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Amanda Leigh Lichtenstein

This must be the place. (Home is where the sea turtles are).

I kept thinking about home on the way to a sea turtle conservation center located at the northern most tip of Zanzibar, in the village of Nungwi. It was an early, rain-soaked Saturday morning, and as we wound up Zanzibar’s roads lined with lush green banana leaves and bursting coconut palms, I was thinking a [...]

Occupy Stone Town, Zanzibar?

I should be working right now. But I am preoccupied by the occupations. All around the world, from New York City to Rome, Boston to Barcelona, Miami to Moscow, every day citizens have organized to occupy the centres of financial power that have for decades caused and perpetuated gaps between rich and poor. There’s been [...]

Notes on a Zanzibar tragedy

This is not a news report on an enormous tragedy. I don’t have all the facts. No one does – yet. This is me in tears writing down the terrifying reality of a capsized cargo ship, the overloaded MV Spice, and its hundreds of passengers, mostly teenagers and children, who all sunk down in the [...]

Holy troubadours! Stone Town’s Ramadhan street chants

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 [...]

Glamorous repression: a review of an unpublished review

As long as I didn’t yell fire in a crowded theatre, I could pretty much say anything I wanted. That’s the democracy lesson I got when I was in middle school in the Midwest of the United States. Our teacher also assigned somewhat eerie post-colonial exercises like making up our own islands and then conspiring [...]

One hundred steps: Body-building at the Hindu crematorium

Burning is learning. That’s what our guide at Varanasi’s burning ghats told me and my sister as we stood along the Ganges River, inhaling the smoke and dreams of the formerly alive. I was twenty-eight years old. I thought that life would get easier as I got older. That love would be as natural as [...]

Live from the sky: liminal notes and observations from Addis to D.C.

These notes have been written between countries — in that space beyond countries — where borders are only imagined and the world below looks like a pregnant map relieved of all its flatness. I’m writing in that mildly frantic but sleepy traveler’s space: counting backwards to determine local time, attempting to reconcile body with mind, and telling [...]

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

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 [...]

Where were all the poets and writers in Zanzibar? Where were those wordsmiths hiding? Throughout my first year in Zanzibar, I may have been living inside the poem that is this island, but I’d stopped writing poetry, and I felt like the proverbial fish out of water. I’d defined myself as a poet and writer [...]

Langston Hughes in Paradise

In the later part of his life, the poet Langston Hughes made several trips to Africa, presenting and leading writing workshops all the way from Nigeria to Uganda. Some say he emerged as an official celebrity in Africa when, in Senegal, he delivered a pivotal speech entitled “Black Writers in a Troubled World,” declaring that [...]

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

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, [...]

The Technicolor world of Swahili riddles (Kitendawili?! Tega!)

Swapping Swahili riddles in Zanzibar is like tying a literary bow around a friendship and pulling tight until the two of you are bound up together in giggles and amazement. Maybe riddles have lost their literary panache in America, but here, there’s something electric and utterly vivid about riddles. Calling out the word kitendawili (riddle) [...]

Flies and Floods: a Jewish passover in Zanzibar

Mah Nishtana Halailah Hazeh? Why is this night different from all other nights? Maybe because I was celebrating the Jewish holiday of Passover on the predominantly Muslim island of Zanzibar. As far as I can tell, I am the only Jew around, at least who’s willing to admit it. I myself have always grappled with [...]

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

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 [...]