A dhow at the beach during a low tide
On the eastern side of Zanzibar, a tireless tide has left a dhow, the traditional boat, to dry on a sand
A girl sitting at the bucket during low tide, Zanzibar
She doesn’t go swimming in the morning, because she does not know how to swim, therefore collects food from the ocean. The girls from the poor families go to the beach every morning during low tide to collect mussels, snails, grass, which mothers will use to prepare meals for the family.
On the fairy tale island of Zanzibar live women who work all day in the ocean, in order to provide their families with a better life. In a patriarchal society, this job is their way of fighting for independence. Due to climate change, the temperature of the Indian Ocean has increased, which does not suit the seaweed. Also, the value of seaweed on the market has fallen, and for the same quantities, they are now getting much less money. But in spite of all the difficulties, these women do not give up. The warm Indian ocean, the one that gives the smiles, hope, gives life. In the eastern part of the island, facing the blue ocean, are seaweed farms. Every morning, when the water withdraws and leaves the soft sand to dry in a merciless African sun, hundreds of women go to their job. Wrapped in kangas, they defy the sun, treading shallow, warm water, they pick the sea grass that grows around the short sticks in the sand. This gift from the ocean, as women working on these farms call seaweed, is the basic Zanzibar export product for decades and is of very good quality. About 90 per cent of employees at these farms is women. Seaweed is used as a base in many cosmetic products, the pharmaceutical industry, but also as a food in many Asian countries. It is found in shampoos, face creams, in products that these women will probably never use.
A large number of tourists visiting Zanzibar brought problems. Some of them are pollution, excessive fishing, but also less and fewer beaches on which seaweed can be planted and maintained. It directly affects Zanzibari women, as so many women still depend on our husbands and their little wages, insufficient for the family.
The last decade has brought many issues. The ocean is no longer on the side of these hardworking women. Due to climate change, the water is getting warmer, the seaweed can’t survive and must now be planted in deeper water, in order to grow.
Therefore, these brave women are willing to overcome their fear – the fear of water. They traditionally do not learn to swim, they were not allowed to. That is why every new step towards the open sea, they seek for a deeper breath, more strength, greater courage …
These women struggle not only against tradition, but they also struggle against fear, and for their freedom. On one of the beautiful beaches of Zanzibar, there is a swimming school for local women. They swim dressed in their colourful kangas, and the turquoise water gets a look of happy and bright African colours, the look of hope. Zanzibari women don’t surrender, they fight to be independent and free, knowing that the future depends only on them!
From planting seaweed to harvesting takes up to 2 months and heavy daily work of these women
In order for the seaweed to live and bloom, the rods must be stuck deep enough into the sand to withstand the full force of the ocean, the tide after tide, the waves that carry the wind to the shore
When the seaweed has matured enough, women must pick it and prepare it for drying and packaging