Karibu Zanzibar (Welcome to Zanzibar)!

August 25, 2013 - Zanzibar, Tanzania

When I arranged to have the taxi driver pick me up at 2:30 a.m., I didn't realize that getting through passport control in Tanzania would be like playing the lottery. Here's how you play:

  1. First, stand in what you think is a very loose line for visas for about twenty minutes. When you notice that nobody else is still holding their passports and visa applications, make inquiries to the first English-speaking, non-passport-toting tourist you can find, and discover that you're the singular clueless American mzungu who hasn't handed yours over yet.

  2. Wait another twenty minutes before you notice that the nice Norwegian ladies who lent you their pen are still toting their passports and visa applications. Notify them that they should hand over their passports, applications, and big wad of cash to one of three men in a mustache and beret. Tinge of smugness that you were the third most clueless and not the most clueless. Optional envy over the excellent mustache/beret combination.

  3. Wait patiently as the mustache/beret men emerge from their office with a stack of passports. Cross your fingers and strain your ears for some semblance of your name. Cross-check with passport color. e.g. Zah-treen? Could be Katherine! And the passport is... burgundy. NOPE! Try again. Sigh loudly and slump your shoulders after each subsequent passport pile fails to produce your own.

  4. Watch as the crowd of 150 dwindles down to 100... 75... 50... 25... By the time it's down to the last handful of people, the mustache/beret men begin processing visa applications one by one, holding the passport photo up to the bullet-proof window for people to self-identify. Use pointer fingers and thumbs to pry eyelids open so that you don't fall asleep standing up and accidentally miss yours. Did I mention it's 2:30 a.m.?  Scratch that: now it's 3:30 a.m.

After an hour-and-a-half standing in the non-line, waiting for my turn to win the passport lottery, our planeful of sleepy tourists was finally down to three unlucky players—yours truly and the Norwegian ladies. Fueled solely by adrenaline in my race with the Norwegians, I peered through the glass, awaiting the announcement of the winner. I heard the gratifying STAMP-STAMP of approval on the other side of the bullet-proof glass and felt my fate sealed—indeed, the sole remaining mustache/beret man slowly raised a navy blue passport, and pressed my two-dimensional high school face to the glass. I wished the Norwegians well, and proceeded to passport control. Apparently the last place winners (i.e. losers) of the passport lottery need no further approval from the Tanzanian government—I was waved right through; nobody checked my passport. When I emerged into the hot, muggy night on the other side of the ironclad airport walls—three flights, thirty-six hours of planes and airports, and five in-flight movies away from Charlotte, North Carolina—I couldn't have been more delighted to see not only a taxi driver holding my name, but a Harvard sweatshirt and familiar grin. It was Megan! It was 4:00 a.m. and I had finally, officially arrived.

“What am I doing in Zanzibar?” you ask. “And where is Zanzibar, anyway?” Second thing's first: Zanzibar is a semi-autonomous archipelago off the coast of Tanzania (think: Africa, Eastern coast, about halfway down). I've teamed up with my dear college friend and former housemate, Megan Shutzer, to shoot a documentary about a rad group of female soccer players here on the island.  Zanzibar is 99% Muslim, and many (not all) religious leaders in the community preach the immorality of women's soccer. I was drawn to the spirit of these women, who overcome opposition from their community, sometimes even their husbands and parents, to play a sport that they love. They are pioneers for women's sports here on the island. To get a sense of what these girls are up against, Foreign Policy has just published an amazing article about female soccer players in Islamic countries.  You can read that article by clicking here.

So, it's time to shake the dust off of this decrepit blog! I'll be posting updates roughly once a week for the next six weeks or so. If you're already subscribed, you'll be getting e-mail updates each time I update. If you're not subscribed but would like to be, you can do that by entering your e-mail address and hitting "Subscribe" under the map on the right side of this page. More posts to come. Ham-jambo, y'all!


1 Comment

bonnie derr:
September 24, 2013
This is such fun and a learning experience reading your blog, Katie.
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