What can be said in a name?

Much is communicated in the names we are given. Often, they can be the windows to our view of the world. For some of us, they curate the opportunities we are given, and how we might be perceived and treated in our global society. And for many, they wield power, deeper meanings, and often our capacity for interpersonal connection.

We immediately experienced a wonderful myriad of these complexities when we met Gladness Besmehn, sales & marketing manager of Hakuna Majiwe Lodge in Paje, Zanzibar. In preparation for our interview, we woke at dawn to capture the stunning sunrise over the South Eastern coast, and settled into a delicious breakfast of omelettes and fresh fruits.

Hakuna Majiwe is a place where time tends to stand still, and they indulged our imagination by providing a chic Afro-bohemian lounge area, adjacent to the bar in the beautiful Tradewinds Restaurant, which became our office for the day. We took out our devices, with no idea of what our itinerary would be, and decided to get a few social media odds and ends done.

Gladness Interview, Lounge at Hakuna Majiwe | @dipyourtoesin

As we were caught between looking at our screens, and absorbing the morning view of greens and aqua blues of the sea, we heard a joyful, yet commanding voice say “Jambo! Here you are!” We craned our necks from the nooks we had settled into, and turned to see Gladness, a lithe, towering woman, with a smile mirroring the depths of the Indian Ocean.

Gladness WIT Interview & sunrise at Hakuna Majiwe | @dipyourtoesin

This is where the capacity to connect with others completely reflected in her birth name. The speed at which that connection took place was instantaneous. There seemed to be no barriers, and a complete absence of the ever-common small pauses of figuring out the next steps in the conversation with someone completely new to you. She exuded warmth, sincerity, and confidence. We set up a time later in the evening to do an hour-long Women in Travel interview.

After a quick excursion to the local Seaweed Centre and a hearty lunch, we watched the late afternoon golden sunshine warm the Paje horizon. We settled into the airy and plush lounge area and were joined by Gladness, who opened up to us regarding life as a returned expat, industry experience, love stories, and childhood tales. If this could have been the beginning of a tell-all biography, we were indeed close to it.



A long-standing love of travel & hospitality

When you step foot onto Hakuna Majiwe, you immediately get a sense of community. The staff is warm, helpful, and always smiling. Everyone we encountered possessed an unassuming casualness that can in part be accredited to the beach side location, and the other half had to be from strategic training. We wondered about Gladness’s foray into the tourism world, and asked her about her beginnings:

Gladness WIT Interview at Hakuna Majiwe | @dipyourtoesin

Gladness: I was born in Moshi Kilimanjaro to a big family. My best memories are when I visited my grandparents. My step-father worked in the tourism industry. I was naturally drawn to it by the efficiency and passion he exuded when he talked about his work. I followed in his footsteps, and as an exchange student, I began working in hotels.

Food at Hakuna Majiwe (Gladness Interview) | @dipyourtoesin

In 2001, a close friend introduced me to my future husband, Chris.  He was a gold mine camp manager in Mwanza Region, Nzega district.  We got married in 2004 and moved to Germany. I worked in the industry while there, but something kept calling me back to Tanzania, and so we returned in 2012. I took a position organizing VIP safaris, where clients would pay $30,000 for a two-week safari. However, the work was stressful, and not very fulfilling for me. Exactly one year later, the position for a dual management position at Hakuna Majiwe came up, and it was the perfect fit for both Chris and I, so we jumped at the offer.


The Art of Love & Teamwork

Gladness and Chris both hold managerial roles at Hakuna Majiwe. Chris oversees the overall property management, and Gladness hones her expertise by overseeing the sales and marketing department. We asked her about working with her husband and some of the challenges and triumphs she’s encountered during the journey:

Gladness interview & husband Chris with @dipyourtoesin

Gladness: It is often difficult to separate our private life from our work sometimes. However, we are learning everyday just like any other couple working together. We’ve discovered that we must always find a solution to our problems, and that solution lies in our ability to compromise.

Sometimes we might get upset with each other, and I find it difficult to even talk to him, so he gives me my space, and later he grabs my hand, and we walk along the beach. We don’t have to say much to each other. We forgive and move on.  


Change in Tanzania

Our time in Zanzibar had shown us a country on the verge of a tourism surge, with Dar Es Salaam (capital of Tanzania) being one of the fastest growing cities on the continent of Africa. We asked Gladness how the tourism industry had changed since her return: 

Maasai at Hakuna Majiwe in Zanzibar | @dipyourtoesin

Gladness: It has changed a lot. The government has opened doors to investors, and that has helped the younger generation with access to more jobs. We give jobs to these young people from Paje, and from the neighboring villages.

The government has also completely eliminated plastic bags on the island. At one time, little blue bags completely littered the beaches, but when I came back, they were gone. Now you’ll see shop owners using reusable cloth bags. It’s a great step, but there needs to be a big recycling center to help with the water bottle problem.

We do our part here at Hakuna Majiwe through our own recycling program. We collect plastic water bottles and sell it for 200shs per kg to a businessman from Stone Town, who then sells them to a recycling company in town. The proceeds go to the staff welfare fund. This is a great incentive for them.


Standing out & proud

Gladness works in an industry that is dominated by men in executive leadership roles. Based on that fact alone, we asked her if she ever faced difficulties in the advancement of her career:


Gladness: Of course there have been challenges, but I’ve been blessed to work with very professional people. I’ve learned to hold my head high, no matter what.

Gladness talked about her relationship with her Hakuna Majiwe staff members, including the open door policy and support she offers. What advice can she give to women desiring management roles in the tourism industry? 

Gladness: It’s simple, be yourself and help others along the way. Believe me, it’s always repaid in kind!


What the future holds…

As easy as it was to laugh about childhood stories from her pass, she shared that same ease when discussing her future dreams. We asked her to fast forward 5-7 years from today. What does she envision for the future?


Gladness: As we say in Zanzibar…Inshallah (God willing). Running our own small lodge [laughing]. We love what we are doing right now. We can’t imagine being anyplace else.


Lost in Time

We barely noticed the orange moon rise over the quiet shores of Hakuna Majiwe as one hour turned to three. We were lost in swapping childhood stories, anecdotes, and laughter that masked the growing twinge of hunger in our bellies. We felt grateful to have spent time getting to know this dynamic woman, and her story.

Orange moon rising in Zanzibar at Hakuna Majiwe | @dipyourtoesin

We walked out to the shore, following the warm moonlight. The ending of the interview couldn’t be more perfect. We almost felt we were stepping into Gladness’s place- where peace, joy, and hope for the future reigned supreme.

Update [August 2016]: Gladness and her husband took a new management opportunity in Belize, and relocated to the Hidden Valley Inn. We wish them the best of success in their future endeavors!

*Imagining a holiday in Zanzibar? For bookings please go to Hakuna Majiweor contact them at +255 777 454 505.

Gladness WIT Interview at Hakuna Majiwe | @dipyourtoesin

Co-Founders & Curators at HDYTI

Eulanda & Omo Osagiede are London-based freelance writers and award-winning social influencers who run the popular travel, food, and lifestyle blog HDYTI (Hey! Dip your toes in).