Mariah Thomas' Zanzibar Experience

Mariah Thomas' Zanzibar Experience

Mariah Thomas, a senior on the women's tennis team spent six weeks this summer teaching on Zanzibar, an island off the coast of the east coast of Africa that is part of Tanzania.  Also on the trip was Annalie Buscarino, a sophomore on the women's soccer team.  Here is Mariah's experience from just off the African continent.

By Mariah Thomas '19

Whenever asked about my summer plans, friends, family, and strangers were always shocked when I told them I was traveling to Africa for six weeks to teach in secondary schools.  The island of Zanzibar is located off the east coast of the African continent, about twenty minutes away from mainland of Tanzania.  While many WAC students chose tovisit Tanzania for its safaris and bold culture, I embarked on a trip that was rather unique. I had the opportunity to teach English as a second language and geometry-based mathematics at two separate private schools.  I was able to teach three classes, each filled with nearly fifty students. I was thrilled about going to Zanzibar, but anxious to be living and working in a developing country where the culture and language were unfamiliar to me.

The first week of settling in was challenging to say the least.  I met many new people, all with names that I knew I'd struggle to pronounce, let alone remember.  I was craving cheeseburgers and Chick-Fil-A, but only eating a monotony of rice, beans, and veggies.  I was stunned by their driving mannerisms and laissez-faire island lifestyle. Nonetheless, I was ready to get to work teaching.

One of the two schools I taught at was located right on the water, a few-minutes walk from the apartment I lived in with eight other WAC students. My walk became routine.  I would say "jambo" (hello) to the taxi men at the corner and continue on through alleys of chickens and cats.  My classroom at Tumekuja Secondary School had many windows that opened up to thewarm ocean breeze. The view never became as routine as my walk did, invigorating and refreshing my classroom experience every day.  Shortly after I was chatting with co-teachers in the staff room, sharing their pilau (a traditional dish of rice, meat, and potatoes that is eaten only with one's hands) and grading my students homework.  After teaching in the morning at the local school, I was driven out of town to a much more rural and developing community known as Mwanakwerekwe.  There I taught geometry to one class, and I was able to make guest appearances in other classes. 

The Zanzibari school systems are quite different than those of our public schools in the United States.  Instructors strictly use blackboard and chalk to display information that accompanies lecture-based instruction.  It took tedious repetition of examples and directions to work through my "funny accent" with my students. My students and I otherwise talked about many personal things, from family to individual aspirations. I learned a great deal about every one of them.  One of my personal goals was to make sure that the students were having fun, as their native teachers are shockingly strict and monotonous.  We played games to review vocabulary and I rewarded them with stickers and new school supplies. In response, they showed me gratitude and love much different from anything I've experienced before from my previous classroom experience.  They truly never take anything for granted.

The cultural exploration trips we embarked on during the weekends were beautiful and unforgettable.  We sailed on Safari Blue to explore the local mangrove plantations and coral reefs that were seemingly filled with thousands of tropical fish.  We visited a spice farm where we tasted numerous indigenous herbs and fruits, many of which we don't have in the states.  We traveled to Prison Island to see massive hundred-year-old tortoises. On some nights during the week, we would walk to a nearby market where there were about fifty different food stands.  Our favorite stands cooked up delicious samosas and pizzas (not like our pizza, but still pretty great).  The local beach near our apartment was always full of Zanzibari people dancing, enjoying the water, and waiting for the sun to set on the horizon.

Teaching in Zanzibar was truly an experience I will never forget. Living and learning another culture that is starkly different from my own has certainly been life-changing.  I can't thank our in-country coordinators, Ulrica de Silva and Dula enough for their constant advice and assistance during our stay with them.  Zanzibar will forever have a piece of my heart and I look forward to sharing all my stories with my family, friends, and future students.