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You only really understand something if you can teach it: Academia and adventures in Zanzibar

September 19, 2012

Parts of this post first appeared as a contribution to the MA-RE student blog. Definitely check out this new venture, organised by a couple of fellow students and I, to see the exciting research and activities taking place at the Marine Research (MA-RE) institute in Cape Town.

I can remember many teachers from my years in education. From my first school teachers who got me extra books to fuel my reading, to the supervisors who’ve inspired me to pursue research, they’ve been some of the most influential people in the way my life has progressed. I’ve now got to the point where opportunities are arising for me to teach, and they’ve been some of the most rewarding experiences of my time as a PhD student.

Last month I was asked to give lectures on ocean colour remote sensing at a Europe Africa Marine Earth Observation Network (EAMNET)/Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association (WIOMSA) sponsored workshop at the Institute for Marine Sciences in Stone Town, Zanzibar. It was pretty intimidating, knowing I had to prepare and present two days worth of lectures and practicals, but I couldn’t pass up to the chance to meet people from all around east Africa and pass on some of the things I’ve learnt so far during my PhD.

Most of my work involves using data from satellites that measure the colour of the ocean. We can tell a lot about what’s going in the ocean by the light that leaves it (it’s “colour”) including the amount of life (phytoplankton), the amount of sediment and how hot or cold it is. This information has a huge number of applications. In Zanzibar I got to meet many people who want to use this data to help manage coral reefs and fisheries. There’s a lot of quite intimidating maths, physics and computer programming involved in ocean colour data, so explaining how to use it best in 2 days was quite a challenge! The participants eagerly took on learning new software to manage the data, asking lots of questions about how they could use these new skills in their own work.

I feel like I’ve gained a lot of very worthwhile skills from being involved in this and other similar workshops. I really think the saying that “you don’t really understand something properly until you can teach it” is true. In addition, I now have lots of new contacts from all over Africa, who knows what exciting work this could lead to in the future! Undertaking a PhD is hard work and can be very demoralising, but getting involved in projects like this is one of the positives that gets you through those times. Of course there’s always the benefit of getting to see beautiful places too!

From a foodie perspective, Zanzibar doesn’t get it’s spicy reputation without good reason. I had a delicious variety of food during my visit, particularly indulging my love of good curry. For dinner one night we ate at the Silk Route restaurant in Stone Town, which serves Indian inspired fusion foods. The coconut calamari and butter chicken were perfectly spiced and very good value, leaving plenty of spare allowance for us to sample the local beers. Tusker, Kilimanjaro, Safari and Ndovu beers were all good, with Kilimanjaro proving my personal favourite!

A definite highlight for any foodie visiting Zanzibar is the Fordhani market. We were visiting during the Eid festival and each night the market was absolutely packed with families, dressed up for the occasion, the women were particularly striking in their brightly coloured dresses and headscarves. There are loads of street vendors at this outdoor market, you’d have to be in Zanzibar for a year to sample all their wares. Myself and Philip (a South African workshop participant) were drawn to the “lekker lekker” pizza man, an entertaining character, obviously well versed in South African slang, who was making “Zanzibar pizzas”. These pizzas are more like a thick pancake, fried on a large scottle pan, filled with any variety of sweet/savoury fillings. I started with a savoury choice, filled with egg, mince, onions and chilli. This got quickly washed down with a cold glass of juice, made from sugar cane, freshly squeezed in front of me. I couldn’t resist another pizza, opting for a banana and nutella combination – very reminiscent of my time in the tropics in South East Asia.

It’s always nice to find places a little off the beaten track when you visit somewhere new and Stone Town is a great place to do this, with a maze of back streets full of tiny shops to explore. Philip found a tiny little shop called Luis yoghurt parlour – selling fresh, homemade yoghurt, lassis and vegetarian thali. Very quaint and the lady owner is lovely, plus the yoghurt is the best I’ve ever tasted – definitely stop by for lunch.

There’s lots of snorkelling and diving to be done around Zanzibar, however I think most of the best sites are far from Stone Town, so I could not fit in a visit. I did get a small boat out to one of the small islands that you can see off Stone Town. It was nice to see the fish and be in tropical waters again, however the reefs are fairly damaged and I would recommend trying to go elsewhere to get a better experience – Mnemba marine park comes highly recommended.

A few notes on travel and hotels in Zanzibar. I flew from Johannesburg with Precision air, who provided great on board service and were timely on my outward leg. However in Dar es Salaam we were significantly delayed (we waited 5 hours and eventually left at midnight) and many were denied boarding to our over booked flight to Zanzibar and offered no hotel and minimal compensation. Apparently this happens fairly often, so perhaps take this in to consideration if booking a trip to Zanzibar. Saying this, the flights in and out of Zanzibar are frequent and quick (only 15 mins) so may be preferable to a ferry. I stayed at the Al Johari hotel in Stone Town, which I enjoyed until the last day when I realised $200 had been stolen from (a well hidden spot) in my room. The management were not around to deal with this and have failed to respond to both the complaint left with the reception and subsequent contact when I returned to Cape Town. For this reason I would totally avoid this hotel in future.

Luckily I had people to cheer me up! Connie and Angela from Uganda and Elke and Philip (working in Seychelles) joined me for dinner at a local Ethiopian restaurant – Abyssinia Maritim. We ate a delicious meal with lots of different dishes, all served on one large Ethiopian flatbread (injera) to share. Definitely visit here with a group if you go to Stone Town!

I would like to thank EAMNET and WIOMSA for funding this workshop, the IMS for hosting and for their exceptional organisation and hospitality (particularly Dr Yohanna Shaghude) and finally the participants for being welcoming, enthusiastic and ensuring I never had dinner by myself 🙂

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 26, 2012 10:07 am

    the pizza description made my mouth water 🙂

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