Ikiwa’s world

Ikiwa Abdulla arranges her hijab using a small broken mirror in her home in Fumba, Zazibar. I spent time with Ikiwa while working on a story about an aquaculture project that hopes to teach rural women in Zanzibar how to cultivate shellfish as an alternative form of protein. After documenting the scientific aspect of the project in the shellfish hatchery, spending time in Ikiwa’s world really personalized the project for me and made me see the potential impact the project’s success could have on her life.

Ikiwa Abdulla walks out almost a mile onto the shellfish flats to gather shellfish in Fumba, Zanzibar. The temperature is scorching and Ikiwa, along with other women from her village, spend most of the day bent over double, digging into the sand to find clams, cockles, oysters and conchs. As Zanzibar’s shellfish stocks become more and more depleted, women like Ikiwa have to walk out further and further into the ocean at low tide to reach the wild shellfish that remain.

Over the last two winters, I spent some time in Zanzibar working on a story about an aquaculture project that hopes to help women like Ikiwa. A collaborative effort by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the Island Creek Oysters Foundation, both based in Massachusetts, the project hopes to teach rural women in Zanzibar how to cultivate shellfish and help replenish shellfish stocks in a part of the world where protein is in shorter and shorter supply and economic opportunities for rural women are few and far between.

While I spent quite a bit of time documenting the scientific aspect of the project in the shellfish hatchery where experiments are being done to find the best way to cultivate a healthy, consistent local species of shellfish seed, the most extraordinary part of my experience was the time I spent with Ikiwa. Except for her cell phone, Ikiwa’s world appeared to me much as I imagined it must have been for the people of Zanzibar hundreds of years before. The home she shares with her extended family is made of stones, sticks and straw. She cooks over open fire and the house has neither electricity nor running water.

After spending a day on the shelffish flats with Ikiwa and the other women, I noticed how labor-intensive their work was and how little food they returned home with. There is a long tradition of harvesting shellfish in the wild in the coastal villages of east Africa. Typically the women who harvest them bring them back and boil them to extract meat from the shells. Without access to refrigeration, this renders the shellfish meat in a form that is relatively easy to keep for a few days without spoiling.

While the women use some of the shellfish to feed their families, they sell most of it at the daily food market. Witnessing Ikiwa’s struggle to bring home enough shellfish to feed her family and also make a small profit, the aquaculture project’s potential impact on her life really struck me.

At the end of her long day gathering shellfish, Ikiwa bathed using a bucket. I was particularly struck by the care with which she then took to arrange her hijab using a small broken mirror (see image above). Below are a few more images from Ikiwa’s world.

Ikiwa walks out almost a mile onto the shellfish flats to gather shellfish in Fumba, Zanzibar. As Zanzibar’s shellfish stocks become more and more depleted, women like Ikiwa have to walk out further and further into the ocean at low tide to reach the shellfish that remain.

Despite scorching temperatures, Ikiwa and other women from her village spend most of the day bent over double, digging into the sand to find clams, cockles, oysters and conchs.

Three young sisters spend the day collecting shellfish for their family to eat.

Ikiwa heads home with her bucket of shellfish balanced on her head.

On returning home, Ikiwa boils the shellfish she harvested on an open fire. Typically the women who harvest shellfish boil them to extract meat from the shells. Without access to refrigeration, this renders the shellfish meat in a form that is relatively easy to keep for a few days without spoiling.

Ikiwa and her extended family clean the shellfish and remove the meat from the shells. While the women use some of the shellfish to feed their families, they sell most of it at the daily food market. Witnessing Ikiwa’s struggle to bring home enough shellfish to feed her family and also make a small profit, the aquaculture project’s potential impact on her life really struck me.

A detail shot of Ikiwa and her cousin cleaning and separating the shellfish.

Ikiwa grinds coconut for the shellfish sauce she is making from her day’s take. Behind her is the open fire the sauce will be cooked on.



Ikiwa’s shellfish sauce cooks on the open fire in her kitchen–the delicious end product of a long day of work.

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4 Replies to “Ikiwa’s world”

  1. Julia… incredible photos and words as always. I am in tears right now. Crazy what I take for granted every single day. Would I have the inner strength and drive of Ikiwa?
    xxAmy

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  2. I highly reocmmend the Korean method: take a plate of fresh live mussels and other shellfish, throw them on a hot barbecue, and eat them as they open with hot sauce and soju. Dead easy in a good way.

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  3. While the women use some of the shellfish to feed their families, they sell most of it at the daily food market. Witnessing Ikiwa’s struggle to bring home enough shellfish to feed her family and also make a small profit, the aquaculture project’s potential impact on her life really struck me.

    Like

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