Monday, August 07, 2006

An Artivist on Location In Tanzania:“Say it loud I’m black and I’m proud!”

Imani Cheers is an Art Homie and fellow Artivist of mine who I befriended during "my residency" at Wash U in St. Louis…She has achieved a lot artistically and personally in such a short period of time and I am very proud to call her my sister comrade…She's a photographer/ film maker and humanitarian currently on a relief mission in Tanzania...Check out her message and photos…Get inspired and lifted!!! Check out her last post about her journey as well to catch up...You can e-mail Ms. Cheers at -R2C2H2 Tha Minista of Information

Ladies and Gents:

Take a journey with me...

The concept of Pan-Africanism is rather simple in the words of the legendary Bob Marley, “How good and pleasant it would be, before God and man, to see the unification of all Africans”. In reality, its another story. Apparently I do not look like the typical “Black American”. I don’t know if this is as a result of my curly locs, or my _mocha skin or my broad nose but on any average day, I am constantly asked “Wewe ni mtanzanian?” “Are you Tanzanian?” What makes it even more amusing was the weekend events in Zanzibar. (Yes, I went back for the THIRD time in 4 weeks…hey, its beautiful!)

I traveled with 4 of my friends, Cyndee (my roommate), Susan, Tom and Jesse (two Marines). We met up with several Fulbrighters and Peace Corps volunteers and altogether it was about 20 people. Now, I stand out in the group for various reasons but for the purpose of this story I’ll keep it simple. I’m the darkest out of the group, by far! The closest person in complexion was a Fulbright Tonya who’s dad is Mexican. As we walked through Stone Town (rather loud and slightly obnoxious, I’ll admit) it was hilarious to watch the faces of Zanzibaris. I was repeatedly mistaken for the groups “guide” or when I was just with the guys some eager prostitute (side note: interracial dating/marriage here is HUGE, among Tanzanian women and European men which further supports my theory that European men are obsessed with African women) trying to hook a “mzungu”. Locals constantly walked up to me out of 20 people and started rattling off in Kiswahili. What makes it even more hilarious is that half of the Peace Corps volunteers are fluent in Kiswahili and I am barely proficient. BUT, as a result of my appearance I was perceived to be the “native”.

Jesse and Matthew showing Imani loving at the club....

What made these situations even more interesting were the conversations I had with a guy at the club on Saturday night. Apparently he had seen me on the flight over (remember only 14 seats) but didn’t speak to me b/c I was with “wzungus” (white folks). At this point I’m getting a little upset, here I am all the way in Tanzania, one of the most peaceful African nations where interracial dating/marriage doesn’t appear to be a big deal and I’m getting the cold shoulder b/c I hang out with white folks! Not dating anyone just friends and it’s a problem! Now after the conversation I realized that they guy was just intimidated by Jesse and Tom and after I realized he was coming on to me, I quickly got away. Not b/c he was a “local” but b/c he was creepy!

I’m saying all of this for a few reasons. First, ignorance amazes me on a very regular basis. Similar to living in South Africa from 1995-1999, as a progressive “Black American” I’m caught in the middle. White folks don’t like me and black folks think that “I think I’m better than them”. So I’m caught in the middle of this tug of war. I’m too “American” to be “African” but too “African” to be “American”. Hmmmmmm, still trying to figure out what to do with this one and I’ve been in this situation for the last 11 years. Where do you fit in when you want to identify with your African ancestry but contemporary ideologies force you into archaic times???? Whoa, I know…let’s marinate on that for a minute…

Besides my culture shock, Z-bar was GREAT. We went out to Prison Island about 3 miles off the coast of Stone Town and played with the gigantic turtles, went snorkeling and lounged on the beach.

Then we walked around the town, spent way too much money, listened to great local music and had very good Swahili food! It was incredible! Hummus, falafel, spice tea, cardamom rice, so yummy!

We all watched the sunset from the roof top of Jesse and Tom’s hotel. It was beautiful as usual. Then the craziness began…lets just say, shots of tequila and Southern Comfort…I know, we somehow made it home around 4:30am.

Sunday was filled with culture! I went to the “House of Wonders” which is Zanzibar’s big museum. It was awesome! I loved it! There were 3 floors of just about Zanzibar culture. Everything from history of hair styles, food, clothing, structures of homes, to henna designs (which I now have 2 designs) were explained in detail. The top level had a photo exhibit about the abuse of animals. I felt like it was sponsored by PETA…very graphic and depressing. I love photo exhibits but this was a bit much. Sidenote: Please go and see the World Press Photo exhibit! I went on Friday and it was inspiring and monumental in my life as an artist. Incredible images, check it out as it travels world wide!

(TOP) Imani with her friend Susan... (BOTTOM) Imani with her roomate Cyndee...
Okay…I think that’s about it for now. Loving life, contemplating my existence as a “African-American woman” living in Africa, working hard and not getting nearly enough sleep! On the bright note, we (Susan, Cyndee and I) are traveling to the northern circuit this weekend. I’m super excited. I’ve always dreamed about going to the Serengeti and that dream will come true this Friday!! Plus we are going to see Mt. Kilamanjaro as well! Great pics to come! Yeah!! Hope all is well my friends, please feel free to give me a call, send an email or just say a prayer…all is appreciated!


Views of Stone Town and the Old Fort

Children playing in the street and posing for the camera.

The beautiful Imani and the beautiful Indian Ocean.

Imani all Hennaed Up!!!

*Important Note : All the following pictures are the copyrighted property of Ms. Imani Cheers...Please contact her at if you are interested in her gorgeous pictures!!! Thanks!!!*

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