America's Unofficial Ambassadors

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.

Teaching the Zanzibari Way.

At the English-Speaking Muslim International School in Zanzibar, Tanzania, Fiona shares her daily teaching routine and the two lessons she has learned so far during her service. 

Assalamu Alaikum.

To a Mzungu (foreigner) like me, the city feels as if it is always alive and buzzing! There is constant noise outside our apartment; kids and adults, tourists and locals, all offering to guide you around town, and of course the five times daily Call to Prayer.

I arrive at the English-Speaking Muslim International School, at 7:00 a.m. and the kids start slowly dribbling into school, and line up by two rows; the girls on one side and the boys on the other. I then sign in every morning, and drop my lesson plan book to the vice-principal. I go back out to the courtyard, where the kids and teachers doing the morning prayers and songs, which last until 7:30 a.m. During this time, as the students are arriving by Dala-Dala, motorcycle, bike, or foot, everyone greets each other by giving a cross between a handshake/hand slap with their right hands and then, to show respect, putting their hand over their heart after that.

I have 2-3 classes every day, and during my break periods I sit in the courtyard and grade homework, or plan for lessons for the next day. Lunch comes half way through the school day, at 10:30 a.m. The students finish school by 12:30 p.m. on normal days, but 2:00 p.m. on days with after school classes of which I teach a few days a week. Teaching at the Muslim school has been quite the adventure already, but I cannot wait to get to know my students and other teachers at the school even better in the coming weeks.

Me and my students on the first day of school!

Me and my students on the first day of school!

Out of all of the new things I have learned after 10 days of living here, and three days teaching, I think two stick out to me as lessons that extend throughout my life in Zanzibar, regardless of whether I am choosing to wear the hijab at school, or wearing my local “American” styled clothing while exploring Stone Town. The lessons are this: first; accept, engage in, and learn from the “go with the flow” lifestyle. Hakuna Matata. In the US we spend so much time working and planning for the future, that we stress ourselves out and forget to live in the now. Here, most people only plan for things that day, or a few hours ahead, and I often find myself thrown into situations with little to no prior knowledge or planning. Although it is something to get used to – and is still difficult for me who always has a planner and phone in order to keep my busy life straight – it is certainly freeing in many ways to live the Zanzibari way.

The second lesson is one that I feel I know, but it has been reinforced: diversity is a beautiful and interesting thing. Zanzibar is an island off of Tanzania, so it has heavy African roots, but is also very much influenced by Middle Eastern and Indian cultures.  Some women wear the hijab, others do not. Some women wear dresses that look similar to Indian saris, while other wear Kangas (the Tanzanian version of the long wrap skirt that is very popular all over Africa), and still some wear Abayas that look very Middle Eastern. The food also comes from a variety of different ethnic areas, for example there are a mixture of mainland Tanzania, Arab, and Indian influenced foods such as “Pilau” (rice, coconut, nuts, spices, cooked vegetables, potatoes and seafood or chicken).  Overall, Zanzibar is a beautiful mixture of many peoples and their culture, and that is one of the reasons it is so amazing here. I have only been here 10 days, but I cannot wait to see what I will learn in the next 5 weeks or so!

Kwaheri for now.


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