I have lived in Tanzania for over two months now, believe it or not. Some of you are probably wondering what I am actually spending my time doing here, besides the official answer I give. Officially, I am here on a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship to learn Swahili. Actually, I have finished my formal Swahili lessons at the Institute of Swahili and Foreign Languages, and will be starting private lessons just to work on my speaking skills. Now, when I am not traveling, I devote most of my time to a research study on family planning and abortion in Zanzibar.
The research is being carried out by Dr. Alison Norris, who is a post-doctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins University and an MD/PhD from Yale, and I have been hired as the project coordinator and data manager. The study is absolutely fascinating, especially since there is no published data on the use of family planning and the prevalence of abortion on the island. According to the Tanzania Demographic and Health Survey of 2004, 43% of Tanzanian women reported that they have ever used any method of contraception. Only 20% reported that they were currently using contraceptives. According to the same survey, only 9.4% of Zanzibari women reported that they were currently using modern contraception. The social scientist in me loves working on a project that so seamlessly combines deductive and inductive logic, as well as qualitative and quantitative data. I’m also incredibly grateful to work with someone so brilliant and experienced. My co-workers Sarah, Giselle, and Chase are also a pleasure to work with!
The reason I even heard about this project is because there is an email listserv in Zanzibar for women on the island (which men can join if they wish), called Wanawake (women in Swahili). We on the island use this listserv as a means of keeping abreast of island events and as a networking tool. People use it like craigslist to buy and sell things, business owners advertise specials, and residents ask for advice. I have found it incredibly useful during my time here. The mere existence of this listserv points to the fact that there is a thriving expatriate community here. Within a few short weeks of my move to Zanzibar, I met many members of the community. The Rotary Club of Zanzibar has also been a wonderful medium to meet community leaders here. As a Rotary scholar, I attend Rotary meetings every Wednesday at 5pm at the Serena Inn. The club here is small but it is very good at what it does. Among other projects, the club has recently decided to help Mr. Abdullah Dowdie, who is the founder and chairman of the Zanzibar Association of Albinos. Regarding albinism Abdullah recently said,
“I was so shocked when I heard that our life expectancy is only 30 years old, that means that I have only another 4 potential years of life, I had no idea the sun was so harmful to us. I am aware that I burn easily, but I didn’t realize it was so detrimental. If I had been aware of this before, I could have protected myself better and taught others.”
He founded the association in July of 2009 with the goals of educating albinos on the island on skin protection; advocating for enabling environments for the education, employment and health care of albinos; and encouraging a good relationship between the albino community and the general society. The last goal is important considering that albinos, especially on the Tanzanian mainland, have been murdered or dismembered. The social stigma surrounding albinism in Tanzania is high, and education and awareness in this case is indispensable. Additionally, the occurrence of albinism in Tanzania, where about 1 in 4,000 suffers from the genetic mutation, is much higher than in Europe and North America where about 1 in 20,000 is affected by some form of it.1 The Rotary Club of Zanzibar has committed to raising funds for a continuing supply of sun screen, assistance in producing educational materials to be handed out to the albinos on the island, and it has donated a computer for Abdullah’s office. The project is being headed up by my friend Poppy Farrow, who is a physio-therapist from the U.K.
In addition to these activities, I am in the preliminary stages of my own research project on microfinance interest rates. I am working on making contact with microfinance institutions (MFIs) on the mainland of Tanzania to gather data on the costs of running an MFI as they relate to their interest rates and portfolio yield (interest rate plus additional fees). When I am not doing any of this, I am usually reading, visiting neighbors, traipsing through Stone Town, or blogging!