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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