These Are The Things I Want To Remember

I have about two months left here. 52 days. If we’re being honest, I’ve been counting down the days almost to the hour. If anyone looks you in the eyes and tells you, “it gets easier,” punch them. They’re lying.

At least when it comes to living in Zanzibar. I thought eventually I would feel.. normal. At times I have, but it’s usually fleeting. And I guess that’s the nature of it. In order to feel ‘normal’ I would have to completely check out. It would mean removing myself from my community and my environment. It would mean checking out and heading to the beach every weekend. Getting drunk at the resort parties that are comically similar sans time or place. (Comprised of mostly tourists with a few local beach boys capitalizing on the situation and selling 15-dollar joints to the ignorant wazungu.) Checking out would be easy.

But, to me, checking out is cheating. Being here would be a waste of time if I checked out. The experiences here, good and bad, are a part of a bigger picture, a bigger plan, but knowing that hasn’t made it any easier.

I don’t want it to seem like this place is a big suck hole, it’s not sometimes. I apologize if it seems like my posts are trending on the negative. I wouldn’t trade my time here for anything, but the biggest struggle is that despite however many amazing experiences you have, the bad ones can easily control your life. That’s true no matter where you are. Some of the most vivid and realistic memories I have are from times when I was battling with depression. At the drop of the hat I can picture with detail some of the darkest places I’ve been, but many of my favorite memories are muddled, almost lost. I can explain to you in heavy detail the first three days I lived in Zanzibar during my first trip, some of the longest and most terrifying days of my life. But, despite the role it played in changing my life, the rest of that trip looks like the pages of my notebook after being dropped in water, the ink spreading and mixing its colors, some words lost and others barely legible.

I don’t really know how to explain why living here is hard. I’ve talked before about the tangible things that make it difficult. I don’t know if I’ve ever talked about the intangible. I’ve talked recently with two friends about connecting our ‘real’ lives with the lives we lead outside the borders of the States, attempting to explain to people why you do what you do, and battling stereotypes of enigmatic ‘Africa.’ We settled on the notion that if you ‘get it,’ you get it. If you don’t, you probably never will. Some people, usually the most unexpected, are open and willing to learn, but most won’t be bothered to think outside their own lives. For these people the conversation will end with ‘yes, Africa was cool.’

For the others, the conversation might go something like this.

The tangible experiences change everyday. Being shoved into a truck bed at 8 in the morning, a feat bearable enough until you realize the dereva (driver) has some vendetta and is driving like he’s in his own personal game of ‘Grand Theft Auto.’ Having three adult women tell me I am selfish because I wouldn’t give them my money. Watching men fuck me with their eyes as they take slow drags from their hand rolled cigarettes. Facing men who think I owe them something. Most of this is, in a way, harmless. I try to remember that they might be trying to connect with me and that’s the only way they know how. Most people know a limited bit of English and most of it comes from American movies. ‘Hallo baby,’ and its other forms might be what they think I want to hear. (?) Recently though, I’ve been in a situation that made me fear for my safety and it has affected me in a large way. It is excruciating when you no longer feel physically safe in your life.

The intangible are more consistent, although different things can trigger them. Living in Zanzibar feels like I’m in a bubble. I have two lives, one I left behind and one I’m living now and will eventually have to leave. It’s hard to not feel like a stranger to people you once spent most of your days with. Relationships and friendships break down. You miss out on a lot.

Part of this intangible stress is how I’m counting down the days to go back to a place that is now foreign for me. That’s something you will never understand unless you’ve lived abroad in a radically different country. How can your home become a foreign place? I honestly have no clue where I will be even two weeks after I’ve returned. There’s a certain amount of anxiety that comes with returning and not knowing how you’ll fit back in. The only thing I know is that it’s going to be a struggle. Plans were made and fell through. People I was looking forward to see disappeared. Not knowing can be thrilling sometimes, but now it’s morphing into a knot of anxiety.

These are the things that start to control your mind. I think it’s important to remember the hard times I’ve faced, but it’s way too easy to forget the people who’ve filled my heart, both here and there.

These are the things I want to remember:

  1. Walking through my neighborhood on my way to work while most are already well into their days. There’s a group of about twenty kids who freak the fuck out when they see me. They usually refuse to speak to me but for a collective “HIIIII” screamed at the top of their lungs, which I swear lasts five minutes. I’m sure the entire neighborhood knows when I’m around because of them.
  2. There’s a bibi (grandma) in one of the houses I walk by. If she catches me I’m greeted with,”Shoga yangu, umepoteza! Hujambo?” (My best friend, where have you been! How are you?) I am going to fight to remember all the women, mostly strangers, who have deemed me their shoga (Best friend foreva) over the year.
  3. The way my five-year-old sister, Shuny, practically shits her dira (dress) every time I come home. I need to remember watching her running towards me, laughing so much I’m scared she might choke, and giving me a big kiss. When I was a kid I used to beg my parents to adopt a younger sibling for me. Now I have six. Shuny is my sidekick. I’ve loved watching her grow these last few months and witness the kindness and love she has. When I first arrived she was just turning five and she was kind of a brat, I think it comes with the territory of being the baby. Now, she’s caring and thoughtful. She is constantly sharing a piece of whatever she’s eating with me and telling anyone, “mpe Shelby kipande chake!” (Give Shelby her piece!) 
  4. Following behind a four-year-old boy who was running after mkubwa wake (his elder) holding a bucket for fetching water and trying to keep his too big pants from falling. He was calling out, “Hamid! Njoo, nifunge! Nifunge!” (Hamid! Come, help me button my pants!)
  5. Walking through my neighborhood and greeting the wazee (seniors) who spend their entire day drinking coffee and sharing stories barazani (in a sitting area). I want to remember their collectively grumbled “As-Salaam-Alaikum” (arabic for peace be unto you) and the way Bwana Farki quietly raises a kikombe kiduuuchu (tiny cup) to ask if I will stop for some coffee. We never share many words, but his small acts of kindness have given me a disproportionately huge blanket of comfort.

Once the three-month mark hit I started feeling sad for all the wonderful people I would be leaving behind. I have become grateful for the smallest of things and the most simple friendships. At this point though, I’ve been hit with disappointment after disappointment and I’m ready to move on. Our classes were a 4 month long bag of suck. Now, I only have two months to work full time at Zanrec and our work is being blocked by red tape. It would be really easy at this point to check the fuck out.

I’m going to fight to keep these good memories just as vivid as the bad ones.  A friend who comes to teach in Zanzibar expressed how impressed he is by what Meghan and I have done. He ‘gets it’ and he reminds me how strong I really am. I’m proud of doing something not many people would have the courage to do. I can never express enough thanks to the people who have cared for me and shared their love with me over the last 7 months. And I’m slowly learning how to kindly say, ‘Sepa.’ (Fuck off*) to the ones who haven’t.

XO
Shelb

*This may or may not be my personal translation

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What to know what my life is really like?

I was walking through my neighborhood the other day. I like to take new routes every now and then and learn my way through the winding paths. As I was returning home and trying to re-walk the path I had taken in the morning I stopped to check where I was. I thought,

Nope. I shouldn’t turn here… I haven’t passed that one trash pile yet.

I had to stop at laugh at how different my life is here. A lot of things have become common place for me since moving here, that would probably shock the average westerner. I’m guessing using trash as a landmark might be one of those things.

Zanzibar has absolutely no waste management services. There’s municipality in the city, but it’s a joke. I’m not sure many of you reading this understand what this looks like. With my work at Zanrec I’ve spent the last few months witnessing this first hand. And honestly, the extent of this problem still gets to me.

One of three legal dumpsites. This is in the heart of the city.

One of three legal dumpsites. This is in the heart of the city.

One of three legal dumpsites. This is in the heart of the city.

Burning and burying trash are some of the only options for residents.

The side of the tourism industry you don't see.

The side of the tourism industry you don’t see.

Moo.

Moo.

*Pictures are property of Zanrec.

23 Going On 13

Gather around, kids, as I dig into my archive of hadithi (stories) for your enjoyment.

My birthday was way back in December and we went out to the coast for a likizo (break). One of the restaurants we have frequented employed a man, who quickly became a friend of ours, Juma. I invited Juma out to the coast to celebrate my birthday and to my happy surprise he actually came.

We hung out on the beach and talked once we finally met up. He was reallllly concerned that I didn’t know what time I was born. He kept asking me and saying he couldn’t tell me happy birthday and feed me cake (that’s a thing here) until he knew what time. He even gave me a present and a card. I wasn’t expecting that at all, so I was really moved by that.

While we were chatting he told me about his journey there and how he scrambled to get this present because his first idea fell through. He had a little bottle of locally made liquor and told me he went to buy it before he came to meet us. I then learned that this was the first present he wanted to get me. He had some doubts so when he was talking to the mama who was selling it, he asked if she thought it was a good present. The mama then asked him how old his friend was, to which he replied, “13.”

Big Bet: Big Boost

Any one who has lived in a developing country can attest to the fact that it’s really fucking overwhelming. (Sorry for the language, Mom)

A place like Zanzibar is no exception. Zanzibar might even be more daunting than others with its unique and, at times, confusing mix of culture, religion, dependency on tourism, and unparalleled poverty. I’ve had some experiences here that have confused, angered, and even discouraged me, but in full they’ve opened my eyes to so many things. I don’t have a day here that I’m not touched by at least one thing.

Lately, it’s mostly been in negative ways. To most on the outside, Zanzibar looks like a paradise with perfect white-sand beaches and 365 days of sun. That’s what they want you to think. (They being.. I’m not sure who yet, TDB.)

There are so many problems. This isn’t inherently an ‘Africa’ trait, problems exist in every society and our western world isn’t the exception to this rule. It’s just that most problems I’ve encountered while living in Tanzania.. are just so.. heavy. They’re so foundational that the ‘problems’ I’ve faced in my life seem so inconsequential. Most of them stem from poverty, but not all. We’ve been meeting with our resident director and internship coordinator each week for a class called ‘Aspects of Language and Culture.’ We pick topics to research, interview people about, and discuss. Various topics have included public health, road safety, traditional customs and the spread of HIV/AIDS, child rearing, etc. Throughout the weeks we’ve been doing this, I’ve been forced to look through a critical lens and try to determine how everything fits together. Why is there a negative attitude towards foreigners when the economy is so dependent on their money? How do we train more competent doctors when the education system is failing? How do you reduce infant mortality (currently 57 deaths for every 1,000 births!!) when there’s little to no public health or sex education and there’s no acceptable channel to talk about sex, unless it’s teaching a woman how to please a man the day before her wedding.

I’ve spent a lot of my time contemplating these and other things, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel like giving up. I can’t fathom how even the most minute change could take place when there’s so many different layers of history, culture, and religion affecting development here. I read an article a few weeks ago, which criticized NGO dependency, stating that NGOs can never replace a strong public sector and NGOs should only act as an aid to jump in where that sector fails. I agree, but how can you depend on a government in which it’s members of parliament paid so luxuriously while 17 percent of the population on Zanzibar is unemployed and that’s only counting those between 15 and 34 years of age.

I don’t mean to say this is a problem only indignant to Zanzibar. I’m sure similar things occur most places and probably on even larger scales. I don’t doubt things like this happen in the States.

How do you pull people together to try to spark community development, when they expect to be paid a ‘sitting fee’ just to attend the meeting? I was told about a certain organization that was working on changing some policy concerning the rights of children. They needed to have a meeting with the members of parliament who would be responsible for making this change happen. The sitting fee in this particular scenario was 300,000 Tsh, roughly 170 USD, PER PERSON, on top of their already large salaries. Said meeting was only scheduled to be two hours. These sitting fees extend to civilians as well.

Where do you start when you lack a strong government and a sporadic and unreliable public sector?

It doesn’t end there. According to a friend of a friend who works for an widely known international NGO, 20% of children in Zanzibar are sexually abused. I was told a story about a child who was raped by his classmate because he didn’t complete the chore he was asked to do. Investigation by authorities of the madarasa (Islamic school) uncovered that the boy said that he was only doing what he was taught to do. That someone had done the same thing to him. I spent a few days with a youth group in a village called Jendele. Out of 50 or so (I had only met about 15) all had failed out of secondary school. All but two of them have HIV/AIDS.

When interviewing a few villagers of Matemwe, I got a glimpse of a pretty negative attitude concerning developmental work. The group of people I talked to were from a sub-village, next to the sub-village where one of the Agents for Zanrec lives. Both sub-villages were included in the community waste collection provided by Zanrec, but because the Agent lived in the other sub-village, these people believed that Zanrec employed all of the people in that sub-village to collect trash and clean their environment. He told me that Zanrec should pay all of the people who don’t have work to clean their own village. I asked him who held the responsibility of cleaning their village and he replied that it was mostly Zanrec’s responsibility. In our class we discussed whether or not this attitude was due to an over saturation of NGOs. We learned that when the Revolutionary Government of Zanzibar took power 51 years ago, many people were given fully furnished apartments for free. So, it caused people to have the viewpoint that they are entitled to such things without having to work for them.

Many foreigners claim that Zanzibar would be ‘nothing’ without the tourism and hotels that dominate Stone Town and the coastal areas. The reality? Tourism growth on the island is climbing at higher rates than unemployment or other indicators of growth. Sure, the hotels bring foreigners who spend their money, but the profit favors already rich hotel owners. A certain American company allegedly spent 8 million to build a massive 5 star hotel in the heart of Stone Town. (I won’t name names, but, cough cough, it starts with an H) Rates begin at 250 USD per night. Despite clearly having the capital to afford it, this company won’t pay Zanrec 90 cents per day to responsibly manage their waste..

I digress. With all of these examples and many more, I’ve grown more and more overwhelmed at the thought of my ability to make any fraction of an impact. I’ve talked to many expats here and it’s unanimous that Zanzibar kind of drains the life out of you. It’s hard to navigate through all of the peculiarities, there is no shortage of negative interactions, and it can feel like you’re walking in circles.

BUT

I came across something that has excited and vitalized me in a way that might be the equivalent to a completed Hail Mary. There aren’t many names bigger in development than Bill and Melinda Gates. They released their newest annual letter including their Big Bet and it has inspired me again to keep fighting. The Big Bet:

“The lives of people in poor countries will improve faster in the next 15 years than at any other time in history. And their lives will improve more than anyone else’s.

When I was ready to throw in the towel thinking I should have chosen a less mentally and spiritually demanding career, I was reminded why those of us in this industry started our work. Things might get worse before they get a little better. But, seeing people who are breaking stereotypes of the 1% and demanding all of us to start paying attention, I found the pick me up I desperately needed. What spoke to me most in their letter:

“But we think the next 15 years will see major breakthroughs for most people in poor countries. They will be living longer and in better health. They will have unprecedented opportunities to get education, eat nutritious food, and benefit from mobile banking. These breakthroughs will be driven by innovation in technology – ranging from new vaccines and hardier crops to much cheaper smartphones and tablets – and by innovations that help deliver those things to poor people.

The rich world will keep getting exciting new advances too, but the improvements in the lives of the poor will be far more fundamental – the basics of a healthy, productive life. It’s great that more people in rich countries with be able to watch movies on super hi-resolution screens. It’s even better that more parents in poor countries will know their children aren’t going to die.”

That last sentence should provide us all some perspective. It’s easy to be consumed by our ‘problems’ and struggles in our everyday lives like how we might afford that new car or make rent this month, but I think we could all do a little more to remember to check ourselves and remember our privilege. I’m ready to keep closing that gap, are you?

Auto-Biography in the Third Person

I’m working on an application for an internship this summer. It’s a competitive field and an internationally known organization. I have to include a biography. Here’s my working copy.

Shelby Jade Hoshaw was never one to back down from a challenge. When she was a mere tike she dreamed of becoming a professional bull rider, which is strikingly comparable, in terms of intensity and determination needed, to her current career aspirations of working in international development. Hoshaw began pursuing higher education at Indiana University in the fall of 2010. In Bloomington she quickly found a home in the Indiana University Women’s Rowing team, for which she dedicated three years of her life as a coxswain. As a coxswain she honed her skills as a leader, manager, and motivator of her rowers. Unlike most other coxswains, she participated athletically whenever the opportunity arose, understanding the importance of cultivating respect through breaking sweat together.

Likewise, Indiana University opened up to her the world of international development. After spending a year and a half pursuing a degree in Sports Marketing and Management, Hoshaw was distraught and feeling unfulfilled. A drastic change occurred in her life. She began pursing a degree in Nonprofit Management from the School of Public and Environmental Affairs as well as becoming a member of the Swahili Flagship. Through this unique alliance she developed distinct skills through her time studying and working abroad in Zanzibar, Tanzania. Hoshaw may possibly be the first student to walk away from IU fluent in both Swahili and development work. She believes her experiences domestically or abroad and ability to embrace and understand new cultures give her a competitive edge for an industry that can’t afford to wait any longer.

What do you guys think? What does it convey? What could I change to make it stronger? It’s a tiny bit over the word limit so I can’t add to much more detail, but feedback is needed!

Getting My Feet Wet with Zanrec

I’ve been doing some interesting work with Zanrec. Right now, I’m part time until our classes finish. I can’t wait to start full time because I feel like I haven’t been able to accomplish much going a few days a week. Although, I’ve been pretty busy! I’ve done two rounds of interviews for our baseline studies. This is basically a glorified version of cold calling and really intimidated me at first. The first round of interviews was completed in a village called Matemwe. I was the only mzungu and it was difficult shedding the perceptions people had about me. We were asking questions about bio-gas technology and monthly expenditures, so they weren’t easy questions and I had a hard time in the beginning getting used to my Swahili enough to ask the questions in a way they would be understood. I’ve also been working on communications for the company. We spent a day in Michamvi, one of the first villages that has the full Zanrec model, interviewing the agents and cleaners employed by Zanrec. I also worked with cutting the video and doing translations of the interviews, so that’s been great experience in and of itself.

I’m really happy how this short exposure through Zanrec has improved my Swahili. Most of the interactions have been great and a few pretty bad, which are stories for a later date. I now feel mostly comfortable and capable in my Swahili to enter a myriad of situations and know I can succeed. I’ve also been getting real experience in seeing how hard development work truly is. There are so many barriers and hurdles to jump through that it can be overwhelming. But, once you meet with someone the work has touched.. well I don’t think there’s anything more rewarding. Even with our shitty class experience, just listening to lectures has helped my comprehension. I made a joke the other day that the classes weren’t a total waste because at least now I can bitch and moan in Swahili now. Silver Lining.

Here’s some photos I took from our training at SOS Children’s Village. (Thanks for the new camera, mom<3)

IMG_0423 IMG_0443 IMG_0421

A New Family and a Thief

My entire host family except for my dad, Mohammed, went on a month long vacation to Dubai and Oman. That made it even harder to be away from home for the holidays. My aunt, Sunara, and her grandson, Nassri, moved in with us to take care of me while everyone was gone. There was also a house girl, Mi, who had worked and lived with my family a few years back. It was stressful having to adjust to living with another group of people. My frustrations made me feel like an ass, because they were only trying to make sure I was alright and had everything I needed, but it was overbearing. For example, sometimes I eat lunch at home and the days I go to Zanrec, they cook lunch for the office. I remember after about a week and a half after Sunara moved in, she confronted me and asked why I wasn’t eating lunch at home, thinking I didn’t like her cooking or something. It made me laugh and I explained to her that I didn’t have time to come home, but it’s also frustrating in the moment for someone who is used to being independent. Also, it’s difficult having to explain to someone why you’re not hungry or did a certain action just because and had no reason for doing it.

Then, a lot of my money was stolen out of my room. I had gone to the ATM to take money out for our trip. I locked my room all day when I was out and the only time it was unlocked was when I was downstairs eating dinner. At the time, my dad’s sister and her kids were staying with us. It’s a very shitty feeling knowing someone you live with would violate your trust right in front of you. I talked to both Sunara and Mohammed about the situation. Mohammed assured me that he would handle the situation and no matter what happened, he would return what the mwizi (theif) stole. Sunara also made me feel better saying that she felt like I was her own child and that we would figure it out together. Theft is a pretty big deal in Swahili culture. No one likes a thief and it isn’t uncommon to see an alleged thief being drug to the police station by a mob. You can imagine how people would react to it happening in their own homes. There were three people who went upstairs while I was eating, Mi included. She had knowingly gone into my room to put water in my bathroom. I was pretty distraught for a while, knowing that someone who I trust to take care of me (she was responsible for laundry, cleaning, cooking) could take advantage of that trust.

I found out after Mama Shadya returned home that Mi actually did steal the money. All of a sudden, a week after the theft Mi said her mother was pregnant and she needed to go home to help her. Which, obviously didn’t go over well because Sunara is pretty old and can’t take care of an entire house by herself and Mi agreed to stay here for the entire month. All the women were discussing it and their friend saw Mi with 200,000 shillings and saw her shopping after she moved out of our house. I came really close to asking her a few days after the theft if she did it and I really wish now that I had. I hope she enjoyed the Christmas present I gave to her. Urghh. I’m just going to be over here trying to remind myself to kill ‘em with kindness.

Either way, I’m so so happy my family is around again. As much as I enjoyed getting the alone time, I really missed just being around them. We usually watch Bollywood soap operas and laugh a lot. Our house is never dull.

Nassri. The sweetest boy who stole my heart with daily, 'Umependezaaa!" (You are beautiful!) to running to the door and yelling 'Kesho!' (See you tomorrow!) when I would leave for work, even though we'd see each other for dinner.

Nassri. The sweetest boy who stole my heart with daily affirmations like ‘Umependezaaa!” (You are beautiful!) as well as running to the door and yelling ‘Kesho!’ (See you tomorrow!) when I would leave for work, even though we would be seeing each other for dinner.