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Life in a Swahili Oasis

September 11th, 2013 mpcase15

I’m here! I’ve made it! Not only have I made it, but I’ve been here in Zanzibar, Tanzania for a week and a half. Now that I have an internet modem, I can share my experience with all of you! I’m living in Stone Town, one of the only functioning ancient cities in the world—and it’s true, because when I walk down the streets I feel like I’m walking straight into a page from Arabian Nights. The streets are narrow and winding, a maze just begging to be explored. So, naturally, the past few days I’ve been doing what I do best—getting lost. But here, getting lost is an adventure. Every corner that I turn has more shops, more women in beautiful veils, more crumbling buildings and shining mosques looming above me. More excited chatter, more lively music, more vivid colors. And if I find myself seriously panicked, I can just ask one of the shopkeepers who are quickly pleased with my Swahili language skills.

“Zuhura, unasema Kiswahili vizuri sana!!!” – “Zuhura, you speak Swahili so well!”

I’ve heard this one a hundred times—and I’m pretty positive each time has been out of sheer   kindness after I ask the speaker to slow down once or twice. Because Meghan is difficult for Swahili speakers to say and remember, I go by Zuhura here, a classic Swahili name given to me in Kenya last year that was also used during my program this past summer. Although I do know quite a bit of Kiswahili, being thrown into a new environment with people who speak a mile a minute while throwing slang in every few sentences makes me realize I’ve got endless work to do. However, I’m getting noticeably better every single day— and I’ve found that instead of being frustrated like I was the first day or two, I’m excited to tackle the things I don’t know. There’s truly no other way to learn a language besides throwing yourself into full immersion and forcing yourself to constantly learn. I’m hoping that by December my skills will be fluent!

There is so much to write about that I honestly don’t know where to start:

Zanzibar is so very different from the culture that I’m used to, but so strikingly beautiful in its own way. It’s been an adjustment this past week, but I am more than up for the challenge. Sitting on a mat and eating with my hands for meals, hearing the call to prayer on a loudspeaker 5 times a day, having spicy chai 24/7, waking up at 5 am, and sleeping with a mosquito net are already becoming a norm. I love being in a place completely different than what I’m used to— and it doesn’t hurt that this place happens to be a gorgeous island in the Indian Ocean! This week we’ve started our full schedule of classes: Advanced Swahili Composition and Conversation, Advanced Swahili Grammar, Oral Literature (the art of Swahili storytelling!), an internship with Save the Children, and 5 hours a week with a conversation partner. Plus activities like the beach-side yoga class I’ve been going to! I’ll be a busy girl but there’s nothing else I could ask for in my beautiful new home. Zanzibar, get ready for me! More to come soon :)

One Response to “Life in a Swahili Oasis”

  1. I am pleased to read your article about the experience of living in a culture enriched place like East Africa. I hope that I will also be able to visit this great place and craft some traditional memories from there.

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Meghan Casey '15

  • Studies: Self-designed global health studies major with premedical and Africana Studies concentrations
  • Hometown: North Attleboro, Mass.
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