A double major in biology and theater introduces dramatic arts to schoolchildren in Zanzibar.
“I wanted to jump out of my comfort zone,” Stephaney Wilson ’20 says of her decision to travel this summer to a tiny island republic in the Indian Ocean. “I know it’s kind of cliché, but I wanted that experience.”
How about jumping seven time-zones east of Chestertown and her hometown of Baltimore? Is that far enough?
Wilson and nine other Washington College students—she calls them her “American bubble”—ventured to Zanzibar for six weeks this summer. She has little Swahili in her lexicon, yet she was able to draw on her academic background in biology and theater to connect with the people on the island, including 20 middle schoolers. She used her biology training to teach the locals best practices in waste management and personal hygiene, and her theater skills to acquire a working understanding of Swahili and to teach some English. There was a lot of pantomime.
She was touched by the sharp cultural differences between the United States and Zanzibar, whose citizens are primarily Muslim. Her building, for instance, would suddenly empty of men who were called for prayer, and her lack of a head scarf when she was out in public was a clear giveaway that she was American.
“I would go to the market and I never got the locals’ prices on things,” she says, ruefully.
Wilson marvels at the schoolchildren’s commitment to working on small two-person scenes from a variety of plays, recalling their excitement at the novelty of the experience.
“There isn’t much of theater tradition there,” she says, and her eyes grow wide as she remembers how they embraced the work. “I really hope that even just one of the kids found a spark of interest in the theater. You would like to think that I brought something new to them that would stay with them throughout their lives.”