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Top five things you should know about Zanzibar

Without turning this blog into Buzzfeed, I thought that before I say much about Zanzibar, I should lay out the basics. This is mostly because, six months ago when I got the email from ODI telling me I’d be going here, I don’t I knew any of this stuff, so I am assuming neither does anyone else!

So here’s something for you to get your claws into…

Crabs on the sandbank near Stone Town

Crabs on the sandbank near Stone Town. Photo credit: Jamie Pett

  1. It’s small. Zanzibar is made up of two main islands: Unguja (where I am) and Pemba. It’s area is the size of Gloucestershire while the population is about the same as Hampshire.
  2. It’s poor. Despite the images of luxury you’ll get if you search for Zanzibar in Google images, much of the population is poor. GDP per capita in 2012 was just over one million Tanzanian shillings, which works out at around £400 – barely more than a pound a day.
  3. It’s part of Tanzania. Zanzibar has been a semi-autonomous part of Tanzania for the last 50 years. The name Tanzania is a portmanteau of “Tanganika” (the mainland) and “Zanzibar”. The situation is broadly comparable to Scotland and the UK.
  4. It’s Muslim. Around 97% of the population is Muslim, unlike the mainland where the figure is more like 40%.
  5. It’s Swahili-speaking. Kiswahili is spoken across East Africa and One of my biggest challenges here is learning the language – I can’t function properly at work without it. The good news is that it’s spelt phonetically. The bad news is that there are seven noun classes and the whole sentence seems to change depending on that. It’s also the language that brought you “hakuna matata” (although this is mainly used with tourists here).

I expect to be writing more about each of this themes in future but if you have any burning questions right now, please get in touch on the comments.

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