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.

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The Multipurposed Tunisian Cafe

January 12, 2010 Leave a comment

Cafe des Delices, captured in all it’s beauty by Patrick Bruel here, is a famed Cafe in Tunisia. I went there for the first time during Ramadan. Each time I visit a Tunisian cafe, I can relive that incredible evening teetering high above the coast, smoking a sheesha and sipping tea with the boys of @.

But this weekend, I got to attach new meaning to my generic idea of the Tunisia cafe. One would think, that with my final month in Tunisia, I would seek out something new, exciting and unexplored. Truth be told, a Tunisian cafe is a wonderful way to get to know the country and its people. 

While the initial  weekend plan was to go to Bardo Museum on Saturday, by the time I reached Passage after work, we were a tad too late to capitalize on the museum’s tomes. We decided that we would go to La Goulette for a walk and dinner instead. La Goulette is a beautiful port of tunisia with delicious but pricey restaurants. Before making our way over there, Anna realized she desperately needed a coffee. Going for a coffee in Tunisia is no Starbucks ordeal: you sit, wait for your order, and  then with the tiniest little cup of coffee, you spend one hour sipping it. I actually quite enjoy the pace of this proper break in the day- even though I always finish my coffee in 10 seconds flat. 

We spent 2 hours at the cafe before taking a taxi to La Goulette. We walked up the beach but then as the sun slid behind the buildings, it got too cold to go any further. We went into another cafe and this time, had tea and a sheesha. Anna and I took an apple flavored sheesh while Houssem took the real deal, a flavor slightly worse than a cheap cigar. 

Omar came by to join us later and as per usual, his presence cranked up the laugh factor. Soon though, it got too cold to stay even in the cafe so we moved on out to search for dinner. As we walked together aimlessly, we saw bright lights and found a restaurant titled Restaurant Cafe The Vert. 

We went inside and were met by an inviting wall of warmth. The place was beautiful, with peach table cloths, candles and flowers. The boys decided to have a feast and ordered the special 3 course meal of assorted Tunisian salads, seafood tapas and a giant grilled fish with white chardonnay. 

I have never before seen how my food goes from the backroom to the frontroom so this restaurant had a surprise in store for me. The waiter took us to the kitchen to chose our fish and I of course went camera happy ( and kept singing that McDonald’s commercial for a fish burger “Give me that little fish, give me that fish!”. )

Filled to the brim such that our ears turned bright red, we decided to head home. On our way to the train station, we ran into Malek, Melissa’s boyfriend. He had heard rowdy crowd of English speakers and came out into the streets to see who it was ( there are only a few English speakers in Tunisia so there’s a large chance if you know one, you are two degrees away from knowing them all!)

“Malek! What are you doing here?” 

“I was in the mosque studying the Koran with my friends”

All of us say , “Oohhhhh” with a nod in appreciation/reverence.

He stares at our solemn faces for a millisecond then bursts out laughing “HAHAHAHA!! Studying the Koran?! Me?! My friend has an apartment attached to the mosque and a bunch of us are drinking there  together.” 

Shocked faces replace our somber ones, “Aren’t you supposed to be studying for exams?!”

“We’re doing that too. Definitely more drinking than studying though. Its better for your brain you see.”

Children will be children.  After chatting with Malek, we wound up huddled one on top of the other, waiting for a train. Once back in Tunis, we met up with the rest of the gang at the Hotel International. There, we had drinks at the bar with a bunch of Austrian travellers before we went  into town.

It was truly freezing that night and we quickly dipped into the first known watering hole. From being a slab of gray wall, the moment the door opened, it was as though I had been pushed into a new world. An authentic Arabic band was beating away at drums and violins as a young girl danced. The chandeliers were on low and candles lay scattered over tables with ancient cigarette burns coloring the table cloths. Men and women sat together, closer than I had ever seen at any cafe, and waiters kept going around refilling glasses. A sole bartender worked his area with spouts and bottles crammed together into one neat corner that could be easily hidden with a drop of a curtain. I almost felt as though I had walked into a 1920’s bootlegger joint.

The following day we woke early to go to Dougga, a set of Roman ruins in the mountains. Constantina, the Greek intern, and I talked the whole way up as Anna snoozed and Houssem studied. Once we debarked, I was stunned with the tranquility. Far from Tunis, we were in blown away by the crispness of the air and the lustrous greenery of the rolling farms that surrounded the Dougga ruins. I think I found the landscape to be more beautiful than the ruins themselves! We were in a perfectly preserved part of Tunisia where you could see every ounce of its Mediterranean connection to Spain, Italy and Croatia.

We meandered the mazes of the Roman leftovers, raced up the colosseum for photos, walked through the country side where a herd of cows nearly mowed us down, soaked up some sun lying in the grass, and then we went for a coffee at the Cafe. 

The Cafe at Dougga is situated right on the side of the mountain, with long leaves from trees draped artfully across the terrace and a small stone wall being our only safety net lest we get too giddy. Incredible is all I can think of. Purely incredible. This cafe was nestled in the most ideal of locations where we could see the mountains, fields, small huts, ancient runs, and olive orchards while we listened to Arabic music and the far away calls of sheep to master.

 Thus, in one weekend, I experienced Tunisia by Cafe….and I would gladly do it again!

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.

Keeping up my New Year’s Resolution

January 8, 2010 Leave a comment

One of my many New Year’s resolutions was to get back in shape ( I recognize the cliche– so can it!! ). I must say, I’ve been off to a pretty good start. 1.)Eating well- no more cakes from patisserie magenta or Hager’s cookie feasts 2.) Kicked the nicotine- well actually I had a relapse once thanks to Thameur, but my lungs still feel good. 3.) Daily gym fiend- Again an exception, this being yesterday because …I went to play tennis! More fun than being a hamster on a treadmill. 

I got home after work and found my new dalmatian puppy wagging his little tail on a bed of blankets I made him outdoors. I cooked him his dinner of eggs and turkey (turkey is cheaper  here than chicken) which I shredded and then cooled so he could gobble it up. The poor lil guy is so sick, and has clearly been abused from his past owner. Fortunately he’s been warming up to me really well and definitely has more of a spark. 

After I fed the puppy, Hicham came to pick me up with his personal taxi driver. It was the first time I played on clay courts or with a long racket and I must say I was horrible. But I still had tons of fun sliding and shrieking away trying to return Hicham’s killer forehand. In my defense, that kid played against Andy Roderick and was a juniors champ… yet I had the guts to take him on! Err…”rally” him on. 

I came home ultra sore but excited to do it again. After a shower, I chatted on the phone for a bit, listened to some of the new music I downloaded, checked out a photo essay I’d been meaning to see, then I hit the sack- dreaming of everything but this damn sales pitch I have to do.


January 7, 2010 1 comment

I am pretty positive I spent my day surfing the web and reading an article on liberalism by Miguel Centeno. I have no desire to work! We have some fun events coming up this weekend and one that just passed by a very talented British electronica band. So it’s not that Sybel is in a period of worklessness like the winter months are prone to bring to our type of industry. In fact, I have a sales pitch to prepare that is due by 6 pm — haven’t even begun to research.

Where is my mojo?! 

I thought maybe giving into the munchies would help. The universe heard me and responded in two seconds. Right outside Sybel is an orchard (?) and the landlord gave us all bags of freshly picked oranges. Naturally, I spent the past 2 hours feeding my lethargy with sharp citrus… somehow even that happy scent did not give me the pick me up I need to WORK. 

I’ve decided I am not an office girl. I have moods and spurts and I need the option of an oddly arranged work-from- home schedule. Hmmm. I think I will ask for a sick day tomorrow and go to my gym’s sauna, gather inspiration from the mist, and then consider starting this sales pitch. I might do a bit of cooking and prepare some fall back recipes for the slew of dinner parties I’m about to host. Definitely squeeze in a kapalbathi sequence. And oooh, outline travel plan for my remaining weekends in Tunisia.

But for now, I’m going to continuing vegetating and looking for Mac apps. I’m really into the Bento 3 program.  Lord. Last thing I need. Another excuse to dawdle by organizing and pre-planning.

32 more minutes…..

Ennui Musings on the Absence of Change

January 7, 2010 Leave a comment

Today is a day where I have nothing to say but a desire to type. Not being challenged at work makes me dry! And also, not being surrounded by people who challenge me makes me dry. I think that’s what I miss most about the US of A. Vibrant curiosity. 

There’s a Greek proverb that says ‘Wonder is the beginning of wisdom.’ I feel that people here don’t wonder enough. A part of that comes from the intensity of internet padlocking, another part of it comes from the work reality where you do not ask questions, and a final part of it comes from the culture- change is analogous to sloth.

The cultural component of anti-change became apparent during the Presidential Elections this fall. I was with my boss Hager having lunch in La Marsa after a shopping fit. Litt men dressed green clothing scampered about everywhere, handing out flyers for the current president, Zine el Abidine Ben Ali. I was naturally fascinated. I asked Hager who the other candidates were. She didn’t know. I asked her what the incumbent’s platform was. She didn’t know. I asked her why she wasn’t interested. I know she didn’t know even that, but after hefty reflection she says,  (and I paraphrase because I can’t remember word for word) “We have a saying in Tunisia. It is better to keep what you have  then go for change because what comes next could be worse”. 

While other countries thrive on globalization, change flurries are going to be this country’s achilles heel.

One thing I’ve always found interesting is the way the micro magnifies onto the macro. Sybel underwent a strike within this first month I was here and way the strike played out clearly illustrated micro workings for me. It all started when Elyes went off on a swearing rampage and made the grave mistake of insulting all the technician’s mothers. The technicians refused to come back to work the next untill he apologized, which he didn’t, and from there- long story made short- things escalated into a full blast list of demands.  Working hours, job tasks, pay, respect, holidays, health care, safety standards, yada yada yada. It really mirrored the way strikes pan out in the US actually. (Inherent solidarity amongst the international working class case study material if i do say so myself. )

In a way, it’s amusing that I majored in Industrial and Labor Relations, but I had nothing much to offer for ameliorating the warfare that was going on each day at the office. This was partly due to the cultural complexity of it all, partly due to the fact that I was too new to embroil myself in it. To me, things could have been resolved quite easily: communication and more organized work processe. The fact that neither camp was even mentioning the obvious indicated to me that I am not going to be of use here.

Still, I decided to point out some tried and tested OB principles.  Elyes nodded seriously, grunted a few times, then said, ” You know, I would like to, but the culture won’t allow. The only way we can bring change in the work processes is if we find a European technician to work with them whicch will change their attitude. Without that, things cannot change. Hmm, can you start looking for a European technician?”. 

Whether you’d like to call it horrible reasoning or an easy defeat, either way, his logic by deduction led towards an impossible solution. This was the seminal point when I became aware of the built in apathy and fear of experimentalism. In the end, Ben Ali’s henchmen intervened and put everything straight. The truism “it takes a generation to create, a generation to maintain, and a generation to destroy” is moot for Tunisia. Thanks to the demi-dictator, Tunisians have been coasting along for over a generation, happy yes-mans to Ben Ali’s decrees and in effect, malleable pawns for his growth vision. Top-downism like I never knew!  

Most of us @ interns have noticed how our Tunisian friends are awfully coddled in a fabricated bubble. Could this be why Tunisians are quick to put up their nose to foreign food? Or grow hot over critiques about modernization? Or turn quizzical when we start chatting about the latest? Could it be they are immature because they don’t/can’t wonder? All work and no play may make Jack a dull boy, but the absence of change makes him duller.

The Real Value of Holidays

January 4, 2010 Leave a comment

This Christmas holiday, it was Punjabi family time everyday. Dinner parties, like the legendary. Parantha Fest where my grandma and masi make 3 different types of Indian latkas and we all get together to competively eat as many as possible. Pub nights, like our Christmas Eve drink fest at Woodlands where we enjoyed both the beer and running into my aunt’s heavily hair gelled ex-students, all brown of course. Can’t forget general down time, where we battled it out over ‘Articulate’ and drank cappucinno’s while watching Singh is King. Topping it all of with a cherry is the gloriously golden turkey we had for Christmas dinner that had…. a thurka masala stuffing. 

Normally, my family does this almost eerie Pleasantville Christmas where we do a grand tree, a special dinner, open presents at a precise time, crank up christmas carols and eat a special brunch at a precise time, clean up then start cooking the main event altogether, then we eat at precisely 4:30, then we drink/desert/chat. Then it’s over. Just like that!

 I think that’s what I forgot though. It’s not about the exterior actions of Christmas, but the closeness it facilitates. I’m not Christian and so this holiday carves out a spécial time for me that is far beyond the Santa Clause or the birthday boy or lavish meals. It’s about having the luxury of time and using that to be with those near and dear to me. Shame I didn’t get to see my puppy 😦 I did a skype chat with my family and my baby Leo had already forgotten me. Stupid Cavalier King Charles’. They have no loyalties, as suggested by that happy go lucky name.

But in addition to family far away, I also got to reconnect with old friends all around London and I loved being able to tell my cousins, “Ok, I’m off to London Bridge! Hope it doesn’t fall down”. I’m such a christmas sweater wearing looser. 

Despite all the endless shopping, cuddles, and amazing food, I must admit, I was quite happy to come back to Tunisia. I have a new appreciation for it after being away. Omar was there waiting for me and his warm silliness made me so glad to be back. After I unloaded my duty free purchases of flavored Absolute, we went off for a sea side lunch outdoors, and then a walk along the beach in Lac where an amusement park with a ferris wheel slowly turns and techno heavily pumps.I saw the police reprimand a cute couple because they were getting a little too snuggly and the holy ghost couldn’t fit in between. I laughed for ages. I love this place. I love the surprises. And God, I love the weather. England sucks in that department! 

And that’s the other thing the holidays did for me, it made me appreciate what I have before me each day. I have exactly one month left in Tunisia and I think that’s the greatest Christmas present of all. Another chance to live what I love.