I’ve now been in Tanzania for two weeks. Yet somehow in such a short amount of time I have learned so much about this country. After spending my first week in the city of Moshi, I spent my second week on the coast of Tanzania. It was only an hour and twenty-minute plane ride out of the Kilimanjaro airport to Zanzibar and an hour ferry ride from Zanzibar to Dar Es Salaam.
As soon as I set foot outside of the airport in Zanzibar, I immediately saw differences between Moshi and Zanzibar. For one, the infrastructure in Zanzibar is way better than in Moshi. This is probably simply because Zanzibar is a more touristy area than Moshi or because Zanzibar had a more prevalent colonial influence. The colonial influence is seen and felt just about everywhere, even at my hotel. My hotel was right next to an old Portuguese fort. The architecture of my hotel resembled that of the older Portuguese buildings we passed by in town.
Due to the colonial influence and Arab merchants that came to Tanzania long ago, the dominant religion on the coast is Islam and Ramadan was in full effect during my time on the coast. Ramadan is the most sacred month of the year in Islamic culture. Muslims observe the month of Ramadan to mark that Allah gave the first chapters of the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad in 610. During this month Muslims fast during the day, abstain from pleasures and pray to become closer to God. It is also seen as a time for families to gather and celebrate.
Currently, it is also off season, meaning there is low numbers of tourists or wazungu. As we strolled through the streets of Zanzibar and Dar Es Salaam during the day most local shops and restaurants were closed. Tourist attractions were rather empty. The streets seemed peaceful. However, once the sun began to set, a bustling city emerged. Shops and restaurants opened, food vendors and bicyclists filled the streets. The local park and streets filled with playing children.
During the day, I rarely saw women out in the city but during the nighttime I would see more women and their families out on the town. It seemed almost as if I had traveled to a different city. In the streets people laughed and spoke very loudly. (Which happened to be one of the regional differences I was able to identify. People on the coast speak much louder than people from the mainland.) The people were happy, celebrating and you could feel it in the air.
Spending time on the coast definitely put me outside of my comfort zone. Being that I am from a small southern Georgia town in America, I had never been in any type of environment that could compare to what I was able to experience on the coast of Tanzania. I am very thankful to have experienced this different culture firsthand. These experiences are crucial to understanding and respecting different cultures/customs. Although I was not able to experience this in America, I know these types of communities do exist in America and it makes me appreciate even more the beautiful diversity that America has to offer.