Traveling from Nairobi to Zanzibar is like traveling from New York City to Key West. Zanzibar is an island off the east coast of Africa. While it legally belongs to the country of Tanzania, it feels like its own tropical paradise. The flowers, trees, beaches are astonishingly beautiful. It feels awkward to walk around Zanzibar as a business traveler amongst all of the tourists; they are dressed for the beach, I am in my blue suit. But this clearly is not Key West. What adds a different flavor (figuratively) is the large Muslim population; what adds a different flavor (literally) are the spices grown on the island. In fact, the archipelago of Zanzibar is known as the Spice Islands.
Two days before I arrived there was a major storm that killed seven people and knocked out most of the power on the island. The power was never restored during my two-day visit. That was not unusual; the power was once off for three months!
The islanders coped amazingly well with the lack of power. I didn't fare as well. While my hotel room had air conditioning, no other place I visited did. And the heat index stood at over 100 degrees during the days. I also had no lights in my classroom, no microphone and of course no air conditioning.
But the class filled every one of the 80 seats and was incredibly attentive. It was a group dressed in everything from full African dress to beachwear. There were natives from the island, including several elected officials, a large group of expats who were now residents (mainly from Europe) and even American stage technicians working on a large local music festival. I worried that I would have nothing of interest to say to the group.
As the class started, the group was exceptionally quiet. I always ask the same question when I begin class: what makes working in the arts difficult? Normally I get numerous responses. Today I got just two. Given the heat, the lack of a microphone and the diversity of the group I was convinced it was going to be a long day. (It didn't help that there was construction work taking place right next door; we couldn't close the windows because of the heat.)
But after a few minutes the group relaxed and their warm, embracive spirit was in evidence. We had a great discussion about marketing and especially fundraising. Of key concern was how to develop local donors. The majority of arts funding in Zanzibar (and many African nations) comes from European governments. This won't last indefinitely. Just ask the arts organizations in South Africa (which benefited from foreign funds after the election of Nelson Mandela) or those in Eastern Europe (which briefly benefited after the end of Communism).
The participants were smart and sophisticated and experienced. We discussed the need to establish closer ties to the local community, a difficult job on an island with a large tourist population.
No doubt these intelligent islanders will figure it out!