Kwaheri Zanzibar

It’s safe to say that during two months in Zanzibar, I’ve experienced some very unfortunate situations. Everything from getting robbed and injured to getting typhoid fever my last two weeks. But nonetheless, I’ve enjoyed this time to the fullest and wouldn’t change it for anything in the world. For me, this MFS has been both a personal journey as well as it has benefitted my studies and given me an incredible eye-opener to a whole different culture. I’ve made friends from all over the world, learned some Kiswahili, lived 5 minutes from the most beautiful sea and in the heart of a UNESCO heritage city. Most valuable of all, I’ve gotten to collect data on one of the most interesting places in the world.



I now have 8 weeks of observations and several interviews done, which I concluded in the last week. To be honest, studying colorism has been a bit tricky, something I knew would be a difficult topic to discuss from the get-go. In many cultures, it’s not common to speak about the discriminatory practice and it is not viewed as a form of internalised racism. Approaching people with my subject has therefore been a challenge as many people were of the idea that it’s simply evident that being of lighter skin is better and more beautiful. I’ve discovered that colorism, in fact, does affect women in various ways, be it in unconscious or conscious. Some of my interviewees witnessed being teased in school for the color of their skin, received nicknames based on their skin complexion and overall, described that women with lighter skin color have it much easier in several settings. At the same time, I learned that the revolution in Zanzibar and the unity of the people has, according to my observations and my interviews, led to colorism not being as palpable on the island archipelago as on the mainland of Tanzania.

I’m thankful for SIDA for giving me this opportunity and in general, thankful that I live in a country that has the means to be able to provide young generations with this type of life-changing experiences. I’m thankful for all the friendships I made,  my interviewees who so kindly offered me their time , the staff at SUZA who not only taught me swahili but also helped me understand the culture of Zanzibar and assisted me with knowledge and help in all my endeavors. My journey ends here for now, but I will definitely be back soon. Asante sana Zanzibar, you have changed me forever.



Gender (in?)equality and prejudice

My stay here in Stone Town is almost coming to an end. Having spent more than seven weeks here, I’ve reflected a bit surrounding gender equality, prejudice and preconceived notions about Africa and developing countries in general. Before coming here, I, like perhaps many others, assumed that I would be going to a country where gender inequality was highly prevalent. I spent a lot of time thinking of how I would respond if somebody questioned why I travel alone as a female, why I’m not yet married or have any children etc. I also mentally prepared for the eventuality of males trying to hush me down, ignore my thoughts and undermine my ability as a woman and, worst case scenario, how I would behave when experiencing sexism or harassment without jeopardizing my own safety. I believe these thoughts have developed because of a narrative that has always been presented to me about developing countries and how they are far behind when it comes to gender equality and how the Western world is advanced in this area.

Instead, my prejudices have been challenged and many times, gotten a big slap in the face. In the second week of being here, I had a conversation with my Swahili teacher (who is a male) about gender inequality. We started talking about the subject when he told me about something interesting he had come to find out somewhere, which he found shocking and disturbing. He told me that he had heard that over in the US, women with the same education and work experience as their male counterparts were not receiving the same salaries as the men. I still remember his surprised reaction when I explained to him that this unfortunately, is the case for many other countries, including countries in Europe. He went on to say that it would be impossible for that to happen here in Zanzibar and even illegal. We later continued on having a long discussion about gender inequality and how it manifests itself differently depending on the country.

Now, I am no expert in Tanzanian/Zanzibari policies and regulations, nor am I saying that Zanzibar is without flaws, because that’s far away from the truth. But one thing I do know is that ever since I came here I’ve seen women in top leading positions, giving out assignments and orders to their male colleagues and employees. Something I honestly did not think I would witness prior to coming here. The head dean at my university is a woman, several of the people in charge that I met at different ministries and institutions while applying for a research permit, have been women. I’ve seen a majority of female doctors at hospitals, many of the police officers I’ve met have been women and, even in my hostel where I am currently living, there is gender parity in housekeeping, reception and in the restaurant. I say all this to say, that in a developing country that is predominantly Muslim, I have witnessed a gender parity and a sense of equality that I would not have expected before coming here. I also believe, that my own country of Sweden who prides itself in being the first feminist government in the world, has a lot of inspiration to draw from this small island off the coast of East Africa.

Having no phone on a paradise island makes it a bit hard to complete eye-catching blog posts. But when you have sunsets like these and new-found friends that capture them for you, it’s not that bad 🙂

Being an Eritrean Swede in Zanzibar – A candid reflection on colorism and privilege

One of the first things I knew I had to be cautious about before coming to do a field study in Zanzibar is the privilege I hold as a westerner. Not only was I highly aware of this because of previous travels in East Africa, but also because of knowledge and information that was shared at the preparatory course for the scholarship-recipients in January. The MFS-scholarship I have been given to be able to conduct this study is way more than the yearly income for the average Zanzibari and the majority here live under the poverty line. That alone puts a lot into perspective. What I did not realise, however was that my Eritrean identity would also allow me to have other types of privileges in Zanzibar. These privileges would also be highly related to my research topic of colorism.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, colorism is a form of internalised racism where the idea is that lighter skin and eurocentric features are better and more desirable. Colorism can manifest itself in many ways, everything from bleaching one’s skin to appear lighter to wishing to marry a person of a lighter skin complexion in order to have lighter-skinned children. Although the phenomenon is highly common all around the world, the discriminatory practice is often not talked about when discussing racism or discrimination on big platforms. 

Sunscreen products with “whitening effects” that can be found in supermarkets and pharmacies here

During my stay here, I have come to realize that being of Eritrean origin has led to me experiencing some privileges, that in my opinion, I would not have experienced if I was of a darker skin complexion or if I had a different hair texture. As a Black woman of Eritrean heritage, I get daily comments from people here about how I must be Ethiopian because of my “beautiful skin and long hair”. My hair is drawing a lot of attention due to its’ thickness and length and there is not one day where I do not hear comments about my hair. Even though it is always nice to receive compliments, it is hard to appreciate them knowing that they are mostly rooted in colorism and the appreciation for phenotypical features that are viewed as “non-African”. 

It is common that tourists and non-Tanzanians in Zanzibar get asked questions about where they are from and in general, there is a curiosity to get to know visitors on the island. The usual assumptions I get about where I am from are Ethiopia, Somalia, “Abyssinia” and when I have worn my hair straight or curly, people assume that I am Arab, Indian or Brazilian. In the outskirts of Stone Town, I was getting comments about me being “cappuccino” (a term used for people who are mixed) and that there could be no way that I was fully African. Which saddens me because of the fact that prior to coming to TZ, I thought I would blend in more with the people here and instead, I have never felt more like an outcast. 

At the same time, it has also become evident to me that White privilege is real and cannot be overlooked. During several occasions, I have experienced a better customer service, welcoming and better attitude in general when being around White westerners than when being in a group of Africans or westerners with African heritage like myself. The internalised racism sits deep and to combat it will take several measures. Hopefully, my study can contribute a little bit to highlighting the important issue of colorism and internalised racism that occurs globally. 

Below you will find a great article about White privilege, written by a fellow Swedish student who is doing an internship in Tanzania. This article also inspired me to write this blog post.

Vithetsnormen i Tanzania


Stolen phone, injured elbow and applying for research permit

I’ve been in Zanzibar now for 4 weeks and to summarize, it’s been both the best and the worst 4 weeks I’ve had in many years. For starters, my iphone got stolen about two weeks ago while being out with some friends in Stone Town. And when I was trying to reclaim it, I fell and injured my elbow. So for the past weeks my days have consisted of going back and forth to the doctor and to the police station to get updates and hear about the proceedings of finding my phone. I also discovered early on that I need a research permit here in order to interview people in Zanzibar. Which has led me to also spend a lot of time going to different ministries, institutions and banks to fill out papers. Although it’s been stressful having to spend my time going to various places, having contact with the authorities here has given me an insight on how the bureaucracy works in another country. An experience I think I wouldn’t of had if I was “sliding on a räkmacka”.  

On more positive notes, I’ve finally gotten my research permit (yay!), met so many amazing people and have been surrounded by the most stunning environment and scenery. Being the language enthusiast that I am, I also started a 20-hour kiswahili class at the State University of Zanzibar (SUZA). I’ve come to love the language and its’ logical grammar structure and from my experience, Kiswahili is a really easy language to learn. In the following weeks I hope to learn even more swahili and maybe even continue with self-studies when I’m back home in Sweden.

Being injured and living on a paradise island doesn’t give you the best motivation to study but luckily now that I’ve gotten my research permit and my elbow has healed, I can focus all on my studies and also proceed with doing interviews in the coming weeks.

Badaaye (see you)

Freddie Mercury’s house

Typical doors in Zanzibar
My usual dinner at the Forodhani market

First 72 hours in Stone Town

It’s been three days since I arrived to Zanzibar and a lot has happened already. When I arrived at the airport I was instantly greeted with karibu – the Swahili word for welcome. On my way to my accommodation I picked up some useful words, that I now have been using at least 20 times a day, such as; asante sana (thank you), pole pole (slowly slowly) and all of the various greeting phrases like jambo, mambo and habari. And of course hakuna matata (no worries) which to my surprise is frequently used by the locals. People are extremely friendly here and you feel welcomed straight away. Besides some miscommunication and not getting used to a new currency, everything went smoothly.

These first days I have just wanted to feel the place out, get to know my surroundings and rest from the long trip. Because of this, I haven’t been writing on my thesis at all. Hopefully I will get going with it tomorrow. And besides from wanting to take it a little bit pole pole, there is an international music festival in town right now so Stone Town is packed with people from all over the world. I have been going to live shows, watching some kids do crazy flips and diving in to the ocean and eating the most amazing street food!

View of Stone Town from The Swahili House
Kids jumping in the water

I also took the opportunity, while strolling around the town with some new-found hostel friends, to go to the Slave Museum and the Slave Chambers. This year it will be 100 years since slavery was abolished in Zanzibar. I was really saddened to hear about and see the atrocious cruelty that happened and it left many emotions in me for the rest of the day. I really recommend anybody visiting this island to go to the museum.

The circle in the middle is where the people that were brought in as slaves would be whipped and then sold for auction. The ones who endured the pain the most got sold the quickest because it showed signs of strength. This place is now a church.
These are the real chains that were used for whipping slaves.
In this very tiny chamber, over 75 slaves were chained together and stayed there until they would be auctioned off.


Vecka 6

Så kom vi till slut till paradiset.

I Stone Town var vi på kryddsafari och stadsvandring. I torsdags begav vi oss öster ut till Paje, en kustby i sydöstra delen av Zanzibar. Eftersom ön är ganska liten gick det snabbt att åka. Vi hade bestämt oss för att titta på minst två hotell innan vi bestämde oss, men när vår chaufför tog oss till det första boendet sa vi ja direkt. Vi har en egen bungalow på stranden, 30 meter från där vi bor svallar havet och solsängar väntar under palmparasollerna. Hängmattorna dinglar i vinden, sanden är vit och vattnet klart turkost. Det är som på film.

På torsdagen regnade det och fredagen var inte mycket bättre. I lördags fick vi ett par timmars fint väder och igår var det regn och storm. Eftersom det inte finns några fönsterrutor utan bara myggnät i fönsterkarmarna regnade det in och vi fick fixa ett regnskydd med hjälp av två stolar, gardiner och en vattenflaska. Idag har det varit strålande sol hela dagen och vi har legat på stranden och gottat oss.

Det tredje utkastet skickade vi till vår handledare igår. Vi fick tillbaka det med små kommentarer och den sista rättningen hoppas vi få gjort idag eller imorgon, sen kanske den äntligen är redo för inlämning!

Det är med andra ord bra dagar på vår resa som snart lider mot sitt slut. Idag är det 13 dagar kvar tills vi kommer hem, tiden har gått väldigt fort. Vi trivs!

/Sarah och Emelie



Jaws Corner i Stown Town


En blåsig kväll i Paje.






Hejdå Zanzibar

Vi har lämnat Zanzibar, färdiga med första utkastet av uppsatsen. Vi lämnade en del av packningen i huset där vi bott med planen att komma tillbaka om några dagar för att skriva klart det sista och njuta lite av sol och bad efter ett besök på fastlandet. Två dagar efter vi lämnat får vi ett samtal från huset där vi bodde att det blivit pistolrånat under natten. Samtidigt blev det upplopp i Stonetown av organisationen som nämndes i förra blogginlägget, Uamsho. Det har varit oroligt hela veckan så vi har bestämt oss för att stanna på fastlandet tills vi åker hem nu. Vilken kontrast till den lilla fiskebyn vi bodde i fram till för två veckor sen på paradisön.


Nu är det Josefhin som skriver igen. Förra veckan gjorde vi klart alla intervjuer till vår uppsats. Under 5 dagar intervjuade jag 8 tjejer här i Matemwe med hjälp av en kvinnlig tolk som ursprungligen kommer från byn, men som pluggar till lärare nu på en annan del av ön. Övergripligt gick det till så att jag och vår tolk promenerade till olika delar av byn för att bredda studien men ändå få kvalitativa intervjuer. Vår tolk också fungerade som en kontaktperson för att hitta de här tjejerna, det sparade väldigt mycket tid och energi, och jag tror också det gjorde att tjejerna kände sig tryggare i situationen eftersom det var någon från byn som introducerade mig.

Det var förstås lite nervöst att bara klampa in i någons hem sådär och ställa frågor om varför en ung kvinna inte är i skolan. Men eftersom vi hade varit hemma hos folk i byn ett par gånger innan gick det bra, det gäller bara att plocka upp vad alla andra gör. Att hålla sig lugn och röra sig väldigt lugnt är det första jag tänker på, också viktigt för att klara av att arbeta i hettan. Nästa är såklart hälsningsfraser, att vara artig och glad. Jag övade på Swahilin när jag och tolken gick igenom byn, ibland i över en timme för att komma till en enda tjej, och nästan varje gång jag kom till ett nytt hem kunde jag (åtminstone försöka) briljera med de lilla språkkunskaperna jag plockat upp. Att fråga om familjen är viktigt, att visa intresse i det man ser runt omkring sig i hemmet. Exempelvis gör många korgar och mattor hemma och ibland visade dem hur man gör. Jag fick prova att rulla plasttråd till att göra mattor, dessvärre var det nog inget användbart, men de tyckte det var underhållande att se på mig försöka. Att rita mindre artistiska djur i blocket och fråga vad det heter på Swahili var ett bra tidsfördriv tillsammans med familjen om jag var tvungen att vänta på att informanten skulle komma. Jag har lärt mig otaliga sätt att komma över språkbarriärer på. Familjerna var alltid välkomnande, och ännu mer om man försökte kommunicera. Det handlar inte om att ha perfekta språkkunskaper, utan om viljan att kommunicera; intresse i fokus.

Under själva intervjun var stämningen ofta mer allvarsam. Historier om hur flickan själv eller familjemedlemmars sjukdom påverkade deras avhopp kom upp, liksom omständigheter i skolan. Fattigdom var ett genomgripande tema. Det skar i hjärtat när vissa frågade om de fick möjlighet att komma tillbaka till skolan om de ställde upp på intervjun. Vad är 200 kr om året för oss ”turister”? För kvalitén på studien är det omöjligt: vi måste vara säkra på att flickorna ställer upp för att de hoppade av i Form 1 eller 2 i Secondary school och för att de vill. Är pengar involverade riskerar vi att flickor utom dessa ramar vill vara med.

Vi har sammanställt resultatet och litteraturbakgrunden. Kommande vecka är metod och bakgrund på schemat. Veckan efter ska vi binda ihop litteratur med vad vi erfar under intervjuerna i diskussionsavsnittet. Ska bli mycket spännande!