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.

Pole Pole

By Brieanna Griffin

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Brieanna Griffin, AUA Summer Service Intern 2015

It’s really amazing reflecting on my experience here in Zanzibar… I can’t believe that I am leaving this beautiful island this coming Sunday; this reality is bittersweet. Much like my experience in Morocco last summer, this place has touched me more than I ever imagined it would.

One particular aspect of the culture that I have grown quite accustomed to is the slow pace of life or what many people on the island refer to as “island time” or “Swahili time.” When I first arrived on the island, it was immediately obvious that the notion of time was different. As we walked thru the streets for the first time exploring the areas surrounding our apartment I saw many people sitting and drinking coffee at Jaw’s Corner (which I finally got to taste about a week ago… as someone who doesn’t usually like to drink coffee I was quite surprised). Women and men alike moved at a slow walking pace. So, I of course, as an American stuck out like a sore thumb with my “can do” attitude and quick step. It wasn’t long into my time here that many people in the streets were saying “pole pole” which I later learned literally translates to “slowly slowly.” According to one of my Zanzibar friends, I learned it’s particularly unbecoming for a woman in this culture to be in a hurry. My exposure to Zanzibari people in the streets, and especially at the schools I am teaching, has required me to embrace this way of life.

I struggled initially with people saying “pole pole” to me, because I didn’t really know what to do. Being early or on time to engagements is something that I value about myself. I tried walking more slowly, but it felt very awkward and unnatural. It took me a total of three weeks of making a concerted effort to walk slowly for it to actually feel natural; practice makes perfect. The beautiful thing about my acceptance and practice of this cultural norm of Zanzibar is that I have also started living in the present moment on a daily basis. This is something that I try to achieve every day in the United States thru the practice of yoga, because I want to become less obsessed with the future but more connected with what I’m doing every moment of every day.

You may be thinking… is Brie going to return to the United States walking at a snail’s pace…? And the answer is, I probably will for a little while until I get re-adjusted to the American way of life. The American culture really requires one to always be thinking and planning for their next step, and I’m not sure there’s any way around that.

I will miss so many things about this island. I will miss the friendly “jambos” from strangers walking by, my student’s sweet smiles and personalities, the incredible natural beauty of this island, the relationships I have made with people on this island and of course, the “pole pole” way of life. Until next time, sweet Zanzibar.

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