceful place. Yesterday evening and this morning, however, I heard sounds like guns were fired from outside of my house. I remembered that I heard similar sounds on the Revolution Day of Zanzibar (January 12th) which scared me a little, but that turned out to be just part of the celebration, so my first thought was that there is a new celebration going on, that I didn´t know about. But then I heard something that sounded like helicopters, and when one of my friends called me and said “Have you been outside? No, good. Please stay inside until I tell you otherwise” I understood it was a little bit more serious than that.

It turns out that there is a demonstration going on, and that there has been some violence. As always, internet is my best source of information (but mostly in the form of social media) and I have learned that there was a muslim leader that argued for separation of Zanzibar from mainland Tanzania yesterday, and after he was

arrested some protests started. There might also be a religious aspects involved, because there are reports of churches being set on fire on the island. According to some web pages the demonstrations were initiated by the Islamic group called Uamsho (meaning “awakening” in swahili, from the word kuamsha meaning “to wake someone”, related to kuamka which means “be woken”, to digress with some linguistics). Being in Africa, and thinking about how the revolusion here was conducted, I thought it was best to be cautious so I stayed inside, until I heard from my friend. And being inside, I didn´t get to see nor photograph what was going on, but others have done that.

At the same time, I thought that I might be overreacting. And after my friend called me again and I went out to meat him it seemed like things were back to normal, except that more police was out than usually. As we drove through the town, however, we could see obvious signs of that something had happened: Some places the police was walking around with helmets, bullet proof wests and guns, many of the streets were blocked, and there was still smoke from tires that had been sat on fire.

Now, as the evening has arrived, everything seems to have settled down. There are no more sounds of riots from outside. People are again siting in their usual spots, doing nothing, as they usually do, and I have still not found any big headlines on official media on the internet. Neither has any warning been sent out from the Norwegian embassy. So I guess the action is over, but I will be curious to hear what people can tell me on work tomorrow.

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Adaptation and integration

“Realise that things often take longer in Africa, and be philosophical and always polite if you want to get a favourable response from officials. Part of the African experience is to slow down to African time – you´ll wonder what all the stress and rushing about are for when you get home.” This is written in my guide book to Tanzania & Zanzibar, that I read before arriving in Zanzibar. But after 3 months, I wrote in my personal notes that I had not got comfortable with the slowness yet, and now, after almost 8 months and approaching my return to Norway, the same is still true. I am probably just too Norwegian to adapt when it comes to the inertia.

In some aspects I have gotten used to Zanzibar, though. The first 3-4 months I think my bowel had a hard time adjusting to the local bacteria flora, but by now my digestion has normalized agaun. And this time frame is a pritty good representation of the pace that the psych also needs to be comfortable with the enviroment. So after some months I started to feel that my surroundimgs became more and more normal and familiar to me.

One phenomenon that striked me as surprising was for example when I became aware of  my own reaction when seeing women without hijab: Strangely enough, my brain has learned that local women (those with African, Arabian or Indian traits) are supposed to have a hijab, while Wazungu women are not. So whenever I see a local woman without hijab (which I would say is the case for  less than 1 out of 1000 women), it catches my attention in the same way as seeing a European women with hijab would. It has nothing to do with what I think is right or wrong, appropriate or unappropriate. It just illustrates how the human brain is specialized in finding patterns and telling us when this patterns are broken.

But there are also a lot of thinks I have not got used to yet: For instance I still find it fascinating and exotic to see how donkeys and bulls are used to pull wagons in streets as if they belong there to the same extent as the cars. Or bikes. Or people walking. Or chicken crossing the street. Or whatever you can find in the streets. And another thing: I still think it is very impressive to observe how people (especially women) carry everything on their head, even suitcases with wheels.

With increasing language skills and small adjustments of my habits, like wearing sandals instead of shoes, eating chapatisamosa and urojo for lunch and so on, I have got many comments like “you are becoming a Zanzibarian now”, which I accept as compliments. But no matter how much I adapt to the daily life, and no matter how much I feel at home in Zanzibar, I will always be an outsider, an alien. I can never fool a Zanzibarian to think that I was born here. This is not surprising at all, but it is interesting to feel how all the small things (the way people look at you and talk to you, the way children -and even adults sometimes- shouts “mzungu” when they see you and so on) every day reminds me that I am not from here. The reason I think that this is interesting is because it must be the exact same for people living in Norway, who originally came from other countries, and I think this experience will make me understand them a little bit better.

Some parts of the African life style I have probably adjusted to, without realizing it clearly yet. I am curious to see which parts of Zanzibar I have started to take for granted and only understand that I appriciated when I am back in Norway and start to miss them.  According to what I have learned from others on similar exchanges, I can expect to face a culture shock that is even bigger when I return home, than what I experienced when I came to Zanzibar. I guess I don´t really know how much of Zanzibar has become a part of me, before I see it from the outside.

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There are many beautiful things to see on Zanzibar, but the most astonishing I think is the sunsets, which comes at the same time (6:30 pm) all year long, since the island is located so close to the equator. And because it rearly is cloudy here, you can enjoy nice sunsets almost every evening. I have been taking pictures, whenever  I have found time to just sit and watch the sun seting (except for the days I have forgotten my camera), and I have made a collage of them, that you are welcome to take a look on:

The end of this is a real time movie, proving how fast the sun is actually moving: From you can see all of the sun, until the whole sun disappear behind the horizon, it only takes about 2 minutes, which of course is because the sun is moving straight down, and not diagonally down towards the north, as is the case in Norway. This also means that in the middle of the day, the sun is not in the south, as I am used to from Norway, but rather in the middle of the sky above us. This is no surprise for anyone who know a little bit of astronomy, but still I find it interesting to observe with my one eye.

The effect of being near equator also makes the moon look a bit different: I am used to seeing the crescent moon opening towards the left or right, but here the positioning is slightly different, which suddenly made me understand why the muslim symbol is a lying cresent (hard to get good pictures of, but my best attempt can be viewed to the right). This symbol is often depictured with a star on top, which I think have to be venus, which you can also see very clearly on the sky in west. According to my experience it is especially easy to see this star just after the sunset, on approximately the same place as the sun was 1-2 hours previously.

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Harusi za Zanzibar

Weddings (harusi in swahili) are big things here in Zanzibar. For the locals it seems like weddings are the best parties they can imagine. And they talk about weddings often, probably because they attend weddings quite often. In Zanzibar, you see, it is considdered posh to have a lot of guests in your wedding, so this means that everyone you know (and most of the people they know) are invited, often several hundred persons. And that, of course, means that most people attend weddings quite often. So I have heard a lot about weddings, especially the female part of it. Because in Zanzibar men and women often do not celebrate together. (This is actually true not only for weddings; women and men have separate activities most of the time, if my observations are representative, and rearly interact outside work places.)

Finally, last Friday, I got the opportunity to come in a wedding personally. It was a close relative of my language teacher who got married, and together with some other of her students I was invited. All the guests on the grooms side gathered in the appartment of my teacher, and from there we had a small bus trip to the mosque where the ceremony was held. Most of the ceremony was outside (on blankets placed on the ground), where the men sat down. Women was not included in this, not even the bride, not even when the handshake that confirmed the marriage took place or when the certificate was filled out. I have learned in my swahili-classes that there are different words for marrying for a man (kuoa) and for a woman (kuoliwa), because men marry, while women are being married (by a man). Now I saw that this is the reality, not just in the words, but also in the action of marriage. Afterwards the groom went in to a small room where the bride was waiting for him on a bed, and we could take the first pictures of the newly wed couple.

I have heard stories about how women celebrate weddings, but not about the male part, so I looked forward to learn something about this. But it turned out that there wasn´t much to learn. When the ceremony was finished, I asked my language teacher where all the men were going now, and he answered “they are going home. Now it is only the party”, and by that implicitly saying “men do not party”, I guess. But since I was a foreign guest, interested in the traditions, I was taken to the (womens) party. Of course I couldn´t participate, so I sat in a chair on safe distance and watched. A little bit of handfood was served, and the women danced a little, but the whole thing didn´t last very long, only about one hour, before the bride arrived, and the party had a slight change of character:

First the bride marched slowly up through the crowed to a scene, where she sat down. Then the groom had the same kind of procession, except that he was escorted by two men, who I assume were kind of like best men. And without not fully knowing what was going on, I was suddenly part of this group, now consisting of four men. I felt like I didn´t belong there and suddenly took a lot more space and attention then I deserved, but I think it was an act of hospitality and friendliness, so when the groom insisted on having me there, I played along. It felt like a great honor for me, and probably it is kind of exotic to include a mzungu in your Zanzibari wedding pictures, so I guess it was a win-win-situation.

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17.mai i Afrika

Norges nasjonaldag er antagelig noe spesielt for alle nordmenn, men den blir nok ekstra spesiell for de nordmennene som befinner seg utenfor Norge.  Verken den tanzanianske eller zanzibarske nasjonaldagen ble gjort så mye styr ut av, synes jeg (det som skjedde de dagene var ikke engang spesielt nok til å bli omtalt her på bloggen), og det virket som folk flest bare så på de dagene som ekstra fridager og ikke noe mer. Så vi kan ikke regne med stor forståelse for at 17.mai er viktig for oss, men ikke desto mindre følte vi nordmennene som nå er her på Zanzibar at vi måtte gjøre noe ut av dagen. Og etter å ha fått en åpen invitasjon fra ambassadøren i Dar Es Salaam til å feire dagen der, ble valget enkelt.

Vi dro med båten etter jobb den 16.mai, og som jeg har opplevd tidligere, er det virkelig en stor overgang å komme fra Zanzibars primitive stil til Dar, som på mange måter minner om en hvilken som helst moderne storby. Vi sjekket oss inn på hotellet, fikk litt mat, og sov for å være klare for den store dagen. På morgen spiste vi frokost, pyntet oss, og var klare til avreise, men som vanlig I Afrika kan man ikke regne med at planene som blir lagt også blir fulgt:

Selv om vi hadde gjort avtale med en drosjesjåfør, så kom ikke han da han skulle, og etter å ha ventet en stund på ham før vi fant andre alternativer, ble vi en halvtime for sene til ambassadørboligen, og tenkte at vi ville gå glipp av arrangementet. Da drosjen vår også ble stoppet av en politimann, tenkte jeg at forsinkelsen kunne bli enda større, før jeg ett sekund senere skjønte at denne politimannen stoppet all trafikk i denne veien av en veldig hyggelig grunn: Det norske 17.mai-toget var på vei og hadde forkjørsrett. Så vi spratt ut av bilen og hev oss med i toget. Det var til og med et korps der, som spilte “Norge i rødt, hvitt og blått” da vi kom (fantastisk å oppleve at mennesker fra andre land spiller våre sanger for oss), så stemningen var allerede over min forventning, og i nostalgisk-nasjonalistisk lykkerus gikk vi rundt i en halvtime, både nordmenn og afrikanere, og viftet med norske flagg!

Det runden var fullført og vi var tilbake på ambassadørboligen vanket det is, høytidelig synging av “Ja, vi elsker”, oppvisning av barnekor, tale fra ambassadøren og flere, samt et lite show av en tanzaniansk dansegruppe, før man kunne få pølser, brus, vafler og kransekake. Deretter var det leker for barna (nei, jeg sto over i år, selv om jeg var fristet). Så var det noen timer fri (til sightseeing/ shopping i Dar es Salaam), før det var en mer “voksen” mottakelse tilbake i ambassadørboligen, der det så ut som diverse andre diplomater fra hele verden også var invitert. Igjen sang vi “Ja, vi elsker”, men denne gangen også den tanzanianske nasjonalsangen. Det var høytidelig og flott, men kunne ikke helt konkurrerer med den barnlige gleden fra tidligere på dagen. Uansett;

Alle ingredienser var på plass, de norske tradisjonene ble holdt i hevd, og det var en inkluderende stemning mot de ikke-norske, som er akkurat slik vi ønsker på nasjonaldagen vår, fordi det nettopp er slike solidariske verdier vi vil at skal definere Norge som land. Hurra for 17.mai!

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Human interaction

The extraordinary with The Norwegian Peace corps (Fredskorpset), if you compair them with other organizations in the field of developmental aid, is that their commitments are bilateral: All projects coordinated by Fredskorpset (FK), my project included, involve sending people not only from Norway out to the rest of the world, but also from the rest of the world to Norway. And this is precisely what I think is the strengths of these projects, and why we might be allowed to dream of greater results than we have seen from previous developmental aid. This, combined with the focus on cultural understanding and on how changes in a system can be accomplished, is what makes me believe that we as FK participants have more to offer than any other expert, no matter how much he knows about his field of expertise.

Already now, less than a year after the program started, several employees at the Mnazi Mmoja Hospital have been in Bergen and seen Haukeland Hospital. What they bring back from Norway, will probably have at least as much impact on the results of our program as whatever we (Norwegians going Zanzibar) can achieve. But this to-way-exchange also has another upside: They can describe us with very different eyes from those we see ourselves with, and can thus help us to understand our own society better. One of the persons who have been in Norway for example, told me about the following observation he made there: “No one talks to each other in Norway, if they don´t know each other from before. They just say “hello” and then they move on. It’s so strange. ”

Of course I have been aware of this difference in how people interact before the mentioned conversation, but because everyone use themselves and their own culture as a reference for what is normal, I have had (and probably still have) a tendency to describe this difference in behavior by saying something like “everyone on Zanzibar greet each other so elaborately that it can take ten minutes to move 100 meters, because there are so many persons you have to talk to on your way. “And this is actually no exaggeration. And sometimes this makes working hours in Zanzibar to become very inefficient. But this behavior has also got some positive implications:

Although I don´t even know the name of many of them, there are a lot people I greet and exchange a few “how’s it going?” (Habari?)- and “thank you, good and you?” (Nzuri. Na Wewe?)-phrases with every day. Also in Norway it is common to pass many of the same people every day in the daily routines of going to work, going home, shopping etc without really know them, but in Norway you will often barely have eye contact with them, while in Zanzibar it is probable that you will use 1-2 minutes for meaningless and futile, but friendly conversation. And maybe that is how it should be?

When I am leaving the house in Stone Town, my neighbors will ask me where I am going. And if we for some reason don´t see each other for a while, they will ask where I have been. Honestly, I find this a little bit intrusive and uncomfortable, but when I get the chance to investigate and reflect on my own reaction, I realize that it has more to do with a dysfunctional, Norwegian instinct then with any logic or reason. We are used to give each other so much privacy and space in Norway, that we become strangers to each other. And in the long run, this might be more harmful than we realize. In Norway, people demand single rooms in the hospitals; in Zanzibar the parents of sick children look after the child in the neighbor bed, while the mother is for instance on the toilet. It is like Shaban Rehman Gaarder writes in this her very insightful essay (written in Norwegian): “Isolation is the dark side of the welfare state” (Isolasjon er velferdsstatens skyggeside).

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