My journeys in CAI active countries gives me the opportunity to meet some very interesting people, from diverse countries and varied communities. A fascinating mulaqaat occurred in Zanzibar recently, with Bethany Caunter, a young woman from England, as English as they come. She is a recent convert to Islam, covered from head to toe in a traditional Zanzibari abaaya. She would be like any local Zanzibari woman, except for the burnt milky-white skin tone, living under the fierce Zanzibar sun and for her cat-like pale green eyes. The eyes, they are a-startling, as if looking into the eyes of a determined feline. We meet by chance, through an acquaintance. She shows her way around an almost completed two-room structure, future home to her English and computer training institute. Her relatively young but remarkable life, for me, is intriguing, telling, certainly worth a probe. So I talk to her and ask her permission to Blog her motivating story. Blimey, she says, not for the first time, her eyes widening in surprise, deepening the green in her irises, but agrees readily. I hope you find Bethany’s story as remarkable as I do:
I was born in the town of Redding, Berkshire into a very liberal wealthy family in an overwhelming conservative community; my dad is the owner of fifty-five successful leisure centers. When my parents divorced, I lived with my father. I excelled in drama classes and made a firm determination to follow a career in acting when I grew up. I moved to London proper at age sixteen and perused drama and literature at college. I found an agent to represent me and find me assignments. Although somewhat successful, my heart was not into it and the passion for acting quickly abated. My heart sought adventure so I took off for a vacation to Gambia in West Africa. I guess this was the spark that led to another bigger and more interesting world out there.
Then I got an opportunity to come here to Makunduchi, Zanzibar through a poorly managed charity. This gave me an opportunity to serve, through which opened a deep curiosity about the children of Zanzibar. I served teaching English to the children of Mtende, an impoverished village not too far from here. I slept on the floor and lived a barren life, so much different to what I had in London. It was tough, yes, but I warmed to the children who inevitably failed in school and were fated to a life of poverty and sub-existence. I returned home for six months and worked odd jobs to raise funds for the children of Mtende. I want to establish a computer training and English language center here.
Religion, for me, was unimportant; I was not interested. I did not attend church back home and all religious exposure was through school; I was accepting of all faiths. Same for Islam, I was unaware of the religion and not interested. When I returned, it was the month of Ramadhan. So I fasted for fun and quite liked it actually. The atmosphere of camaraderie, sharing and festivity appealed to me.
Then I met a man who inspired me to turn to Islam, the man who would be my future father in law. He has eight children and I fell in love with one of his sons and later married him. He is very young, my age, trying to become a medical doctor in the future. I converted to Islam of course; my Muslim name is Aseeya.
We are not poor like many others here, who go frequently hungry, but we have very little money at the end of the day and life is pretty hard for me, coming from the background I grew up in. Money is important, yes, but it’s not a pivot to happiness in life. I have a husband who I love, an extended family I am devoted to and most importantly, I am making a difference in the lives of these poor children by giving them an opportunity to excel in English and computer studies. Once the institute construction is fully complete, I will have a full-time job in it and hopefully succeed in changing some lives for the better.
Narrated to me March 16, 2015 outside of a local school CAI is assisting in Zanzibar. Here she is: