Holy troubadours! Stone Town’s Ramadhan street chants

by Amanda Leigh Lichtenstein August 10, 2011

August 1st was a kissless morning. My love, a Muslim, had decided to abstain from even the smallest smooch. It was the first day of Ramadhan. Twenty-nine more to go. I am a Jew living in Zanzibar, a predominately Muslim island. I accept that I have to figure out ways to get down with the […]

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The market preacher

by Crista Cloutier May 28, 2011

London’s largest Middle Eastern market is just outside my door. Constantly in the background is a broadcast of the Koran with someone singing beautifully in Arabic followed by an unnerving posh British accent translating into English. The people here know me because I visit every day. They say hello and often tell me their stories. […]

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Our last hours: rapture, judgment day, and faith explored in Zanzibar

by Amanda Leigh Lichtenstein May 27, 2011

We all have a series of last hours that lead up to the final hour, I suppose. The last hour before boarding a plane, returning home again, leaving the island. The last hour before the final exam, that make-it-or-break-it interview, the big game. The last hour of contractions before the final push. The last hour […]

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Oh. My. Osama. Oh. My. God(dafi).

by Amanda Leigh Lichtenstein May 6, 2011

Is it unpatriotic to say that Osama bin Laden had nice eyes? In the twenty-four rippling hours following reports of bin Laden’s death and burial at sea, I’m left scrolling through his public photo album online, staring at images of bin Laden as a young soldier in Afghanistan, a young revolutionary with hints of Che-spirit, […]

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Reaction to a reaction to a reaction

by Annie Murphy May 2, 2011

Although I generally do not like to hear pop stars’ opinions on politics, or politicians’ opinions about pop culture—the operative principle being, “if you don’t have anything informed to say, don’t say anything at all”—I’m going to stretch (and/or violate, depending on your perspective of my perspective) that norm. That is, as a student of […]

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Interference–A glimpse inside the ecstatic cult house of Kibuki spirits

by Amanda Leigh Lichtenstein April 13, 2011

Do you believe in devils? Spirits? Possessions? Exorcisms? Or are spirits in any society simply the bio-chemical reality of hypnosis, revelation through sound, pitch and tone? An anthropological need for the occasional freak-out, fulfilled? I was skeptical of all things spirits until recently, when I stepped into a Kibuki cult spirit possession ceremony. There, in […]

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Cash-sash and other culture jams: (No I’m not married, I don’t have a baby)

by Amanda Leigh Lichtenstein April 5, 2011

You heard me. No, I’m not married. No, I don’t have a baby. These are the two of the most potent culture-bombs I drop on unsuspecting Zanzibar citizens on a near-daily basis. The reaction hints at devastation for some, others are just confused. You’re thirty-five and you don’t have children? Never been married? In my […]

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Alphabet power and orthographic ghosts: The short story of Swahili script

by Amanda Leigh Lichtenstein March 2, 2011

In Swahili, uhai means “life.” In Hebrew, it’s chai. In Arabic, it’s haiya. So there it is, life itself braided into three languages entangled with my own history as an American Jew strangely drawn to life in East Africa. I often explain my ability to speak Swahili as some wacky fallout of a liberal arts […]

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Navaratri: Nine divine nights and one attempt at learning a goddess dance

by Amanda Leigh Lichtenstein February 23, 2011

I lucked out, living in Hurumzi. I live right by a small, tucked away Hindu temple. As a Jewish-American woman living in a predominantly Muslim world, I’ve sometimes taken comfort in the “otherness” of Hinduism here, visiting the temple, barefoot, on my days off, just to enjoy the cavernous silence of its inner courtyard — […]

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Piko in Paje – ancient Swahili lady lessons on pleasure and pain

by Amanda Leigh Lichtenstein February 17, 2011

“Siri ya mtungi aijuae kata.” The secret of the water pitcher is only known by its ladle. — Swahili proverb Where did you learn about sex ? I mean, not just about sex, but about pleasure? My sex education happened haphazardly in hotel lobbies during Bar Mitzvah time-outs, when we’d lounge on couches after sweaty […]

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