Joyous music blares from across the road, forming a dissonant yet strangely comforting mix with the fainter music being played in the distance. Women flock the streets donned in their most decadent clothing, lips painted red and eyes thickly lined in black. Children run every which way, hoping and praying that a generous soul will fall into the spirit of the holiday and slip them a coin or two. This, my friends, is Eid—what a time in Zanzibar! Although Eid al-Adha passed about 2 weeks ago, there’s just no way that I can justify skipping it in my blog. Eid al-Adha is a Muslim holiday that honors the willingness of the prophet Ibrahim to sacrifice his young first-born son Ismail in response to Allah’s command to kill him—as a Catholic who is familiar with this story, it was utterly fascinating to see how an event shared between the two religions could hold such different levels of visible importance within the society.
As legally stated by the government, the holiday is only one day. However, within the culture the celebration is an unofficial 4-day event that takes over the entire island! Every single Zanzibari knows how the ins and outs—endless food, endless noise, endless guests. Considering the fact that people have been talking about “the holiday” since the day I arrived, I was more than excited to actually see it firsthand. I’d have to say the best part for me was the huge festival that spanned about 6 football fields in size, the biggest I’ve ever seen! The entire environment—vendors left and right, music slowly deafening my ear drums, kids running around, a moon bounce—reminded me of American festivals and made me strangely nostalgic for those of my own childhood. Speaking of childhood, it’s expected that kids receive gifts for Eid, kind of like Christmas, and all of my siblings absolutely loved what I chose—especially the soccer ball, which I can hear being kicked around outside this very moment!
It’s unbelievable that I’m officially halfway through my program here. My time in Zanzibar has been difficult because there are many days in which at the core of life here I can’t seem to find any cultural similarity, any foundational connector. Some of the greatest frustration that I have experienced has come from feeling as though I just can’t break through the deeply rooted cultural barriers that separate the way that our minds think. However, in addition to being the most frustrating, this aspect of my Zanzibari life is probably also the most valuable. Living in an environment so completely detached from my own has taught me that yes, people will not agree with you and will not see the world the way that you do and you can’t always change that. In this vast and sprawling world, I have no doubt I will encounter this on multiple occasions. But you know what? It’s okay. In fact, it’s more than okay. Instead, it’s what makes the world so darn beautiful—none of us will ever be the same, but this doesn’t mean that one way of living is lesser or greater than another. Yes, globalization is without a doubt creating an interconnection of cultures in a way never seen before. However, nothing will morph us into the same exact plane of vision, and for a world eternally hoping to advance and grow, we should celebrate this idea. Our differences are our greatest asset in that they have the ability to spur discussion, passion, and invention. So thank you, Zanzibar, for being so incredibly different and thought-provoking and strikingly beautiful. Nitashukuru kwa muda wote– I’ll be grateful forever.