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Archive for January, 2010

Finding Direction in Having None

January 25, 2010 3 comments

Casually munching on gaufrettes while working through my lunch break. I’m preparing an urgent sales pitch Elyes decided to tell me about at 12:28. It’s naturally due at 2 pm. Gah. Our work processes here are pretty haphazard and there’s rarely room for pre-planning. When there is room for pre-planning, the final project requirements end up changing so much that it’s the  equivalent to having never been been preplanned in the first place. 

However, one could argue that a bit of disorganization is good for me. A few weeks ago, I was complaining to friends over a pile of cheesy crepes that I have never been lost in a city. I’m so anal and OCD, I have always had my every hour planned out to the minute. Utter planning freak. There’s a yogic axiom that a relaxed mind leads to a sharpened intellect. Easier said than done while in the US and worse still when you add my self-created stress over time and detail. It’s impossible to relax while glued to my sated agenda.

But in step with the wisdom of the yogis- and contra that of modernity- I’ve found that I’ve produced some of my most creative work or learned some of the most complex things in mere seconds while here in Tunisia and it’s by virtue of the fact that I’m living at a tortoise pace. Fml. How will I return to reality?! 

Perhaps here’s a simple answer: Fati once said to me, ‘In Morocco we don’t like to plan too much because excessive planning leads to nothing’. I at first thought this is the most counter-productive philosophy I have ever heard but retrospectively, I see it’s not. Some of my biggest life breaks dropped from the sky and some of my favorite memories came from a lazy Sunday. 

Like yesterday for instance. I opened my eyes up at 7 am, sent out a hoard of text messages, then woke up slow. I made rose petal tea. I cooked Indian french toast. I did yoga. I read. I beautified with a face mask. I journalled. I cleaned. I played with the new turtle my landlord brought. Fine, so not so lazy of a Sunday but you get my drift. I finally walked out the door at 1 pm, with patisserie magenta ‘madelines’ in hand. (tip: they’re most nummy because the bakers add lemon rind!)  

Anna, Thameur and I had no idea what we wanted except that we didn’t want to travel. (Lavi was the exception but heureusement, negated by majority rules)  Stomachs led the way to Avenue Bourguiba where we got crepes-to-go before heading to the Medina. 

The Medina is an example of the Mediterranean influence on Tunisian city planning. Encased by the fortifying castle walls, the winding alleys of the Medina are typically alive with overloaded stores, cafes, and people. But since it was a Sunday, most Tunisians were home watching soccer and for the first time, I saw the beauty of a tranquil Medina. The absence of activity let the sunlight fall in all the right angles and permitted the architecture to receive its due appreciation. 

We drifted through the Medina up to the grande mosque Zitouna. None of us had had the opportunity to wander into the alley ways beyond this mosque, either due to lack of energy from battling crowds of shoppers or due to a lack of time from battling crowds of shoppers. The opportunity to explore unadulterated was ripe for the taking.

We took a left then a left then a right then a left. With each footstep, the buildings got more and more beautiful, decorated by chance with vines, whitewash and splashes of traditional Tunisian doors.  What I love about Tunisia is how you can jump from Mediterranean to Arab in a split seconds. In one instance, you can feel as though you are deep in the south of Spain and in the next, as though you are back with the Pachas.

After exploring and sun basking, we took a coffee then went onto Baba Soukh for its famed kafteji. Unexpectedly, once we reached there, everything was closed. This had now become an imposed lazy Sunday and I did not appreciate. Thameur called one of his friends to help us navigate the foreign turned terrain of centreville-au-dimanche. The thing of it is, when stores close for the night, they are boarded up which makes it more difficult than usual to remember nameless streets that lack their tell-tale landmarks.

Thameur’s friend, the explosive Algerian, works for Club Med and has been living in Tunisia for 2 years. We walked and walked through God knows what, where or how. Foreigners following a foreigner. 

Suddenly we arrived at a random hole in the wall. Final destination?! Noooooooo!

But this hole in the wall served a mean ojja,  a tunisian speciality of spices, pepper, seafood and sausages. Thus in spite of it being a grimy, testosterone teeming resto, it served us up a scrum-didly-upmtuous dinner of five stars. (Case in point, I burned my tongue nicely from an impatience to gorge.) Hyper piquant et hyper savoureux, a rare break indeed for Tunisian cuisine! We ate till the point of food coma, doused our burning tongues with plum smoothies, talked about happy nothings, and somehow found our way back home.

And so just like my days of work, where unanticipated projects and opportunities crop up, I’ve been exploring Tunisia in unforeseen junkets, where my darling Tunisian friends spend lavishly on us interns to make sure we take home the best memories of their country. And it’s worked. I have a fantastic cache of memories, the most evocative coming from a day unplanned. Certainly adding a bit of this ‘mode de la vie’ is invaluable for surviving the concrete jungle upon my return, n’est-ce pas?

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Recapping with TounesBledi

January 23, 2010 Leave a comment

At present I hate Sybel for making me work on Saturdays and all I want to do is die right now. I’m so stinkin tired, my knees ache from the crap weather and my lungs hurt from sheesha hotboxing. I actually think I might die from post-sheesha asphyxiation. God bless. 

Below is a really nice note I got from the radio-host this morning and is probably the only thing that is preventing me from killing Elyes slowly. 

Hey Sweet preeti , 
Me and the radio station we were so happy for having you in the show . you were such great person and profile for my radio show .
I thank you so much for coming we r gona meet soon inshallah and i’ll definitely wanna have you again for dinner or lunch at my house before you leave . keep in touch buddy 🙂 Ashraf

To listen to the broadcast, click here. (FYI: I don’t start until 50 minutes into the show. Forewarning: I sound ridiculous) 

For the website, click here


Sidestepping the Football Culture

January 22, 2010 Leave a comment

Yesterday I had an interview with a possible replacement for my position at Sybel. When I finally came out of it to discuss with my boss,  I found the entire place empty except for me and Hager. The Tunisia vs Cameroon soccer game was on. 

I didn’t realize that work stops for soccer and once I learned of this fabulous cultural norm, I obviously followed suit. My initial plan was to meet up with Anna, Thameur and Karim at a cafe to watch the game ( remember the “multipurposed cafe” post? a cafe here can also be a sports bar!) but I eventually decided I’d rather get in an early workout so that I can go out for the night earlier than usual.

And anyhow, I remember all too well the night I was in France during the Euro Cup and Turkey won a match. So not interested in being in the middle of such “football hooligan” debauchery again. 

So I got to the gym ahead of schedule and ooph,  just the eeriest thing. I had the entire place to myself. The lights were a little dim. The distant buzz of the soccer game floated into the cardio room. Creaks from the wind kept making themselves known. I had a fleeting thoughts that I am in the middle of ideal raping conditions… but then I realized, how ridiculous! I’m the one with the dumbells in my hand. 

I switched off the game- what do I care about soccer?- put up the music and had an awesome workout. After the game, people started trickling in so I mingled for a bit at the bar with them. Once I had my fill of senseless soccer banter, the manager dropped me home so that I don’t have to walk along the street laced with ideal raping conditions. (I’m evidently getting a little paranoid) 

I got dressed as quick as can be and went out for dinner with Hicham in Lac. We decided to go to Phukets where one of my friends has redone the menu to include healthy dining and juices. I was worried the menu wouldn’t be out just yet we we would be stuck with cheesy crepes.( the cooks have been apparently learning pretty slow). However, when we got there and the waiter saw our dissappointed face and he brought out the real deal. It’s funny because the food actually tasted like a combo of Panera’s and Tropical Smoothie Cafe but I was so excited at the thought of having something American-ish, I didn’t care. I had a mozzarella, tomatoe, pesto panini and a peach, melon, strawberry smoothie. Divine! 

(Absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder. The little things I miss have become too many to ennumerate!) 

I got home, nearly froze to death upon entrance because my chauffage had been off, and hopped into bed with a cup of fresh lavender tea and my yoga sutra translations (with commentary by desikachar). I love those aphorisms, there is so much power in their simplicity. 

The next morning I got up early for my usual yoga/pranayama meditation routine, and had a chat with my landlord. I have loved living here with this family. He needed my last months rent and I added a little extra because I broke a light ( I slapped it thinking that makes broken electronics work. woops!) 

He totally started my day off right. He told me how I am nothing like him the students who come and go in all his other apartments. He said I have been a little sister to his family and  that every one of them loves me very much. He praised my parents for the way they raised me and praised me for giving so much affection to them at all times. I was so touched I cannot tell you! So sweet! 

It’s now 10:30 here and I haven’t started to work. I’m leaving at 12 pm to get prepared for a  radio show I’m going to be on for TounesBledi. This show is called “Building Bridges” . I met a bunch of Americans learning Arabic at a bar one night and the Tunisian in charge of this program has been doing some really great things to fortify American/Arab relations (in conjunction with Hilary Clinton). He invited me to be on his radio show, did some minor Tunisian things that really aggravated me, I think a taxi driver had gotten on my nerves earlier because I was in prime flip out mode and I tore him a new butthole. But he didn’t retract the invite so maybe it wasn’t as bad as I thought. At any rate, Ill be on the radio at 2 pm Tunisian time so tune in if you can!

Blending Work with Personal

January 21, 2010 Leave a comment

Last night after work I went over to Hager’s for a sleep over. Hager is my boss #2 and she takes amazing care of me. I am so thankful for having had her since day one of my Tunisian travels.

Hager has had me over sleep over many times before and we’ve stepped into a routine. Once we walk through the front door, she turns up the Mosaique FM and heats up the baby food, I put on pyjamas and feed the babies, we cook and chat some, Lobna (her sister) comes homes from work and makes a loud scene about her presence, Belhassen (Hager’s husband) brings us patisseries then leaves to go out with his friends, us girls eat dinner together then we watch TV and play with the kids till it’s time for bed. 

Yesterday, Hager made a full Tunisian dinner for me since it’s probably the last time I’ll be spending the night at hers. I saw how Kafteji is made from scratch, I discovered that Tangine is actually very delicious when fresh, and I nearly hurled when Hager informed me that the lamb in the soup is from Eid (which took place in November). 

Below are some pictures of Hager and her family. They’ve given me some of my best memories of an authentic Tunisia!

Rainy Intrusions

January 20, 2010 2 comments

The walls at Sybel are shaking because the techies are testing music. I have a office filled with cigarette smoke from my coworkers and clients. I’m sipping on a toy cup of instant cappucino. My feet are propped up on the chauffage. I’m drafting my travel plans for Morocco. I’m talking to a friend on Skype video. I’m blogging. I’m tweeting. I’m definitely not working.

I’ve perfected the art of feigned work too well actually and I get slight bursts of anxiety each time I start to wonder how I will manage once back in the good ol land of opportunity. I have transformed into the world’s worst worker after being the world’s most anal worker. Tant mieux.  

 But I’m kind of edgy these days. Slight bursts of anxiety also hit when I think about how I have less than two weeks left in Tunisia but so much left to explore! This weather certainly isn’t helping my efforts to venture into the unknown. While we aren’t getting the snow blizzards of Europe, it’s pretty darn cold and rainy these days, which means you’re constantly cold to the bone and reluctant to move from the warm spots electric heater generates. 

It’s actually quite the debbie downer. Anna, Lavi and I had been planning to make a trip to Sousse and Kairouan for over a week. We decide Friday that if the weather stays bad, we won’t go anywhere. I guess we all had it in our head that bad weather was a guarantee. Friday night I go out salsa dancing, come home late, and wake up late to sunlight streaming in my studio. The first thing I think is “Oh crap. I’m now committed to travel.” I call Anna, turn up the tired voice, and say, “Anna, it’s sunny”. She say, “Preeti, I know.” In an instant, we both realized neither one feels like getting out of bed. 

We cancelled all plans and chose to go to Sidi Bou Said instead where we could sit high above the ocean, smoking a sheesha and drinking tea. I met up with Omar, Marion, Lavi, and Anna at the train station and from there, we took a leisurely hour strolling to the Cafe des Delices. We walked up the streets lined with orange trees, poked our noses in trinket laden side stores, and posed before every blue & white painted door for a picture. Much better than being jostled in a louage, the reckless private mini-buses of Tunisia. 

Actually, this was one of my favorite times at Sidi Bou Said, and the change is plan was welcome. After everyone had had their fill of sheesha, I stayed behind for a few extra minute to relish the ocean dotted with fishing boats and mountains layered with the cream colored Tunisian homes. 

When  I got home around 4, I found myself exhausted. I’m like a sun-powered vehicle: take away my sunshine and I turn off. I cuddled into my warm blankets with book, a hot water bottle and a mug of black tea with rose petals. A few pages into my book, I dozed off and woke up to the heavy drizzle of rain. Merde. I was definitely not interested in going anywhere in the rain because here, when it’s cold here, central heating will not find you and thick sweaters will not save you. 

So I stayed in and cooked a spicy jambalaya, aubergine tapenade and stewed fruit which I topped off with cream. After eating, I turned my phone off, did some journaling, a gentle dynamic yoga routine and went to bed.

The next morning I woke up at 7 am and it was still raining. Merde! I refused to budge from my bed and instead slipped in and out of sleep till 11:30 am. I finally realized this is a ridiculous way to spend a Sunday so I decided to see the famed Bardo Museum. I bought some stuffed dates and met up with Omar at Tunisia’s Eiffel Tower. Together we went to explore the best preserved Roman mosaics … and the worst preserved Roman statues.

The architecture of the museum itself was just as incredible as the mosaics themselves. I had never imagined a mosaiic could boast such fine detail! Omar and I were as usual those most obnoxious pre-pubscent teen wannabe’s in the area and kept touching all the mosaics that dated 5 BC and laughing at the big bootied statues. 

I popped over to Anna’s apartment afterwards and then went back to Soukra where I had fresh juices made my company’s partner’s girlfriend (mouthful!) She owns a juicebar and restaurant in Ibiza and is at last, bringing an ounce of healthy mindfulness to Tunisian restaurants. We talked for ages on the difference between bee pollen and royal jelly and the best ways to get enough chlorophyll.

But come Monday, healthy mindfulness was out the window (and so were travel ambitions). Thameur came over for dinner and I made him french fries and he made me omelets doused in full fat cheese. We stayed up late watching movies, sharing our latest designs for work and thoughts about his upcoming exhibition on a 3-D interpretations of Kandinsky. I waltzed into Sybel the next day one and a half hours late, shook my umbrella out in the foyer, and sat down at my desk as if nothing at all was out of the ordinary. I need a time-out with a dunce cap on.

Because my camera was stolen….

January 15, 2010 Leave a comment

Not entirely true actually. By a lucky break, I recovered my camera but the thief nabbed my memory stick. I’ve essentially been photo-less throughout my travels ( thank God for friends and Mark Zuckerbug). This is why I present Tunisia through the lens of a Flickr fiend! Anyhow, his photos are way better than what my untrained eye could capture. Definitely worth the share!

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5 Surprising Discoveries

January 15, 2010 2 comments

1.) Egglplants can prick you

2.) Verbally assaulting taxi cab drivers saves you money

3.) If I punch someone, I will not be punched back…

4.) …Unless I’m on the metro during 7:30 morning rush

5.) Contrary to my longstanding private belief, American cows are actually not smart enough to avoid lying in their kaka, it’s just that their Tunisian brothas are never washed.

Categories: Tunisian Life Tags: