If there is one thing that I have come to better understand on this journey, it has been the art of improvisation. (This is thanks in large part to my friend/sort-of-ex-roommate Adam.) In this country, many unexpected things happen. Businesses are closed when they should be open. Foods are unavailable although they are on the menu. Banks are closed on the day one is totally strapped for cash because national holidays come and go without warning. So what should one do when faced with a problem (or even some free time)? Improvise. In fact, the best times are often had when one has no idea what exactly one is doing. I found this to be true time and again. Let me recall the events of this Tuesday night past to illustrate my point:
Tuesday was Thomas Marriot Moore's last full day in Tunis, and he wanted to go to the beach. I needed to go back out to Salambo to pick up some things that I had left at the other apartment, so I invited him to our beach for his final frolic in the Mediterranean. After school we ate, stopped by the new apartment and headed out to Carthage. However, when we arrived I realized that I had left my key in Tunis, and Nora and Adam had not yet come home. So what did we do? We improvised. We went to the Internet Cafe and ran some errands, and when they weren't back an hour later, I sat at the Odyssey and had a tea while Tom did his beach thing. The sky had become quite cloudy, and the temperature had begun to fall noticably for the first time in days, so my sit was actually quite pleasant, and by the time we were finished, our friends had returned.
When we got back to the apartment, Adam and Nora suggested that we go to an Uod (sp?) concert with them at 21:00, and we said sure. After all, we didn't have much else to do besides go back to Tunis and chill in the city. So, we hung out in Salambo for a while. Tom wanted to see the ruins at Tophet (baby graves), so I borrowed Nora's Bourguiba ID card, which lets one see all of the Carthaginian ruins free of charge, because I had left mine in Tunis. When we reach Tophet, the fellows at the gate informed us that we have to pay 5.200 dinar a piece despite our having a student ID. "But we have been allowed in for free before...just two weeks ago," I said (in a mix of whatever languages got the idea across best). The three fellows chatted in Tunisian for a bit and then replied that last week the minister of tourism in Tunis changed the rules. In fact, we can go there and ask if we want to, the told us. "It is a big edifice," said one of the men in English.
Well, we didn't want to spent 10 dinars, so we decided to walk along the fence and see what we could see from outside of Tophet while we made our way down the street to an ruined Roman port. Apparently the guy at the port had not heard the new rule because after the standard awkward interaction, he let us in without any trouble. As we were climbing through the ruins and enjoying the view of the coast and the local fishermen navigating their boats into the small harbor from the sea, something wonderful happened: it began to rain, a highly uncommon and unbelievably refreshing occurrence in Tunisia. Had we returned to the city, there is no way we would have enjoyed this wonderful afternoon together.
That, however, was only the beginning of the day's random adventures. Because Nora was eating dinner with her Frank, who apparently has a car here, Adam, Tom and I set out by ourselves on foot to the "Roman Amphitheater" at which the concert was being held. We left at 20:35 at a determined pace. The concert was supposed to start at 21:00. We left Salambo heading away from Tunis on Avenue Habib Bourguiba. Adam struck out ahead following his "internal compass," while Tom and I followed behind. The distance didn't bother us at all as the day had quickly become one of the coolest we had yet experienced in Tunisia. After about 20 minutes and several turns, Adam turned to us and said, "The roads aren't doing what they are supposed to...Let's go this way." He then proceeded to head off the road over a hill, which lead into a huge field. As we were feeling relatively intrepid, Tom and I had absolutely no complaints. In the distance, we could see the lights of the various buildings on Dido's hill. We continued to walk through this field, and our eyes finished adjusting to the dark (the sun had just set completely). We saw a few stray cats and a group of (supposedly) homeless people sitting together in the distance. We had been walking for a short time when we heard the roll of thunder and saw lightning flashing on the horizon. It then began to rain heavily (by Tunisian standards), and we continued on through the cool pelts of magical liquid goodness. (Since coming to this country, I have developed a seriously new appreciation for water.) As we came upon an abandoned building, we heard bleating and saw a lone goat turn the corner around this looming, shadowy structure. All of the sudden, a flock of sheep and two herders emerged from behind the building. The sheep bleated like crazy as they passed, and one of the sheep herders turned to us as he followed them and said, "Allo!"
At this point, we didn't really care about the fact that we were going to be late to the concert because we were having such a crazy time getting there! Tom and I commented that this whole adventure was really in a way indicative of the Tunisian experience: You set out in Tunisia without any real idea of what to expect, and you encounter a bunch of crazy, random and sometimes scary things on the way. Then you find what you are looking for...or you don't. In the case of the Amphitheater, it turned out to be a little of both...
After climbing up a pretty steep hill over several rocks and bones (from what sort of animal we could not say), we came out on a road that Adam said he had walked on before at some point in his wanderings. We followed this road to a large crossroads at which three sizable streets intersected. Adam stopped right in the middle of this intersection, turned to us and said, "We should ask for directions...I think." At this point it was well after 9, but Adam believed that we were close. So, we picked one of the three roads and found a row of shops at which we could ask for directions. A tabac
owner pointed us back to the big intersection and told us to take a left. We followed his directions and soon found a sign that read "Roman Amphitheather," which pointed roughly in the direction of a nearby road running along a forest. We followed this road until we ran into another big intersection. It was dark, and the only music we were aware of was coming from a nearby house (and was most certainly not an uod). We stopped to ask a street cop where the amphitheater was located, and he pointed us straight back the other way.
TO BE CONTINUED...