Posts Tagged ‘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.


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!

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.

Vicissitudes of Tunis

December 14, 2009 2 comments

Just got back from lunch at Foued’s and am savoring both the lingering tastes of a Tunisian home cooked meal and the memories of a lovely weekend past.  I’ll start at the beginning. Thursday I officially finished with my applications and celebrated light by going out for a coffee. On Friday I went out for a dinner nearby at a restaurant that tried to be the spitting image of France. Though the possibility of that is slim- Tunisian cheese is far too bland :p- but the live music and overall ambiance was authentic and a nice change of pace. I highly recommend my Tunisian based readers to check out Angelina Restaurant.

Saturday, I got up before the mullah- 5:00 am- and was hit by a harsh flashback of highschool swim team. I could literally smell chlorine it was that visceral. I put that aside and decided to profit  on the day by writing a few postcards for the holidays, doing an extra long yoga routine, then making myself a nice breakfast that included a makeshift oatmeal I found at Carrefour. I’m quite happy with this discovery, oatmeal here is $10.00! Once well fed and well erranded, I headed off to work.

Yes, I work Saturday mornings.  We are in the middle of putting together a big presentation so it was definitely a rare moment of continuous work. It’s a little bit frustrating because everyone here is ADD and a task of 30 minutes often takes 2 hours. My boss and I will be discussing something then literally, mid sentence, he will cut himself short, pick up the phone and make a call for something unrelated.  I’ve just gotten used to bringing my laptop with me whenever I go to his office so that when it happens, because it undoubtedly will, I can surf twitter and indulge in news briefs catering to the ADD. Ironic eh?

Anyhow, I got permission to leave work early to spend time with my friends. I took the metro to Centreville and met up with the girls to go to the Soukh. It’s an Aladdin-esque looking bazaar that spans many winding streets lined with glittering trinkets and knock off shoes. It’s sheer maddness over the weekends, an embouteillage des gens, where traffic lights for people would probably solve nothing.

We all did some great holiday shopping, and with Fati by my side, I turned out to be a pretty good barterer. A few hours in, it was time to replenish so we went to SucreSale. I ordered a slice of pizza, partly because I am thoroughly amused at how they serve pizza here: thin crust, usually caked in tuna, which is then folded over, reheated, and served up hot! Pizza sandwich in a jiffers! Haha! I waited 25 minutes for this acclaimed pizza sandwich though. Why? Another amusing story. I waited for 25 minutes because there was one person making the bread, making the pizza, making the crepes, serving the pizza, serving the crepes and then passing the bread to the sandwich station where three people were standing… and one was working. With all happening at a Tunisian pace, it was too painful for me to watch such a hodgepodge while hungry so I contented myself with the Arabic music videos playing on the plasmas all around. Still, I think I’m going to put a note in the suggestion box that says “Ford style assembly lines + cocaine in need of importation.”

After eating, the Soukh alleys were too clogged to make further headways so we wrapped up our outing and headed home. DJ F-black wanted me to see him mix and work some of the lights, so I went back to La Soukra to get dressed while everyone else went out for a sheesha.

DJ F-black is a ginormously tall ex-basketball player, originally from the dessert, and has a fabulous laugh that makes me feel at home. I adore him and the way he explains things. He always peppers conversation with “tatta tee, tatta taat” (this or that) “cahao”( that’s that) or “boulot boulot’ (work work) and has appropriate hand/head gestures to signal likewise. He came to me chercher around 7:30 so that we could go to a restaurant on the beach for…pizza! Haha, to think I was a person who once upon a time wouldn’t touch pizza with a ten foot pole.

Actually, this restaurant is incredible, both in decor and quality. If I could, I’d eat pizza from there everyday. The pizza is oven baked, paper thin crust and covered with shrimp and calamari. Delicious! After a great dinner we headed over to Gammarth for the reception party where F was going to mix.

The reception took place at Hotel Residence which is a 5 star hotel with chocolate mousse to match. A little background, F-black is one of the hottest DJ’s in Tunisia, hott as in he’s high in demand ( and easy on the eyes too). He charges a lot and only works for the upper echelon so this Saturday was the first time I mingled with the high of the high in Tunisia. I could totally see colonial residue dripping off of these people.

The reception party started off with live  Arabic music that transported me far away. The beating drum, the eerie violin and the young woman’s husky, powerful voice proved to be utter hypnosis.  I could feel my every cell swaying with her calls. The invitees were dressed in long evening gowns with low backs and steep heels, tuxes and bow ties,   primmed up do’s and glowing skin. By far the most gorgeous individuals I have seen here despite their noses always being pointed sky-high.  A few drinks in fortunately, they dropped the snooty semblance and got busy on the dance floor.  I’m in awe at how these people move from the worlds of the west to the east, just like that.

Around 12 am, the lights go off and F-black starts up with deep techno. Anis, another fave techie, made sure the serveurs kept my glass continually full of champagne. By drink number 5, I was predictably no longer mingling, but rather, up on the ledge behind F-black with my drink, my slims and myself, dancing away and having an amazing time. Music is definitely my baby.

I got home at 5 am and crashed for 4 hours, before I had to wake up  and give my landlord’s wife a yoga lesson. Never again. Never everrrrrrrr again. Teaching yoga drunk is impossible.

I cut the class short and lay in bed with fennel tea I made from fresh picked fennel my landlord gave me. Something unimaginable then happens. As I’m dozing, I suddenly hear banging on my door. Long story short, there’s a little boy with a packet in his hands that has…my camera! My camera! Quelle surprise! Quelle joie! Quelle absurdite! Unfortunately, the memory card was taken so my life has a void from the summer on. But I have my awesome camera back in my possession so it’s worth repeating: Quelle surprise! Quelle joie! Quelle absurdite!

Too full of happiness hormones to keep resting, I decide to get out of bed and go with Samy for a barbeque he was holding at his place. Samy is the ex-model, ex-football player who manages an events company we work with a lot. I was supposed to give him a yoga lesson this morning as well but said I couldn’t because of work….he caught me shortly after this mensonage stumbling into the epicerie buying a mountain of carbs to soak up stubborn alcohol. Caught guilty in the most embarrassing of ways. I looked like death.

Definitely wanting to rectify this social faux paux, I got dressed and he picked me up for the barbeque. It was great plus I love his apartment and the company he keeps. Samy’s brother barbequed blue fish ( i always sing “red fish, blue fish, one fish, two fish” whenever i get served this and no one knows what Im talking about because their childhoods were without Dr Seuss. Noooo! ). We lounged in the sun around drinking wine, munching cheese filled olives and picking out the bones from the fish. I like boney fish, it reminds me to eat slowly, lol.

I then left the bbq to meet the girls in Sidi Bou Said. Unfortunately, I was late by 2 hours so the second I get there, we all crammed into Omar’s car and went for a ride of pure laughter. My group of friends here are so great,  I just can’t believe it is all coming to an end soon. Fati is leaving in December, Me and Anna in February, Denise and Omar in April. That truly is one of the worst parts about Aiesec, it facilitates close friendships that are destined for an unprepared farewell.

We decided to cancel our plans for the Electronica Fest at the Acropolium because we were feeling old and moche. Instead, we went to Carrefour to scout out Christmas decorations for our upcoming themed cocktail party. I can’t wait! Christmas makes me abnormally happy. I’m one of those sorry Hall Mark brainwashees who gets ready for Christmas in November. I can’t help it!

After figuring out what is best for what,  Omar drops me off at mine. I get into my pyjamas and start to read this pretentious piece of French literature for about 2 minutes before a heavy heavy sleep sets in and gets me a ready for a final week with my friends. It’s so depressing. Come Decemeber 20th, Ill head off to London for Christmas vacation— and come back to find us one short 😦

The Female Folly

December 10, 2009 Leave a comment

I think I may have committed myself to a date this weekend. I can’t really tell. Gender rules here are so different! This may or may not be the umpteenth accidental date so I figure I might as well break things down and get it right. I like going for coffees and I like talking and I like wearing my glasses. Isn’t that a non-datelike storyline? However, as I’ve come to find out, things are a little different in a Muslim country.

My awareness of the gender difference came about in a French intensive course I took at the beginning of my internship. I learned more about Tunisian culture there than French language. The class atmosphere was a total riot with regular screaming matches over the most ridiculous things. Classic example, my teacher asks about our weekend one day and I mention how I went clubbing  and saw a guy dance like it’s 1999.*BOOM*“It’s because men shouldn’t dance!” “Of coure men should dance!” “The Koran says no!” “The Koran says no such thing!” “It’s harem, I say!” “You’re harem, I know!”And then it becomes a garble of everyone trying to get in their two-bit/my brain crying “loud noises loud noises go hooooome!”. Decibel levels had no limit.

These kind of ‘debates’ occurred daily for the entirety of the three week course. The class would be divided along gender lines with the women always being the most progressive and our Turkish French teacher always leading the way. She was such an animated figure that I sometimes couldn’t be sure if she was engaging in theatrics. She was also such an inept french teacher and should probably become a life-coach for broken girls and mislead men.The amount of times she took on that hyena herd of dudes single-handedly to tell them things such as “No,  actually you shouldn’t kill a cat before you have sex with your wife for the first time because not only is that NOT in the Koran,  it’s not logical.”

Yes. Illogical much. I went for a coffee with her once because my head was spinning from all the nonsense I kept hearing come from the mouths of so-called secular, educated Tunisians. What she told me was that in fact, it’s very common for mal-educated Muslims worldwide to cite the Koran over every little thing when the reality is they aren’t well informed; it is very difficult to understand a religion, any religion, because you must not only understand the text, but also the history and the culture within which such a religion took root and then also, how it interacted with others. I like that she said that because I hadn’t thought of religion  interconnected as such before. According to her, in Tunisia there exists large overlaps with Berber and tribal African cultures and these cultures plays a clear role in  peoples’ understandings of Islam. Which is why, she continued to say, the people cite things as ‘harem’ or make it seem as though they are knowledgeable theologians when they are merely regurgitating what their fathers told them.

So when the following happened at our “Last Day of Class Party”, well, I tried to take it in stride. The teacher handed us back our final exams and somehow, I got the highest grade by far even though I barely spoke throughout the course. The three young (re:audacious) guys in the class saw my note, and turn borderline livid.

One starts complaining very loudly, “It’s because of you I couldn’t focus. Because of you! If you had been sitting over there,  I would’ve done better!”. I’m a little offended  and a classmate notices and say, ‘It’s because you’re beautiful. You should try not to be.’

Lord have mercy. So many ways to critique the logical fallacy in that one. Fortunately, I did not get acid thrown on my face, but I did learn a lesson about my role in Tunisia, looking like a Tunisian. I titled this blog ‘Female Folly’ because as I see it, it’s constantly my silly old fault that I am a woman who cause men to loose control and is reason enough for me to be relegated to the shadows. I’m to senseless to understand how men need their environmental conditions for prime functioning. If I get hassled or stared at or groped, it was my fault, I should’ve walked differently, looked differently, dressed differently, stood differently.

The severity of this became clear the one night when I decided to walk alone at 22:00h. I’d been sitting all day and wanted to get some blood flow by walking to a restaurant to meet my friends instead of taking a taxi. With it being only a 20 minute walk away, I figured, ‘Where’s the harm? I live in a very safe neighborhood and besides, I’m wearing a grey t-shirt, jeans and sneakers’. Well despite this plain jane attire, HERDS of men started following me and yelling. I am oddly not intimidated by Tunisian men, perhaps because they’re tiny, so I’d angrily stop and whirl around, yell back at them in French as I’d move towards them waving my little fist. These punks would literally start to back pedal away as though I had the plague. ( A girl who yells has the contagious crazies?) I had old men wagging their fingers at me, and a rowdy creature in pick up truck throw a can at my head. So what had I done now?

Well, I broke an informal norm. I found out later that if you’re a girl walking out at night, you’re either a prostitute or will soon be made one.  Apparently the legal rules protecting women here are the strongest here out of any Muslim country- so why can’t I walk in peace?  What if I don’t want to have a man at my side to guarantee my safety? What if I’d like to go somewhere and not have my movements watched and controlled?

It’s through thèse instances, and many more, that I’m starting to have a better idea of how feminism developed in the United States and how lucky we are to be free. Undoubtedly the conditions then were similar to what they are here , where once upon a time, my valuation came from men and not from myself, and where the system was set up to keep my power in check. I am in awe at the daunting obstacles strong women before me chose to take on.

For me, I’m too shy to do much. I’ve been told never to talk back to my boss, to just accept what he says. Everytime I’m told this, I always think of this piece of research I read long ago that proves how those who question produce better results. I take a slight bit of pleasure in knowing that he’s not getting the best result… then I do what ( I think) he says.

Being here, I marvel at my own feminist predilections that I never knew I had and I wonder if things will ever be more equal? At the moment, the symbol of gender equality is the right to work. Women here are so proud and happy with how they work and manage a household. But to me, I’m so worried that they don’t want more. I see Tunisian women fill menial feminized labor positions and not get offered pathways to promotion. I see them take care of the children and do the housework while their husbands sit watching TV and smoking a cigarette. I see them treated poorly in the streets and worse in the workplace. I see them say nothing.

And then there’s the youth culture that has so many many silent codes I can’t keep up with so I too say nothing. Well, some codes are actually very overt and  I can’t deflect JIT because I take a few moments to translate. But I’m learning. And I’m newly single after 5 years so that might be adding to the constant obliviousness I carry like a heavy scented perfume. So I’ll go on this quasi date with a Rwandan from France, because I’m curious to know about his life story even though it will probably be, “I grew up in a banlieu. Ca y est.” And I’ll keep going on innocuous coffee dates and talking as I please, because I enjoy it, and I’m not going to factor in the hidden meanings indigenous to Tunisia. It’s not my world. It’s not my folly.

Il faut que jeunesse se passe

November 2, 2009 Leave a comment

Today, I decided that I am actually in a Latin American country in disguise/denial/permanent delusion. Everyone is soooo nice, lively and sexy! (More sexified than sexy) They also eat horribly and douse everything in sugar or oil, listen to music nonstop while wagglin along  and manipulate time to such an extent that clocks might as well not even exist. Also, I would say the gendered concepts here are more Latino than Arab- women are liberated objects.

So what brought me to my ridiculous conclusion? Naturally an accumulation of things but since details slip through my mind like a sieve, I’ll elaborate on the most recent experiences and ‘beshwaya beshwaya’ more will come.

Alrighty, Wednesday I went out for crepes with my two Romanian friends in the posh Lac area and discovered that I hate all crepes here, they are basically Indian chapati’s stuffed with bland cheese and basted in corn oil. Just like in Latin America. I freakin hate tamales and all offshoots. But for the non-parallel, I love the Keralia Slim’s (while on my Latin American travels, les cigarettes ne me plait pas du tout). This from the mouth of an asthmatic and supposed health nut! Whatever, I’m impressionable. Besides, I have never seen people smoke so much and in truth, I feel a little left out. I want to go on 50 cigarette breaks too! When in Rome do as the Romans do? Viable justification? I think yes.

Anyhow, Wednesday night was one of wonderful conversation in a perfect atmosphere. (Tunisian compatriots, go to Phukets if you havent done so yet) Diana is the Romanian girl who isnt here on an AIESEC internship. She’s been here for one year and has a story of tenacity. Bien que a cause de l’amour. She’s the second foreigner I’ve met here who has fallen in love with a Tunisian and decided to stay back, despite the lack of work or tofu.

The next evening, my boss invited me over for dinner and a sleep over. The first time I went over to her house for dinner, I had no idea she intended me to sleep over, because all she said was, “Viens pour le diner aujourd’hui’. However, despite my protests at having zero sleep-over gear and wanting to work on applications, she convinced me otherwise simply by citing the fact that everyone who visits her in the evening sleeps over. I take this whole ‘Do as the Roman’s do’ a little too seriously. Anyhow, I now know that when she invites me over for dinner, I’m spending the night. Which I have absolutely no problem with! Hager has two litle boys, one who is two and the other who is nine months- Dido and Can-Can respectively. Super cute and they make me miss my dead baby kitten a ton. When we enter Hager’s house, she turns up the Mosaiq FM on full, gives me a pair of pyjamas  (bonafide flood pants since she’s only 5″2) and then I happily feed the babies as she prepares the dinner and smokes her lungs away. That evening, her husband went to watch the Esperance soccer match, and came back with disgustingly delicious pastries. Then Lubna, Hager’s sister, came back from work and animated nonsense went to a new high. Dido decided  he doesn’t want to sleep so Hager iron’s my clothes ( she’s so stinkin sweet. she does my laundry AND irons them), while Lubna I watch a Tunisian comic on TV and play with Dido. Even the television shows in Tunisia remind me of being in a Latin American country, je te jure.

The next night is a Friday night and despite my wanting to work on applications so I can enjoy Halloween worry free, a friend of ours just got a job in Italy and would be leaving on Sunday… so obviously I had to attend the farewell party. I get home from work and make some dinner so that Fati & Lavi and I could have something to eat beforehand. I actually didn’t eat dinner because earlier that day I consumed an entire baguette by myself while fretting over what to write for my application #1. I can’t believe it. This is like the 5th time I have eaten a whole baguette on my own due to pondering over things I don’t want to ponder. I need to get my stomach stapled!!

So yes, we spent our night in Biwa where Anna’s (Polonais) boyfriend’s band plays regularly  (and where one of my co-workers does the sound). They are incredible! I’m not one to cast praise lightly but aside from the fact that these non-English speakers sing sans accent, they  alter their voice and style to the originals flawlessly- whether it be Bob Marley, Sting or Coldplay. Impressive eh? So that night, we ate those nasty crepes and sipped on yummy the au amands, chatted away, danced a little and thoroughly enjoyed being out altogether. Lavi and Fati spent the night (my studio is that well furnished!) and the next day, they went to the Medina with Sonia to take a last round of photos. I finally decided to stay home and “work” (ponder).

In all seriousness, I even decided to skip out on Halloween fun for my apps. I had such a good costume too! Ok here goes: I was going to continue with my usual trend of dressing up in some variation of skank ( we all know Halloween is really just an excuse to get in touch with our inner baddie) and be a Tunisian Hoebag. My ex-neighbor was going to lend me her prayer robe, fix a hijab on me and snap on her niqab, and then….I would wear scandoulousness underneath!! Haha!! It woud’ve been great. The party at the American Embassy definitely missed out. Well actually, the requirements were to be in costume and since 99.9% of people here think I’m Tunisian, perhaps it would’ve been me who would’ve missed out?

Irrespective of no Hallow’s Eve, I had a really nice sunny weekend where people popped by here and there which made me feel less like a boring hermit. OH! And I channeled inner wifey! I made an amazing soup. See, a lack of an Indian mother and a Whole Foods really foreces me to use those cooking skills and what I’m finding is I just love to cook. Before it was ‘I love to bake’ but that’s because I liked to give other people my baking. Right now, I’m finding that I really enjoy cooking and I like doing it just for myself.

Another discovery you say? I found that I am abnormally naive. Yup. A co-worker of mine came over for lunch and a long story made short- that involves my landlord, ex-neighbors, an armoire and a really aggressive father ( who got a piece of my boisterous back talk)- that afternoon conversation with him finally made me aware that I’m naive to the point of self harm. And perhaps it’s because I’ve always lived in small very trusting communities where we don’t lock our doors or worry about leaving valuables out in the open, but whatever the cause, my hopes are that my time in Tunisia will help me mature in that respect. I finally want to as well and when there’s a will, there’s a way. It’s odd because last summer in England, when I was living in a pretty bad working class neighborhood and doing interviews with pretty sketch Punjabi Indian guys. I cannot tell you how many times my college boyfriend either wanted to either smack some sense into me or fly over with an bazooka and pulverize the offender. Despite the fact that I was always getting myself in dangerous situations where I just barely managed to squeeze my way out of, I didn’t find my idiotic doling of trust diminish by even one ounce. Going forward, I know I wont be living in picuresque American suburbs and so this characteristic of mine is certainly one that has to go.

Ok, I’ve been taking too much time out of my workless day to blog. I think I’ll read my French book instead. It’s called “L’ignorance”. Talk about fitting :p You know it’s a good thing I’m having this revelation here. I’m in such a great, caring community that I’ll get the positive reinforcement I need to shape up and leave my Preeti Bubble. Very happy to have a Nicaragua Take 2!!