Sunday, August 28, 2005

Home Again

I have arrived home safely and soundly. After an overnight stay in New York with my roomie and a brief 16-hour stint in the Haven, I hopped on yet another plane, this time to Minnesota. There is so much grass. And pavement. It's crazy. When I get back to school and get my computer set up, we will have a lengthy catch up session and I'll tell you a few stories about my last two weekes (and, more importantly, weekends) in Tunisia. I'll also upload and post some of my pictures (finally).

Until then my friends.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Last post?

Hey all! Sorry it's been so long since my last post! The past several days have been absolutely nuts and the next several promise to be even moreso! This may be my last post from Tunisia since I am heading out of town in approx. 48 hours!!! Needless to say, this experience has been one of the most amazing and formative of my life in so many ways, and I promise to fill you in on the last two weeks of my life here when I have more time and a reliable internet connection. I miss you all so much, and many phone calls and emails will be in order when I get back to the States.

See you soon!!!


Monday, August 15, 2005


I'm back now.

...tired...hungry...sand everywhere...

but very pleased. I had a blast in the south.

If there was ever any doubt in my mind that I would come back to this country some day, it's gone now.

More after food/shower/sleep/shower/school.


Thursday, August 11, 2005


I will be traveling in the south of the country until Sunday or Monday evening, and I will probably not have access to a computer until I get back. You should hear from me again on Tuesday or Wednesday at the latest!

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Jameel Jiddan

This weekend was amazing, and the next two promise to be even better! Now that I have become aware of what little time I have left here, I feel a sort of urgency because there is so much to do and only two more weeks to go! I'm looking forward to coming home, but there is much of Tunisia that I haven't seen and experienced yet.

After school on Saturday, the whole Yale gang plus Emma came out to the Salambo for beaching and dinner. We had some great chwarma pizza. It was nice to get together with everyone and just chill and talk and smoke the nargile.

The next morning Eric, Ann, Katie, Lorainne and I woke up early(ish) to catch a louage to Kerkouane where we visited the Punic ruins, which are situated on an extremely beautiful stretch of coastline.

Stumbled upon by accident by French archaeologists in 1952, Kerkouane offers a unique insight into the Punic world. A rather mysterious place, Kerkouane was abandoned in its prime in the middle of the 3rd century BC and never reoccupied. Unlike Carthage and other Punic sites that were rebuilt on top by subsequent civilizations such as the Romans, Kerkouane remains remarkably pure.

I was struck by how amazingly well-preserved the foundations of this little town were. We walked up an down its streets, sat in its bathtubs, admired its humble but intricate mosaics and meandered through an ancient colonnaded courtyard. The nearby sea was alternating patches bright blue and turquoise, and the water was clear and cool. On this day the sky was cloudless and a startling bright blue and the strong breeze made the mid-nineties temperature particularly pleasant. It was an absolutely wonderful visit.

After lunch we took a cab to the outskirts of El Haouaria, famous for its falconry and a series of man-made caves predating the Romans but used by them to mine sandstone. While the mines were fascinating, the best part of this stop (and one of the best of my entire journey) was the view. The cliffs towering above the sea, into which the waves crashed with a particular vengeance on this very windy day, were absolutely enthralling. I can say with nearly absolute certainty that this was the single most beautiful landscape that I have ever seen in my life. I am completely in love with it. If I ever return to Tunisia, Cap Bon will most certainly be my destination of choice. I look forward to showing you the pictures we took at this location... they are quite dramatic.

This weekend (which actually starts tomorrow) I will journey to the South with Nick and Mark (my men from Malta) as well as Lea and a few other Europeans I don't yet know. I don't know exactly where we will go and what we will do, but I'm okay with that. The following weekend, Adam, Katie and I are planning to return to Cap Bon and walk from Kelibia to El Haouaria. The journey should take almost all day. We do like the walking. On Sunday, a few of the girls and I will climb the two-horned mountain (if possible). After that I have one or two more days of school and then I'm off! It is unfortunate that I won't get to see Sousse, Monastir, Hammamet, Tabarka or Bizerte, but perhaps that means I will just have to return to Tunisia again in the future. Insha'allah.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Big Trouble in Little Tunisia, Part Deux

...So after the traffic cop pointed us back in the direction from which we had just come, we became immensely confused and frustrated? How could we have missed a Roman amphitheater? There was something wrong with this picture. We retraced our steps along the forest to the sign which we had previously come across. After taking a good long look at the sign, which actually pointed at a 70 degree angle (technically into the adjacent forest) and not exactly along the perpendicular road, Adam said, "Okay. We are going 20 feet into the forest, and if we don't find it, we are turning around and walking home."

The prospect of walking all the way back to Salammbo with nothing to show for our efforts but sore feet and a story about sheep was not particularly appealing to either Tom or me, so we headed into the forest after Adam. After a few yards, we came upon a gravel road and soon thereafter a few cops sitting by their vehicle. As it was my turn to do the talking, I approached the men to ask if there was an uod concert and/or an amphitheater nearby (in Arabic and a little English). After some serious lack of understanding, one of the men said the Arabic equivalent of "Please, go ahead," and gestured in the direction of the clearing behind him.

As I peered around the cop car, an expansive mass of ruins in a long oval located in a deep depression in the ground stretched out in the dark before me. Adam and I tracked down Tom, who had started to walk ahead, and the three of us descended down a steep slope into the ruins. There was certainly no concert here. There wasn't even a light besides the flicker of the nearby buildings through the trees. Luckily it was a clear night and the moon illuminated the ground around us relatively well. We hopped up onto a ledge overlooking the dark arena, and Adam said something along the lines of: "They must have meant the other Roman theater."

So, our options were these: stay and explore the ruins in the dark or begin walking towards the other theater. By this point it was already about 10 o'clock, so we decided to stay and see what there was to see of this amphitheater, and the decision was a good one. Tom illuminated the various tunnels and rooms with the flash of his digital camera, while Adam discovered a key light on the end of Nora's cell phone. With these two devices, we thoroughly explored the various shafts and crevices of the site. It was definitely reminiscent of the Colosseum at El-Jem in that one could tell where they kept the animals and prisoners before releasing them into the arena, and one could imagine the crowds sitting up in the stands, peering down from all sides at the "entertainment" taking place below them (although this particular amphitheater was not quite as large and imposing as the Colosseum). At one point we ventured down this completely pitch black "creepy tunnel" (as Tom called it) and narrowly avoided one of the largest spiderwebs I have ever seen in my life!

After we explored the area to our satisfaction, we headed back toward home. The walk back was a mere 25 minutes, and we stopped on the way to buy big bottles of water, Orangina and Pineapple juice. As Adam is never one for taking the same road twice, we took a different path back, mostly through residential neighborhoods. Although we weren't bothered at all, we were definitely stared at. Adam made a interested comparison: "Picture three Japanese businessmen in suits walking along the area near the bottom of East Rock in New Haven carrying big bottles of juice," he said. "That is how strange we must look to these people." I think he was probably spot on. When we finally returned to the apartment, Nora was waiting in her pajamas. Her dinner had run late, and she and Frank never made it to the show.

"How was the concert?" she asked smiling. Where to begin...

Saturday, August 06, 2005

A little rain must fall...

As it turns out, there will be no belly dancing and no phone for me this time around :( Too bad.

Other than that, life is great. I couldn't ask for a better Arabic class, and living in between Salambo and Tunis is really working out nicely. Lea and I are having a lot of fun hanging out together in Tunis, and Emma (my friend from Scotland) and I spent the afternoon in the suq yesterday and had a wonderful time (until we started getting frustrated near the end, but I have found that that is pretty much inevitable).

Also, I have found traveling partners for me trip to the south next weekend!!! They are two handsome and strapping men from Malta who are studying in the level below me at Bourguiba and living near Lea at the mixed dorms. Not only are they in the army (which I figure means they will know how to take care of themselves and me should a threatening situation arise), but they are also pretty adventuresome and really nice. In fact, I had selected them earlier this week as potential escorts before they even asked me! I don't exactly know what to expect other than a great adventure, and I am thrilled at the prospect!

Today I'm hitting the beach with the kiddos, and tomorrow the girls and I (and maybe Eric and Olavi) are taking a day trip to Hammamet and Cap Bon!

Thursday, August 04, 2005

In other news...

My class has been finalized, and my teacher is awesome! My Arabic speaking ability has improved over 200 percent in the past three days just because of the confidence boost that being in this class have given me.

The Italians left today, and Adam and I went out to La Marsa to have dinner and hang out with them on their last night. We went to the beach and ate fried donuts with honey as Giovanni took a bunch of pictures. Afterward we ate at this "famous" restaurant and sat for a while drinking tea, smoking a nargile and chatting. Yesterday was by far the most beautiful day we have had so far. The air was cool and clear. The sky was bright blue with puffy clouds that glowed brilliant shades of orange and pink in the sunset. The mountain across the bay were more visiable than ever, making the train ride from Tunis to Salambo a real treat. Even the flowers seemed to smell sweeter, and the palm trees waved in the gentle breeze. Basically, it was perfect.

I start belly-dancing lessons today!

And I might be getting a cell phone to use until I leave.


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.


Tuesday, August 02, 2005

I don't want to get my hopes up quite yet...

...but I may have the second coolest Arabic teacher ever this month (besides Bassam of course).

First contact was made today. I have finally spoken with someone in real time since I called my family on my first day in Tunis. It was brief but nice. With so many people heading home from Tunis to the States, I'm beginning to get a little homesick.

The jury is still out on the new apartment.

I cannot believe how many international crises I have completely missed since I've been here. I didn't have a television or a radio or anything last month, and when I got my International Crisis Group newsletter for July 2005, I was totally astounded. July was a crazy month for the Middle East and Africa, and here I am closer than most of you and completely oblivious. Go figure...

Monday, August 01, 2005

Summer Phase 3, Day 1

Today marked the effective halfway point in my journey. Yes ladies and gentlemen, I have been in Tunisia for one month. We started the August session of school today, and I am pleased to say that I have moved down a level from 2N to HA. Lea and I tried to moved to DAL, but after some tough bargaining with Zahia Gafsi, we settled in the middle. I am now in a class where I can understand over half of what is going on. That's big.

I also moved in to my new apartment today. For those in the know, the place is one block south of Avenue Habib Bourguiba (which means petit dejeuner on Habib every day before class! yum!) For the rest of my time in Tunis I will be living with Katie, Ann, Lorraine, Eric and Telmo from Portugal. The apartment has two bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen and a bathroom with long corridors and two rather weak air-conditioning units. The hot water seems fickle. As far as actual living conditions go, I'm not sure it's any better than the place in Carthage. In fact, it may be worse because we can't have all the windows open all the time. But, I want to be here in the city with my undergrads, so I am confident that I made the right move. Besides, I can still go back to Carthage any time I want until my place there gets filled, but I also know that I can make this work. I think.

Our new landlord has the craziest, highest-pitched voice that I have ever heard in my life. He seriously sounds like Minnie Mouse. If you think I am kidding or exaggerating, think again. It's completely bizarre. I miss Nibbley already.

I kind of wish I were home right now. However, I can justify this month with the fact that my Arabic will be pretty damn good when I get out of here.

Today at dinner Eric asked me: "So, are you happy that you are living with us." I said, "yes." He said, "You'll only get happier." I hope he wasn't being sarcastic as usual...