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Au Revoir for Now

February 3, 2010 3 comments

My last days in Tunisia felt like nothing more than a blur of fun. No emotional elaborations, no final closure. This form of departure could be either good…or very very bad when the reality of good-bye finally hits me.  I’ve been heavily preoccupied with dreaming of visiting my news friends in new places and perhaps that’s delaying all associated emotions. In fact, I’m with my favorite Fati right now in Morocco, enjoying  North African hospitality and modernity and will soon be with Constantina, roaming the streets of London.

I’ve had no real desire to travel in the traditional sense and this will, no doubt, make good-bye more difficult than imagined. To explain, each page of my travel journal has a quote expounding on exploration. One that I remember distinctly said something to the effect that we best engage in travel when we learn everyone travels differently. There is no set criteria or definition for travel. For many it’s  sightseeing. For others, it’s relaxing with a pina colada. For me it’s getting to know people and myself. (At any rate, I hate sightseeing unless I’m doing it on a bike or in fresh air.) My attachment to my Tunisian home and family is so strong, I can’t fathom not seeing them within the week.

So how did I relish my last days of travel? I don’t quite remember! A blur, like I said. I went to Villa Didon for an event where splendor and corporate drunkeness was almost as fantastical as the view from the balcony. I hosted an Indian dinner party where Omar’s hilarity was the only thing that topped my chicken curry. I went to a soccer game where the lack of an announcer and sunshine made me almost as confused as the flying SOS sparklers and foreign cheers. And of course, I went to Kourbous where the breathtaking beauty of the ocean against the mountains made me break out into yoga.

Kourbous was a last minute plan, that as usual, ended being a gem of a day (especially when in contrast to the crappy weather of that whole week. I’m going to have to say God made Sunday January 31st for me to go to Kourbous.)

I went with Lavinia, Constantina, Mona and Meriem. Kourbous is known for it’s mineral springs and so we all went together to spend the day at the Hammam. The extreme beauty of Kourbous prompted us to make a detour from our spa plan and we went climbing a mountainy hill to get a better view of the scenery.

After a proper workout, we went into the Hammam, the Arab beauty salons. Here, you immerse yourself in a giant sauna and have a “hazra” scrub the bejesus off of your body. While I initially thought the roughness of this Middle Eastern exfoliation technique would probably leave scars, I saw 70 year old women with backs of a 17 year old teenagers. Ancient wisdom is wisdom no?

Soft and clean, I decided I needed a beer upon return to Tunis. Constantina Omar and I went to Hotel International where you can sit outdoors and see a full panorama of Tunis. We drank pale ales, ate olives and talked of love late into the night.

The next day was my last day. I spent it packing and preparing for my goodbye party where I had my most intimate friends come over for a dinner party. It was an absolutely amazing night but not at all an good-bye. I felt certain that I would see each and everyone the next day.

But no, in fact, it was just me , Constantina and Lavi- soon to be just me. They helped me do last -minuters and get out the door with my 30 kilo suitcase. Lavi then went to work and Consty and I bought Patisserie Magenta for a final coffee with Omar at the airport. After paying an arm and a leg for my suitcase, we sat together relishing the famous sweets and each other’s laughter.

I held Omar and Constantine for 20 minutes outside the gates, hugging them and in effect, hugging all my memories of Tunisia, before I walked through the doors and away from my home away from home. My travels here have been to build roots in pots of new cultures, and I will keep them growing strong for a long time to come.

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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!

Pourquoi la Tunisie

January 8, 2010 Leave a comment

Ci-joint est un article qui peut montre pourquoi j’avais choisi la Tunisie. Je voudrais aider les debats et changer les attitudes contre islam et immigration.

The Privellege of Proximity

January 1, 2010 Leave a comment

When I was younger, I would always lament that my cousins are boring. No longer the case! With us being older, wiser and merrier ( aka of age) family time is now always a good time and I sincerely look forward to every visit.

My Christmas holidays in London are exemplary of this. It’s only been over the past two years that I’ve been visiting England quite frequently and one of my favorite parts is how everything is compact. The physical closeness of family, friends, restaurants, temples, grocers, tailors, schools etc provides a diferent level of intimacy that I haven’t yet seen in the US.

An instance of this is when I got a watch rash on my wrist and my grandma insisted on taking me to the doctor. I did not want to sit for an eternity in a socialized health system’s waiting room. but if you know my grandma, you know that arguing with her is senseless. So early-ish one morning, we crossed the street and passed about 5 houses before we were at the doctors. Big surprise. I always thought thèse things weren’t conveniently located in such a system. Next surprise : all the signs were all written in English and Punjabi. My grandma’s little neighborhood is 95% Indian and this is level of personalization I also didn’t realize existed in socialized health systems. but then, the jaw-hit-the-floor suprise: my grandma knew everyone in the office on a personal level and the secretary fudged the books so that I could be admitted as a British Citizen. Finally, near-conniption-level surprise : I waited a total of 30 seconds before the doctor admitted me. Being in England has convinced me small is better and I’m on my way to becoming a fully fledged Libertarian.

Point being, I love visiting England because I love the pleasant surprises that come with compactness. Time, love, and connection are all augmented.

Bougie Encounters

December 19, 2009 1 comment

Today is my last day in Tunisia before I fly out to England tomorrow and spend the Christmas holidays with my British family. My mom’s side has had générations in Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda but the infamous Africanization policies of the 1970’s scattered them westward. The English speaking members went to London and the French speaking ones to Montreal.

This has clearly played a huge rôle in my immigrant family’s life story, but interestingly, it’s not one that’s discussed to often. I, myself, have had little interest in getting to know the history of thèse countries. At the bottom of my life-to-do list is watch « The Last King of Scotland » and at the top of my never-to-do list is visit those countries. I have zéro desire to die from a brain-eating parasite.

Which is why the event I attended last night, on the Islamic New Year, was so fascinating for me. I  recieved an invite to the African Developement Bank’s end of year party and fortunately, was able to find a last minute date for Fati so I could hog her for the last 48 hours I will be with her in Tunis. I am really glad we chose to go to El Mouradi for this party as opposed to our usual Biwa/Bouef sur le Toit nights. ( a blog on this soon to follow)

So last night’s évent opened with a Senegalese drum band and involved the most raunchly explicit male dancing I have ever seen. I am pretty sure it was inappropriate, however authentic it may have been. After, we all went to get food from the African buffet and it was a shark feeding frenzy where lines were mosh pits. Once we came out alive with a plate of African alimentaire, we were enterained by a parading of the African varieties to be found on the continent. It was actually quite amazing for me to see all the diversity. I admit, I am notoriously guilty of lumping all Africans together as one people.

The showcasing of Africa finally did away with this malaligned thinking. The head dresses, outfits, facial features, music and style of dancing were quite different from country to country, and more interesting for the ignorant American that I am, the same in certain countries which means you could see where the colonial powers messed up in drawing dividing boundaries.

To give a taste of the show : 1.) Ethopian music sounded like South Indian music and the dance was all in the shoulder blades 2.) Cote D’Ivoire was Jamaica revisited and played out in the bodacious bums 3.) Somalia/Djibouti was a cross between drunk-uncle-bhangra and monkey 4.) Tchad’s traditional music was incredible, Spain meets exotic jungle, and I am currently telecharging whatever I can find in hopes of coming across last night’s sampling.

When the North African invite to the piste was announced, I happily joined the ranks. While I wasn’t dressed traditionally, a long Greek gown with a pretty daring deep neck, neither were those who came to the floor . The only traditional outfits exhibited were those by two Berber women from the dessert which is why once amongst the crowd, I didn’t feel out of place and I didn’t feel foreign. My hand and hip motions blended right.

The evening was a really gréât eye opened to a reality I find so cloaked hère in Tunisia. I am in Africa, not the Middle East. The swathes of Africans living hère are made out to be an annomaly in Tunisia, as though they don’t bélong. Tonight I saw the interconnectivity of Tunisia to the rest of the continent and I loved it. ( Can’t say the same about the food though. Ill take Tunisian over Ghambian any day !)

I also loved the beauty I saw in person as opposed to National Geographic. I’ve have always found ebony black skin, gleaming white teeth and a mass of thick braids to be extaordinarily exotic.  For me, it’s a beauty I can’t quite comprehend and it mesmerizes me. I have never found the mélodies of the Arabia, the scents of India, or the khol covered eyes of the East to be anything extraordinary. I am currently listening to « Tabla Beat Science » and for me, it’s America. Which is why last night, dancing away to the slow staccato beats of African culture, I revelled in the exoticness of it all.

I also regretted dancing away the night before that. My unconditioned hamstrings hurt right now ! I went to « La Closerie » for a dinner with Hicham, a Moroccan tennis player who went to Columbia and worked for Citigroup before the inévitable hit. Sob story aside, I finally found a scrumptious salad ! After dinner, we went to the lounge side where a duet was jamming away acoustic interpretations of American 90’s music before the house music came on. Hicham introduced me to all his friends, a medley of modern. I am very fortunate to have had Tunisian expériences in the order I did. It started out with the traditional, closed minded village mentality and has moved progressively along a trajectory where I am now in the midst of refined professionals.

One of the guys I was talking with, a software engineer at HR Access who can’t get enough techno, had an interesting comment about democracy that I had found myself starting to believe long before I came to Tunisia. He said the Arab world is not ready for democracy. The governments want to keep the people stupid so that they can manipulate them easily. He believed that once éducation is fully installed, only then could democracy begin to take supplant the pseudo-democracies and open theocracies.

I have been thinking likewise about American democracy actually. While I believe so strongly in the principles and effects of a democratic society, I often feel as though it is best applied to a state and municipal level and that it might be more benficial if fédéral governments were more oligarchic in nature. I say this because when a populace isn’t educated enough, everything devolves towards neanderthal like populism where gutteral instincts reign over calcuated reason. A truism is that everyone is equal… just some are more equal than others. Money talks, so how can we manufacture a world where humanism trumps profits ? I would say at the outset, start by ensuring livelihoods and éducation, not a welfare state, and then the self-perpetuating cycles of innovation will catch hold wherein a pure democratic system could be better established. This is something only the fédéral government can be tasked with. Right now, there are parts of Cleveland where children have scurvy and unemployment is passing 30%. Cleveland would be able to combat the effects of deindustrialization much easier if this wasn’t the case. Work and éducation intégrâte people into society, and in my opinion, the greatest national security threat is our inner cities where guns and drugs are candy and popcorn. Perhaps we could learn alongside the Arab world on how to better implement a real democracy ? Perhaps.

Anhow, enough theorizing for me. I need to pack because I am heading over to Passage in a few to have a little Christmas teaser with the girls- decorating sugar cookies, making chantilly hot chocolaté, putting up a puny fake Christmas tree and listening to all the versions of « Last Christmas » I found. ( If you have to chose one, go for Glee Cast.) Also, I promised my landlord’s kids I would watch Batman with them before I leave. Ahhh. Also, I still have to mail out thèse Holiday postcards. Ahhh. Also, I still have to de-hangover. Ahhh. Where is the pause button when you need it ?!