Annika from Germany decided to go to Zanzibar during the COVID-19 pandemic in September 2020 and fell in love with the tropical island. She volunteered for 2 months and had a great time at the Mother Nature Conservation Camp. In today’s Blog post, she wants to share some of her experience.
The Mother Nature Environmental Conservation Camp
The Mother Nature Camp, surrounded by giant mango trees, climbing passion fruit plants and tall palm trees, will be my new home for the next few weeks.
Apart from the Safari tents, there is a communal area with a large wooden table and benches, two hammocks and a ping-pong table. This is where we meet to eat our daily meals, play cards in the evening, do sports or drink tea. Those who prefer to spend some alone time can retreat to their tent, which the staff will not enter without asking. The tents are big, each has three bunk beds, a toilet and a shower corner. At night, you might hear the high pitch sound of the Bush babies, who come to visit regularly and climb the roofs of the tents.
Our camp is right next to the small village Kitogani. There are no cafes or restaurants, but there are vegetable stands and a small supermarket at the side of the road where you can get a few things. In the evening, the Kitoganis like to sit in front of old tube TVs on the street, as if being in the cinema, and cheer to the football.
I find it particularly exciting how gardens and courtyards are used intensively. What might appear messy at first glance turns out to be a functioning ecosystem, apart from the plastic waste lying around. The locals create something useful out of every root, bark, leaf and fruit.
It is almost impossible not to feel home in the camp immediately – the volunteers are welcomed warmly like into a big family. I was able to reach out for help about everything that was on my mind and very quickly felt familiar with everything.
Every day, Zainab cooks the most delicious kinds of local specialties. Even those who like to eat a lot don’t need to worry, because there is always a supply. Also vegetarian and vegan options are possible.
My arrival in times of Corona
I travelled to Tanzania during the corona pandemic and was concerned like many other people! My preparation and the staff of World Unite! – both internationally and on-site – made me feel more at ease and so I started my journey to Africa. My flight was postponed three times before I took off with Qatar Airlines. During the entire flight, I had to wear a protective visor in addition to the mouth and nose cover, but I had a whole row of seats to myself!
When I arrived in Zanzibar, Corona didn’t seem to be a big issue anymore. But it was very clear that the Zanzibari are suffering extremely under the economic crisis because of the lack of tourists.
What were my tasks?
After the first days of settling in, Mr. Mohammed introduced a weekly schedule with various activities that are important in development aid. The diverse activities give you an insight into the life of the locals, the life of the school kids and the animal world. If you are interested in a special activity or field don’t be afraid to communicate your wish – Mr. Mohammed will happily integrate this into the weekly plan. On a typical working day, you will work around 3 hours in the morning and another 2 hours in the late afternoon. Here are a few of the activities:
The Turtles & Tortoise Land nearby hosts green sea turtles and land turtles, such as the Aldabra giant tortoise. The tasks of the volunteers include collecting, feeding and cleaning the enclosures and animals. To do so, the sea turtles, which can weigh up to 60kg, are lifted out of the water with the help of the staff and then scrubbed off gently with sand and a brush.
Most of the time we work on plantations. Here we helped the local farmers to water, fertilize and pull weeds. I learned a lot about plants, including how to plant mangroves. The farm work only happens early in the morning and in the evening because it would otherwise be too hot.
Already as a young girl, I dreamed of teaching children in Africa. This dream has come true. As soon as we enter the class, the 4- to 5-year-olds happily welcome us with waving hands and loud screams of Jambo Jambo.
We were supposed to make the kids more familiar with English and so we taught them the days of the week, numbers up to 20, and songs.
And much more
There were many other activities, depending on the importance and needs of the local community. We helped with the construction of the school toilet or the mosque.
I also paid a visit to the local healer, who taught us on medicinal plants and their effects. We also spent a day with a local family and got an insight into their live.
The weekends are off – discover the contrasts of Zanzibar!
The weekends are off and begin on Friday afternoon. It’s up to you what you want to do and discover – the options are plenty!
I went on some great excursions that I mostly planned with the other volunteers, whom I befriended quickly. We visited the historic Prison Island, Stone Town and a Maasai village, went surfing and kite surfing, snorkeling, did yoga, and went to beach parties. We also went on a trip to Dar-es-Salaam and even on a fabulous safari on mainland. Most of the time, we visited breathtaking, paradisiacal beaches with azure-blue and emerald-green water. Paje Beach is only 15 minutes away by public bus (Daladala)!
Even on a distance as small as between the rainforest and the touristy beaches, the conflict of the island becomes very clear – the gap between poverty and wealth, simplicity and glamor, tradition and modern tourism. The houses of locals are made of clay and coral or are prefabricated buildings – gifts of Walter Ulbricht from a long gone GDR.
Compared to European countries, life on the island in the Indian Ocean is incredibly cheap. A ride on the Daladala to the beach costs the equivalent of € 0,17 and a visit to a local restaurant starts at € 2. For the Zanzibari, however, a fortune. The nursery school where I work asks for a monthly tuition fee of around € 1 but sadly, many parents are unable to pay this money. The majority have never left the island because of the extremely low income.
To the benefit of the environment, everything is used until it really falls apart and can no longer be repaired: worn out tires serve as fences or seats, old canisters as watering cans, empty rice bags as flowerpots and rags made from clothing scraps. Us, as tourists, should take this form of sustainability as an example.
The tourists can be found on the beach. Magnificent hotels with pools line the coast. The life of the tourists rarely mixes with that of the locals – rather they run parallel, except for when they come together in the exchange of fruit, clothes or handmade jewelry. You can see female tourists in skimpy clothes, while the majority of native women wear headscarves. Tourist attractions such as water sports are even rather expensive for us.
Our means of transport from camp to beach: Daladala
Since only a few Zanzibari have a motorcycle, let alone a car, the locals are dependent on the local bus – Daladala.
On the roofs of the truck-like vehicles, they transport everything from sacks of flour to bicycles. It’s also turbulent inside – there are banana plants, potato bags and canisters in the passageway while the driver often waits until all the seats are occupied. A bus is almost never considered to be too full. No matter how many people and sometimes chickens are in the Daladala, others who still want to join can squeeze in.
When I got onto the Daladala with my new girlfriend on a Saturday, everyone cheered and the driver played loud music. As soon as we set off, half of the passengers started dancing and made the bus shake. Among them, a group of teachers who were supposed to be working, but took the day off with the excuse to refresh our mind. They were a wild bunch who asked to be taking selfies with us afterwards. What a zest for life!
While I’m in the middle of the Zanzibari, the wind blowing through my hair and the sun setting outside, I can’t help but feel grateful for this unforgettable experience I had on Zanzibar!
When I came across the most important words in Swahili in my travel guide, Pole Pole (slow or easy easy) was listed among the top 5, which at first seemed random, but the I got it the day I arrived!
In Zanzibar, everything is very relaxed. Compared to hectic Germany, stress seems out of place in the life on the Tanzanian island. That also makes Zanzibar the perfect place to relax. You might get annoyed by long waiting times in the beginning, but I am sure you will soon notice how good it feels to slow down and understand the true meaning of sayings such as strength lies in calmness. My Zanzibar travel guide hits the nerve: Everything works fine – just differently.
Here you can find all information about Annika’s project.