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.
At the Hamamni Secondary School in Zanzibar, Tanzania, Unofficial Ambassador Tasheka Cousins is teaching biology to Form-one students. In this blog post Tasheka reflects on the culture of Zanzibar through clothing and the parallels of Eastern and Western traditions.
After traveling for twenty-eight hours, I finally landed in Zanzibar. It was even more beautiful than I imagined and the similarities to the Caribbean from a bird’s eye view were uncanny. This made me even more eager to begin my 6-week journey. AUA representatives Kitty and Ulrica, who have been nothing but helpful and supportive to us 8 girls in the past week here, greeted me very warmly at the airport.
Knowing that we were short on time for orientation, we began visiting our respective schools and NGO’s immediately, keeping in mind that our work week started a few days after we had arrived in Zanzibar. We visited the Hamamni Secondary School where I would be teaching Form-one students Biology.
We spoke to the assistant headmaster, Fatma, who was very welcoming. She hinted (not very subtly) that it would be preferred if I wore a hijab while I teach. At first I was not sure about how I felt about wearing the hijab; the fact that I had grown up Christian had a lot to do with this, but after reading about the hijab and seeing that many of these women choose to wear it made the decision to wear it a lot easier. I also realized that many Christian women choose to wear the hijabs mainly for cultural reasons.
As a female, being foreign in Zanzibar is very evident as most of the natives are Muslim; about 95% of persons here practice this religion. Since I did not wear the hijab for the first couple of days here, naturally, I was treated like a tourist. I must say that being followed around by street venders trying to sell their “hakuna matata” wraps was not fun, but that all changed very quickly and rather unexpectedly. The first morning I walked out of the apartment in my hijab, I had expected that persons would treat me differently but the respect that I had received was unbelievable. Comments such as “Hello sexy” had stopped and I was walking freely in the streets of Zanzibar not being seen as a tourist. The most interesting thing however, was getting home and then leaving the apartment 10 minutes later without the hijab to go get food and being treated once again like a tourist. This experience taught me a lot about the Muslim culture, and though many stereotypes are that these women must wear these hijabs as a form of oppression, I learned that this was a choice and women gain great respect by wearing these. Though the hijab can get really hot in a tropical country such as Zanzibar, I have really enjoyed wearing it, because I believe that immersing yourself into a culture and way of life is the only way to be fully accepted by the natives.
My first day of school was not as I had expected it to be, but no ones first of work was either. So after everyone came home in as much panic as I did about the day, it had made all of us feel a lot better about our first experience either teaching or working at an NGO. As the week progressed our days got better and by the end of the week we had all come home laughing about our days and sharing our experiences in the classroom. I must admit that teaching biology to students who speak very little English can be difficult, but when the students are as eager to learn as you are to teach it makes it all worth it.
Over the next six weeks, I hope to become even more involved in the local community. So far volunteering with AUA has been a lot of fun and work, but I wouldn’t have it any other way because without the lows, we couldn’t enjoy the highs as much. Over the next 6 weeks I hope that I will not only impact the life of these children, but that they will also make a huge impact on my life.