Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Back in Town

Hey all! My sincerest apologies for my recent silence. We had a four day weekend off of school, and I spent half of it traveling outside of Tunis/Cartage, while the other half was so unbelievably boiling hot that I could not muster up the energy to leave the apartment and walk to the Internet Café (realize that leaving the apartment entails putting on pants and a longish sleeved top, a prospect that is not particularly inviting when the temperature is over 100 degrees, there isn’t a cloud in the sky and the breeze feels like somebody is holding a hot blow-dryer to one’s face). So please forgive me…every word I say is true.

One more thing before I recount the fabulous adventures of this weekend past: One should note that my posts are momentary thoughts and reactions and aren’t necessarily a true reflection of my experience here. The tone of each post is so incredibly dependent on the time of day/temperature that it often seems to belie the true nature of my thoughts. For example, at the moment it is post-siesta/pre-sunset time, and the temperature is a comfortable 90ish degrees with a nice sea breeze, so I am happy and optimistic. Had I been writing this post at 2:00 this afternoon, you’d probably think I was hating every minute of my life. Thus are the mood swings associated with this climate. Of course, the fact that we don’t have air conditioning, have hot water only sometimes and commute between Tunis and Cartage for a grand total of two hours everyday makes the weather a seriously important consideration in terms of my hour to hour functioning.

(So I’m currently drafting this post on Lea’s laptop before I head over to the Internet Café, and she just walked in the room and said: “Oh my goodness! Have you stood in front of the open refrigerator in a wet bikini-top yet? Oh my…” You see what I mean?)

So about this weekend…I have to say that it was pretty great. On Friday we slept in before visiting the Bardo museum, the most famous in Tunisia, in the afternoon. The museum is known for its collection of North African Roman artifacts as well as some Islamic stuff. The highlight of this visit was the oldest known portrait of Virgil, a 3rd century mosaic. The happy hour at the marine house at the U.S. Embassy was cancelled on Friday night, so a few of us went to a nice (but very touristy) restaurant in La Marsa, which is close to Sidi Bou Said (the tourist’s idyllic Tunisian coastal town—picture white-washed buildings with blue shudders on a hill overlooking the sea and lots of good-looking Europeans dining at quaint little cafes).

On Saturday Nathanael, Adam, Nora and I set out for El-Jem by means of louage, a sort of shared taxi (usually a station wagon or eight passenger van) meant for long-distance travel. While a louage is relatively inexpensive and often more convenient than the Tunisian train system, it usually does not have air-conditioning, and one can end up squashed up next to a pungent stranger. And it’s hot. REALLY HOT. (Can you guess what the theme of this entire experience has become?)

We arrived at El-Jem in the late morning after connecting in Sousse. There we visited the Colosseum of El-Jem, which was the third largest in the Roman world and is the most famous example of Roman architecture in North Africa, or so they tell me. After a lunch of bread and bananas from a nearby tabac, we hopped into another louage and went back to Sousse before continuing onward to Kairouan, one of the seven holiest cities of Islam (depending upon whom you ask, of course). We could not drive directly to Kairouan from El-Jem because of the enormous salt flats separating the two. Salt flats are definitely some of the craziest things that I’ve ever seen in my life. We spent Sunday evening and most of Monday in Kairouan visiting several famous mosques, including the Great Mosque, the oldest in North Africa, before trying our hands at bargaining in the local suq. Our hotel had an amazing view of the medina from the roof, and we stayed up late Sunday night talking and listening to a nearby wedding celebration. It was pretty amazing. I also had a real shower. That was pretty amazing, too.

(“How dare the denial of human rights in this country subject me to an inferior learning experience,” says Lea. “That’s the Lea we went to class with,” says Adam. I love these people. They are endlessly amusing.)

The trip to Kairouan was, however, both the best of times and the worst of times. Monday was characterized by the highest temperatures we have yet observed (they tell me it was somewhere between 105-110 degrees…obviously when one understands neither of the languages spoken in this country, every bit of information comes from a second- or third-hand source), making the louage ride back to Tunis one of the single most uncomfortable experiences of my life. That was soon followed by the single most uncomfortably hot night of my life (you know it’s going to be a bad day when you are already sweating bullets before sunrise). As God as my witness, I will never complain about an Evansville summer day again.

School is going well except that I only understand 20%-30% of what my teacher (who looks like an Arab Homer Simpson) says on any given day. Ah the joys of immersion.

Well, I suppose I’m about out of time on Lea’s laptop, but I hope this extended post made up for my recent lack of communication with the outside world.

Salaam.

p.s. Mom, no worries about little old me. I'm well-taken care of and having a great time. <3

3 Comments:

Blogger Ness said...

I finally got around to watching seven samurai.
it's excellent.

12:05 AM  
Blogger Heartsurgeon said...

mom was particularly amused by your "pungent" comment. An old trick to combat the urge to hurl is to dab a little perfume on your upper lip, to mask the aroma of your traveling companion.

I think you may end up becoming a fan of Paul Theroux..he writes travel books that explore the more "pungent" side of life in far-away places...

sounds like your having a memorable time...the hardships make for great memories and stories to tell in the future..

4:45 PM  
Blogger galu said...

I am enjoying your blog..Now I am wondering where Lea was wandering off by herself again. I am also not surprised to see that she improvised with the Tunisian refrigerated bikini. Glad you are there with her. Ask her about her motorbike trip to the airport some time. Take care! Thanks for the insite. Lea's Mom

5:31 AM  

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