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Posts Tagged ‘Personal’

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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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?

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!

Starting the Holidays Right!

December 25, 2009 3 comments

I will preface  this by saying my goal is to make my blog less rambly. Please let me know if I succeeded in concision! 

Anyhoo, my last night in Tunisia was a beauty. We created a little winter wonderland in the living room of a teensy apartment. The aroma of cinnamon and stewed fruit from Anna’s addictive mulled wine hung in the air as we enjoyed ourselves …and my holiday mixes! It’s incredible to me how we can recreate home. An earlier attempt to fashion Thanksgiving for 15 people- with a dinky gas stove and no proper ingredients- turned out to be well above our expectations. This night followed suit. The ambiance from the decor,  the dishes spanning Romania, Poland and Germany and of course, the perfect company made the night one of dreams! 

Feeling the effects from the night before’s ADB gala, I passed out at midnight and revived myself two hours later with Karim’s music. A favorite part of my life here. We’ve spent many a late night crowded around Karim as he strums his guitar and gives us renditions of whatever we chose. When our ‘encores!’ exhausted his vocal chords, we took turns singing impromptu pieces of that relished our present holiday spirit. 

I went to bed at 5 am and then woke up at 9 am to do a bit of last minute shopping before Omar took me to the airport. I have had zero problems with Air Tunisia thus far. Cross my fingers that this oddity persists! 

I got into London and was greeted by my mamu, mami and darling little Ankit.  I think one of the best feelings is seeing familiar, smiling faces waiting for you at the arrival gate. We have been planning the holidays for over a month!
We got back to their house, and within 2 minutes, were off to my mami’s sister’s house to celebrate her 40th birthday. 

I had minced pies with more mulled wine to stoke my appetite for the preceding South Indian feast. We went to an East London restaurant where I had my first udapam (loose translation: Indian pizza). Shiva, Ankit and I shared a mango lassi afterwards to cool our tongues from the crazy spicy sambar. After, we  cut the cake and popped open a bottle of champagne. A nice way to kick off my holidays! 

Of course, the next day I wouldn’t have minded dying. I went to my nanima’s where I knew I would have the luxury of sleeping at 7 pm if I wanted. And did. My nanima and I got up early, had tea, did yoga together and then made a  breakfast of her health creations. I love staying at my grandma’s. It’s the house I was born in and a neighborhood I know too well. She has such a stereotypically quaint British home with a wonderful set of neighbors and friends surrounding her and a tiny community of movies where everyone knows everyone . All day long people will be popping in and out. My grandma is very active in the community here and I’m always amazed at the latest she has done or is doing. This time, she had a fresh photo album of pictures from a large scale Asian Women’s event she organized with the mayor of Gravesend. I also saw pictures from a trip to Dubai she organized for retired people. I can only hope I’m still functional at 72. 

Another reason I love going to my nanima’s is because I get to spend time with my favorite family friends. A wonderful thing, of many, about being Indian is that friends are family- except in their case, they’re even more than family! (Proximity could have a role to play in this.) They live two doors down and the eldest, Prit, just got married. His wife, Sanj, has certainly got the touch: since she’s come their house has been rapidly turning into a Martha Stewart ideal.

I wasn’t around when the courting dance happened so I really wanted to get a chance to do some bonding with Sanj. Sanj’s mom runs a fish and chip shop nearby so I went over their to meet her and have a coffee. Then Sanj came around with Priya and we went off for a shopping spree at Bluewater. Once we shopped till we dropped, we headed back to my Nanima’s where she had prepared a scrumdidilyumptious Punjabi feast. God I miss Indian cooking. I ate till I burst, no regrets. 

The next morning, I stayed with my grandma wrapping the last batch of presents and then my mami came to pick me up to bring me over to hers. She had gone with Arjun to the countryside to pick up a fresh, free range turkey as well as load the car with Marks and Spencer delectables. We are going to cook ourselves a proper British Christmas, yorkshire pudding and trifle inclusive! Cannot wait!!!