We work at the grassroots level throughout the Muslim World to counter violent extremism before it takes hold, to promote tolerance and understanding, and to foster better relations with the United States.
Unofficial Ambassador Margaret Lamb is currently interning at FAWE, a pan-African, non-governmental organization in Zanzibar, Tanzania. Primarily, Maggie handles communications, but is ecstatic to work with FAWE’s biggest initiatives: women in STEM! Below is Maggie’s first in-country blog post.
This week has been an incredible onslaught of new experiences and an adventure of finding a new rhythm. I was rather nervous to start work, because I have minimal office experience and no NGO experience. The FAWE office is very small, so I knew it would be very important that I accomplished my job, and I had no idea what Khadija, my new boss, would expect from me. I was very lucky though… She spent my first morning clearly explaining every project that FAWE would be working on and where I would be needed. Because a lot of my work is very independent, it is really helpful to have this comprehensive work plan and orientation to fall back on.
While Khadija was giving me introduction, there was a sudden commotion outside. FAWE shares a building with a kind of school and one of the girls had started shrieking. Khadija sighed and closed the door, before telling me that the school had something of an ongoing problem of girls getting possessed. Apparently it happens about once a week, and usually to different girls. Khadija told me that there is a deeply held belief in spirits and gen in Zanzibar, which I find very interesting. I learned late that the first religion in Zanzibar was magic, so that might have influenced the current, Islamic traditions. I always think it’s so interesting the way different religions intersect; it reminds me why I wanted to minor in religious studies for about 5 minutes when I was applying to college. Khadija said that she was initially very skeptical of the possessions, but that the frequency that they happened to different girls was very strange. Bi Masha, FAWE’s grandmotherly secretary, clearly believed it very deeply. She firmly believes that that people breed ghosts and gen in order to get what they want. Sometimes, these ghosts are set free and live in random people which is why these girls have been possessed. Bi Masha had very many strong beliefs about spirits and gen and the way they act in our lives; it was so interesting to hear her perspective. I should probably mention at this point that Bi Masha speaks about as much English as I do Swahili, so this entire conversation took place with Khadija as a conduit. Later, she and I were working together to input information into a database… it was very interesting to learn to understand and communicate with someone who speaks an entirely different language!
My work at FAWE is very interesting and, so far, fulfilling. Primarily, I handle communications, which basically means strengthening our Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/FAWEZANZIBAR) and Twitter (@FAWEZanzibar) accounts. I am really excited by one of FAWE’s biggest initiatives: women in STEM! They have two big programs goings on right now. One, Students for Students International, is a UNC program that gives scholarships to girls pursuing either business or STEM. The second is a massive, national science fair. Both aim to increase interest and skill in science-related fields, something that Zanzibar clearly needs.
After a busy and difficult week, we had an exciting adventure yesterday: we went snorkeling! Our plan for the summer is to live like locals during the week and tourists on the weekend. We were originally going to go through a company called Safari Blue, but that was run by a Mzungu (kind of the Swahili equivalent of Gringo) who supposedly underpays her workers. I don’t remember the name of the company we would up using, but it was apparently run entirely by locals. The company we decided to go with was entirely run by locals, which felt good.
The entire day was wonderful: we first got to see some incredibly sea life and bring home beautiful shells before we began snorkeling. The water was just so beautiful… this awesome color of blue. The fish were beautiful… I swear I saw the Rainbow Fish! There were a lot of fish that were rainbow-ish but only one that was as many pretty colors as this one. I wish I could have taken a picture… I followed it until it dove too deep. There were a lot of other cool fish as well that were very brightly colored or had cool patterns. I wish I could have taken pictures. We also got to taste fresh, Zanzibar food including watermelon and coconut and some delicious seafood.
Zanzibar has so far been incredible; I have realized that my experience here, more than in any other place, will change the course of my future plans. I am not entirely sure what this experience will teach me yet, but I can’t wait to find out! I can’t believe it has barely been more than a week.