Nasir Hassan Haji holds up her harvested sponges in a bag from her home in Jambiani in Zanzibar, Tanzania. June 21, 2021. PHOTO | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Nasir Hassan Haji never thought of herself as a farmer or a swimmer, but as she waded into Zanzibar’s blue waters with goggles pulled over her headscarf to examine her floating sponge farm, she realised she had surprised herself by becoming both.
Alongside 12 other women in Jambiani village on the Indian Ocean coast, Haji has come to rely on the climate-resilient, natural sponges bobbing on thick ropes where they grow for months before the women harvest, clean and sell them to shops and tourists.
“I learned to swim and to farm sponges so I could be free and not depend on any man,” Haji said later, sitting on the floor in her home on the Tanzanian island.