Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Language on a Spice Island - part 1

The second part of our Language School experience took us to the spice island of Zanzibar! Many people think of relaxing on beautiful white beaches and swimming in azure waters when they dream of Unguja (as it is properly known along with Pemba and several smaller islands making up the Zanzibar Archipelago), but for us we were looking forward to another 4 weeks in a classroom.

                                       The benefit of going to Zanzibar for Language School is that you are completely immersed in the Swahili language and culture from the moment you step off the ferry. And a very different culture from Dar too with much more of an Arab influence and small island feel.


  Zanzibar is very safe. I felt much safer walking around with the children through Stone Town than I ever would in Dar and I certainly wouldn't be out by choice in the streets from dusk onwards in Dar! There was no bag snatching, no pick pockets, no feelings of mistrust or uneasiness. The Zanzibarians seemed to hold to a different ideal from the mainland - they could trust each other and you could trust them. Was this the influence of a strong social and religious network on a small island? I don't know, but I do know that to relax and not be sceptical or suspicious of everyone who offered their help to us, took at least a week or more as you simply trust no-one in Dar unless you have known them a long while and even then cultural attitudes are so different that you can never be too sure.

We were up at 6.30am to be out of the hotel by 7.30am (hopefully if breakfast wasn't too late) to walk through the markets toward The University of Suza, department of languages for foreigners. Walking through the markets at that time in the morning you are definitely not a tourist! As we were studying at a Muslim university we had been asked (both me and Robyn), to cover our hair as it was both a cultural thing as well as 'religious'. Only our husbands are allowed to see our hair.

We happily did this as we were more readily accepted both within the University but also out in the streets, we were seen as being respectful towards the Zanzibarian culture. It even became quite a challenge to see which one of us could get their headscarf on the best - inevitably Robyn won every time! We got less stares from both men and women when we had the headscarf on and got cheaper prices at the market too!

Gradually we became a regular sight rushing through the market, past the cow hides heaped in a pile by the side of the path, the legs from knees to hooves in another, and occasionally if you were lucky as you picked your way across the streams of blood dripping from the little pick ups that had just delivered the carcasses, you saw the heads of the cows in the baskets of a bicycle or two. One day Harry pointed out the head of a most gorgeous black cow which still had it's horns attached - he thought it would look good on our car!

Didn't have a picture of cows and yes that is a crow on its back!  
The children's attitude to meat and where it comes from has changed over the last 2yrs. They look at animals differently - I am not allowed any more to name the cows that wander along the road on the way home from school as they will be slaughtered and then the children fear I won't let them eat meat until I know it's not 'my' cow!

They also know where fruit and vegetables really come from, and rice that doesn't come clean and prepacked, that you have to pick stones and other bits out of it as with the sugar. Flour must always be sieved if you don't want to eat the bugs that are always there no matter how careful you are at storing it!!

 4,000Tsh - cheap at less than £2 but not when you only earn 5,000 a day! 
 Fish, however, is amazing! Freshly caught and brought in from the dhow (small fishing boat synonymous with Zanzibar), and all colours; red, blue, pink, green, usually bigger than anything I've seen before. And the variety - no Cod or Haddock here; Red Snapper, King Fish, Changu, Sword Fish, Rays, Octopus, Squid, Lobster, tropical fish I don't have names for and huge Tuna, Prawns - the list goes on.


This one arrived on the back of a bike!
Being so close to the sea wherever you are on Zanizibar, the market was the place to go to see the 'Catch of the Day'.                                                  
However, the smell from the butchers corner and the fish end was not to be taken lightly. Luckily August is a relatively cool month, so the heat hadn't worked it's magic to the pungent aroma by lunchtime when we would walk back through the melee.

We have all learned to breathe only through your mouth and observe closely what is around you with your eyes  - the sense of smell is very overrated at the market!

Huge Rays will find themselves on the hotel menus tonight
 I thank God for this experience as now our kids know the value of food, the hard work that goes into growing/catching and preparing it, the time involved as well as the effort, the simplest of meals is often hard won. They know where it all comes from and how it got to their plates. Hopefully they will never take food for granted and appreciate it for what it is truly worth.
God gave us an amazingly bountiful earth, hopefully they know now not to abuse that gift and treat the earth and all that is in it with the stewardship that was entrusted to us.

It was Ramadan for the first 2 weeks of our stay - the Muslim month of fasting - so there was no cooked food available (except in hotels whose prices were definitely for western tourists), from 5am until 6pm - during the fast even drinking water is prohibited. Ramadan is more strictly adhered to in Zanzibar than on the mainland where you wouldn't even know it was happening.  In Dar there is such a plethora of  Churches and different traditions that there is what seems a greater freedom not to stick so strictly to such religious practices although I am sure there are many who do, it's just not so obvious.
Ramadan caused us quite a problem initially as 2 teenage boys and a 10yr old girl need their lunch!  As we walked back to our guest house room we saw food but had no means of cooking it!
Initially we decided to wander around and see if anyone was selling Chappati or anything the kids could take back and eat.

 For the first couple of days we found dates - fresh, juicy, amazing dates! Dates are huge for Ramadan so we ate dates for lunch. One day we even managed to find some chappati's but then had to find somewhere to eat them as we couldn't eat in the streets as this would be insensitive during the fasting hours.

Children are allowed to eat but would eat at home and once over around 12yrs old they would be encouraged to fast - not an option for my boys who needed food!!

The people of Zanzibar were very understanding though and really appreciated our desire not to be insensitive. I found myself thinking of Paul in his letter to the Corinthians (1Cor 9 vs 19-23), how his freedom in Christ allowed him to choose to be a 'slave' to win others for Christ. By dressing sensitively and wearing a headscarf so as not to upset the Muslim majority, especially during Ramadan, God open doors through which we were able to witness.

Robyn dressed for school

Many asked if Robyn and I were Muslim. When I said "No, Christian," they then wanted to know why we wore the headscarf  - an open door through which I was able to explain that we wanted to respect them and love them just as Jesus loved them.

On more than one occasion I was able to tell of God's plan of salvation for them through His son Jesus. Often the look of surprise that God would actually come to earth and die for them was something I will never forget. In 2013 although many in Zanzibar would claim Christianity and Islam to be 'the same - wanting peace and loving God', they still don't know that God in His love and mercy came to earth in the form of His only Son to die for them. All because of His grace and mercy - not because of what we can do to win favour, but because the Creator God wants a loving relationship with His creation - God reached down to man as man could never reach high enough to God.

No comments:

Post a Comment