gratitude-a-thon day 902: Muslims are as dangerous as Americans, Donald Trump

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I just got back from Zanzibar, which is 99% Muslim. Donald Trump should go and take a vacation there and see what I saw, and what I felt.

Women in their colorful hijab sweep through the streets. At first you think how hard it would be to wear this religious fashion all the time, (WHAT ABOUT MY JEANS, NO LULU YOGA PANTS, HOW ABOUT MY PERSONAL STYLE?) but then you begin to get jealous when you see the super beautiful combinations and the graceful way the Jilbab flows while walking. The mixture of patterns and hues is totally Vogue Mag material, and damn if this multi-colored wear doesn’t seem to make the world feel like a happier place (I have to admit that my clothing seemed drab and boring in comparison).

The prayers, which are broadcast on giant speakers three times a day waft through the air like the sweet smell of chocolate chip cookies in the oven (Damn, I LOVE that smell). At first, this alarmed me and I felt like I was on a Communist movie set, but within a few days, I found the sound soothing. This is a culture who lives their faith in real time. They stop everything and connect to their beliefs three times a day. I had to applaud the commitment and beauty of such a thing.

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Our group was lucky enough to have a guide who was a 22-year old Muslim biochemistry college student. Fatma was not only intelligent, but generous and open and graceful. She was also stunningly beautiful, with big eyes and a killer smile. She invited us to her family’s home for dinner, where we were met with immense warmth and every food she’d witnessed we’d eaten during the lunches and dinners we shared. Her mother must have cooked for a full day to feed the eleven of us. Tradition, when you have company, is to eat on the floor. Which I kind of loved. My favorites: the samosas, fritters, insanely delicious nan, boiled bananas in coconut sauce, and potato thingy I didn’t catch the name of. You eat with your hands, and there are no napkins. I kept thinking how Riley my dog would have loved this set up and been smack in the middle of it, like “Seriously, is this all for me?”

Fatma lived with much of her extended family. Their hospitality was off the charts. There were uncles and Aunts and cousins who stopped by to say hello and welcome us. I felt a little like Kate Middleton (without the small waist, and the face, oh, and the crown).

 

I spoke with Fatma’s mother after dinner. I said to her, “We are all so much more the same than different. We all love our children. We all believe in family.” She listened intently as I told her of the candidate in our country who was so negative, who spewed hate and wanted to ban Muslims. She looked disturbed and confused. I told her how terrifying it was to have such a candidate running for president. We talked about her children, and mine, her birth family of nine, and I told her how wonderful her daughter was, that she had enriched our trip and that we all wanted to bring her home with us. She drew henna patterns on all the girls with a marker. Her grandmother and I had a few laughs together, despite our language barrier, and shared some genuine hugs. Energetic little cousins and nieces and nephews were running around and playing with us. A cousin was getting married and going out that evening in sparkly and beautiful traditional clothing we all oooooohed and ahhhhhhed over. It was an incredible night.

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Just like not all Americans are the same, all Muslims are not the same. Most of them are not terrorists. Just like Americans, some are angry and violent. Most are not. Besides wanting to smack Trump upside the head for the racist, inhuman and altogether uneducated views he espouses, I wish he could meet Fatma and her family. I wish he understood that gross generalizations are not what this country is made of.

 

gratitude-a-thon day 900: 24 hours of travel takes you to another world

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Zanzibar from the rooftop of the Emerson Spice Hotel, a gem of a place filled with antiques and a gorgeous courtyard where we ate lunch.

 

I thought I would be able to blog.

HA!

I went on a jam-packed two week trip to Tanzania and Zanzibar, and I thought I would be able to blog, on not one, but two blogs while I was there.

HA!

That so did not happen (but you already know that). Between our schedule being rigorous, and the internet service, and my computer telling me my start-up disc was full, which didn’t allow me to download my pictures, and the runs, and general exhaustion, blogging was just impossible.

But my gratitude meter was on! Like, SO ON.

This trip was extraordinary on 1,394,571,398 levels.

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Taking the ferry from Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar (an adventure in self-preservation) here’s a taste of the colors you see everywhere.

It was the first time I had ever visited a third world country, and it didn’t disappoint in terms of BLOWING MY MIND RIGHT OUT OF MY HEAD. There are pockets of poverty that are unimaginable. I started to feel like I was in a Sally Strothers Save the Children commercial. This is a heavily populated Muslim area, so women wear hijab, and their colorful mix of patterns against the dingy, dark colors of downtown Dar es Salaam was especially stunning. (The way the weather hit my hair making it look look like so many dry cornfields we saw later in our trip, I considered pretending to be Muslim for a few weeks, with all due respect, of course).

Here are some sort of random pics of the trip. I have yet to sift through my almost 1,000 photographs!

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Taking PK’s at the National Stadium.
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Fabulous dinner at Fatma’s house. I kept thinking how my dog Riley would be in the center of this meal!
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National Stadium.
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Masai hanging out in Stonetown.
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My new friends.
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A boy writing his name at The Big Tree School.
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Three out of 11 of the only white people at the game of Young Africans against Ghana.
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A beautiful bridge at the Protea Hotel in Zanzibar.
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The Masai village micro-lending program group.
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Some of Fatma’s family, including her grandmother.
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Goat lunch with the Masai village.
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Soccer with the New Generation Queens.
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All of us at the Mbweni Ruins in Zanzibar.
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Ally with one of the Young African players.

The city of Dar is a chaotic mix of commerce and traffic, with every kind of vehicle jetting around, including women and men carrying everything from garbage to bananas on their heads, not to mention the occasional goat or cow. Traffic lights are a few, and when they are encountered they’re treated like a suggestion more than a law. Oh, and did I mention they drive on the other side of the road? Yeah, you not only feel disoriented by the vastly different surroundings, but also by the fact that you think you’re going to crash into oncoming traffic every few seconds.

There were eleven of us. Four adults, and seven kids ranging in age between 13 and 18. The trip was planned by a teacher Ally had for a class called Global Leadership. His grandfather began an organization 70 years ago called Pathfinder International, which helps women worldwide with sexual and reproductive healthcare. It’s an exceptional organization, and we were allowed to visit several sites to see the kind of work they do. We visited a small village outside of Dar es salaam where we sat in on a 20 year old woman getting counseled on her birth control options (she had a four year old at home and a five month old in her arms). We then visited the hospital she would get that birth control. We had a raucous party with the Dar Pathfinder staff, visited their office in Zanzibar, where we were taken to a six week parenting class for parents and caregivers to learn how to talk to their kids about how to stay safe. The kids were there for this particular class and it was very emotional to see the conversations take place (even though we couldn’t understand them because they were in Swahili). This was a group of people trying to change cultural norms. It was moving. We also visited a Masai village to learn about micro-lending, where we were greeted with the most joyful song and dance number EVER! We planted trees together and ate goat (well, some of us did). We met with religious leaders in Zanzibar, where we exchanged questions and answers. We visited a maternity ward named for Ally’s teacher’s wife, because she and her husband helped build it many years ago. We met women who had just had their babies a day ago, and the amazing doctors and nurses who worked there. We went to a private school in Zanzibar that rivaled an American private school and which had a beautiful orphanage attached. We met with the kindergarten class, who gave us so much attention and pure unadulterated joy not one of us could stop smiling. We went to The Big Tree School, which a passionate teacher opened in his brother’s house, where three year old’s and five year old’s learned the basics in a bare bones building without many supplies (you will hear more about this, as I am interested in helping this school build a new building and offering them supplies).

We went to a soccer game in Dar where we were literally the ONLY WHITE PEOPLE. Heads swiveled when we arrived, but everybody was incredibly nice to us. It was eye opening to be in the minority.

We also worked with Coaches Across Continents, who uses sports and in particular soccer to instill educational messages. For instance, they will put together a soccer game where boys will come to play and slip in messages about domestic violence, and rape, and birth control. We played soccer at The National Stadium of Zanzibar (where we saw many young people running without shoes, which prompted me to pledge having a sneaker and clothing drive when I arrived home), and soccer with The New Generation Queens, the only girl’s soccer team in Zanzibar. We also played with several other groups of mixed age boys and girls. We learned about how girls playing soccer has not been acceptable because of it being thought of as a “masculine” game. But we saw and heard first hand how it empowers girls and women when they play. There were also lots of pick up games with little kids, who could charm the clothes off your body.

Lastly, we went on safari at the Ngorongoro Crater. It was INSANE! Lions, zebras, wildebeasts, wart hogs, elephants, hippos, gazelles, monkeys, ostriches, and a very distantly visible rhino.

And of course, we learned to bargain (some of us learned to bargain better than others). We swam with dolphins (sort of), and we ate a lot of Indian food.

The people of Tanzania were generous, warm and welcoming. All the Pathfinder staff were incredibly nice to us. We all wanted to bring home our guide in Zanzibar, Fatma, a 22 year old biochemistry student at a University in India, who was the epitome of warmth and grace, and who even invited us to her home to have an enormous dinner with all the things she’d witnessed we’d eaten during our time with her. Her extended family greeted us warmly and treated us like part of the clan. We have invited  Fatma to come visit us. We know we’ll stay in touch with her. She is a bright star and we’ll never be able to thank her for her presence or the wonderful gifts she gave us the last day we spent with her.

This trip was something I will be processing for months to come. It was mind expanding and changed my perception of what I spend money on, and how that money could hugely impact a life in Tanzania.

You will hear more over the weeks, but the gratitude I feel about having this adventure (and missing the Republican convention) is YUGE.