This guide reflects the observation of volunteers in Pemba and was updated in September, 2011.
Zanzibar is made of two large islands, Unguja and Pemba and many smaller islands lying off their coastlines. Pemba is the northern most of the two islands. While there is tourism on the island it is much less than that of Unguja. The three main towns in Pemba are Mkoani in the south, Chake chake in the middle of the island and Wete in the north.
Chake chake is the commercial and political center of the island although Wete is slightly larger. Mkoani is the smallest of the three towns but it is the main port of entry. Currently there are VSO volunteers and Peace Corps placed volunteers in the Wete, Konde and Mkoani.
There are now daily flights each day from Pemba to Unguja and Dar and one flight to Tanga from Karume Airport in Chake chake. Volunteers with resident permits are entitled to residents rates for flights. Planes plying the routes to Pemba are small planes, mostly eighteen seaters.
Currently, there are times a week scheduled for fast boats operating between Pemba (Mkoani) and Dar via Unguja. Usually the schedules are erratic and frequently you will be stranded. The time table often changes. It is not uncommon for at least one boat to be out of action for prolonged periods of repairs. Travel time is approximately two and half hours between Unguja and Pemba. Slow boats operate five times a week between Unguja and Pemba. However, it is not recommended that volunteers (do not) travel by these boats due to poor safety records and incidents of theft. There is a slow boat that operates ones a week between Tanga and Wete.
Dala dala operates during the daylights between main towns. It is approximately 60 – 90 minutes between Chake Chake and Mkoani, Chake chake and Wete. Fares are currently 1500 Tshs. There are direct dala dalas between Wete and Mkoani to coincide with the boats departures and arrivals only. There are few taxis on the island. It is best to get to know a local driver. The dala dalas are also available for private hire.
Most VSO volunteers are issued motorbikes but Peace Corps are not allowed to drive piki pikis. Volunteers currently in placement will be able to recommend reliable mechanic for any maintenance issues. The road is fairly good from Mkoani to Wete and to Konde (in the north east of the island). Once off the main road the standard deteriorates. Many of the secondary roads are mud during the rainy season and rather sandy or loose gravel in the dry season.
Pemba is hillier than Unguja. Bicycles can be great way to get around and keeping fit if you don’t mind cycling up the hills.
It is fairly quiet in Pemba. The better your Kiswahili the easier it is to socialize with Pembans. Common reaction on the islands includes watching local football (ask Brennan Daly) matches and playing bao (a type of board game), drinking chai and chatting. Gossiping is a past time also in the island. Current volunteers (VSO, Peace Corps and CFI – CIDA) utilize their spare time in different ways from helping cleaning each others backyards (ala Rambo!) to planting mangroves or simply hanging out every weekend with each other.
Alcohol is only available at few locations on the island. In Wete there is the Police Mess and in Chake Chake there is the Army Mess. Many volunteers prefer to drink at home if they are going to consume alcohol as it is more relaxed. There are few exclusive resorts on the islands which sells alcohol at typical exclusive resort prices. In the very north of the island is the Swahili Divers where you can get food and drinks in a more Western environment.
The variety of fruit and vegetables available depends on the seasons. More commonly available are banana, mango orange, passion fruit, tomatoes, eggplant, carrot, green peppers, local spinach, onions, garlic, potatoes, and avocado. Beans, rice, cassava, maize and variety of spices are available. Dairy products are difficult to come by. There is a lot of fresh seafood’s and meat available except for pork which cannot be purchased in the island. Most volunteers bring back special treats when they visit the mainland. Fruit juice, sodas and spices tea are readily available.
Most food is fried. It is yummy if a little heavy on fat content. There are few restaurants in each main town that offers excellent local foods. Normally the meals range from 1,500 to 15,000 shillings. In the evening most food is available from street stalls where the main fare is Chipsi Maya (chip omelette), miskaki (meat skewers) fried fish and squid.
Pemba is a conservative Muslim society. It is important for men and women to cover their shoulders and knees. It is not necessary for women to cover their heads. Loose clothing is preferable as tight clothing will just result in staring and possible harassment by men. It is fine for women to wear loose trousers particularly if riding a motorbike or bicycle. Clothing can be made at reasonable prices. There is only a limited supply of ready made clothing in the island.
Swimming costumes depends on where you will swim. Women will need to wear different outfits. If near fishing villages you may need to wear a sarong and t –shirt in water over your swimming costume. If at a resort beach or doing diving or on a boat trip then it is much more relaxed and some volunteers feels comfortable in a bikini while others prefers to wear board shorts and a one piece swim suit.
ELECTRICITY AND WATER
Apparently Tanzania uses 230V, 50 cycles. Surges are common so it’s a good idea to bring surge protector especially if you are bringing computer equipment. You can buy these in Dar and on the islands but the quality can be an issue. Multi adaptors are sold locally but they break easily so it’s a good idea to bring a couple with you.
Pemba has two powerlines. Power cuts can be frequent and every month or two there tends to be a period of a number of days without power. Most volunteers consider their head torches to be essential items. You van buy candles, torches, batteries and re-chargeable lamps easily. Most volunteers have gas cookers. Gas bottles are available in Chake chake. Though recently they are available in Wete, the price is still cheaper in Chake even if you consider the time and the amount of fare going to Chake. Charcoal cookers are charcoals are readily available too.
Water supplies depend on the set up of where you leave. As pumps are run on electricity you will not have running water when the power is off unless you have a tank on your roof. Though bottled water is available in the island it is better to ask your colleagues where the closest well is.
National Microfinance Bank, Barclays and the People’s bank of Zanzibar have one branch each in Chake chake. ATM’s are available but only Barclays accept MasterCard, Maestro, and Visa Cards. Western Union is available only in the Post offices of Wete and Chake Chake but most transactions done are receiving money from overseas. There are a couple of places on the island to exchange money but the rates are not as good as on the mainland. Traveler’s cheques cannot be exchanged on the island. For that matter it can be difficult to exchange(s) them in many places in Tanzania. If you do bring travelers cheques make sure you will remember the receipt as well.
POST: Most volunteers have found the postal service reliable in as much as mot things arrive even if the time taken varies considerably. DHL is now available; their office is in Chake chake.
EMAIL: There are couples of internet cafes in Chake chake and Wete but faster and better service are offered in the post offices of these towns. Though, internet is available in Benjamin Mkapa Teachers College and Utani Secondary School, most of these is subsidized by the Ministry of Education and often not readily available for outsiders.
PHONES and INTERNET: Zantel is recommended in the island but most mobile phones coverage is good in towns. Calling overseas is expensive and most volunteers rely on texting. Zantel and TTCL offer internet connections.
WHAT TO BRING:
This is not meant to be comprehensive list but it is more of a list of items current volunteers appreciate having brought from home.
Music CDs, Ipod, Ipad, laptop, reference books for your job, diary, camera, rechargeable torch, head torch, pocket knives, dry bag ( great boat trips or in the rainy seasons), cotton underwear, toothbrush, swimming costumes, tampons, mosquito repellent, sun cream, DVD’s, medicines and books ( Pemba American Corner ) have limited available books for loan out ).
Note: VSO international currently do not place female volunteers in the island for security reasons and this was based on previous incidence of harassment to volunteers.
* Thanks to Brennan Daly for helping me during the preparation of the Pemba Volunteers Guide