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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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