Published: November 11th 2009November 25th 2008
I got into the Tunis louage station at 830am and took the louage to Kairouan. The louage took 2hrs and cost 5 dinars. The first thing I noticed in Kairouan is that people are more tradionally dressed than other parts of Tunisia and there are loads of butchers. Dead animals hanging on hooks and cow heads being displayed is very common. For the first time in Tunisia I also saw rabbits, don’t think they were being sold as pets.
Just passing the louage station you come across a fruits and vegetable market and yes they probably do grow their own oranges considering the amount of oranges available. After talking to a few locals I found my way to the medina. While walking to the medina, outside the medina I found a shop selling wholesale lentils, chick peas, all kinds of spices. I also found desiccated coconut but I didn’t find any rice. I was planning on cooking for Houssem and his flat mates hence decided to buy some of the stuff I needed. The people at the shop thought I was Tunisian which is the case most of the time and started talking to me in Arabic. Since I didn’t speak the language I pointed to the desiccated coconut and the lentils and asked one of the guys to put it into a bag. The shop guys were asking me questions which I couldn’t answer and then they realized I wasn’t Tunisian and they got the manager to come and deal with me. He spoke very little English and he asked me if I was Pakistani and I said no Sri Lankan. He asked me how many kilos; since he didn’t understand me I used the spoon to fill the bags with my required quantities. Then I asked him how much it costs and he said no take it and go.
I got to the medina from the great mosque side and when I got to the great mosque the ticket counter people asked me if I was Muslim and I said yes. I had already thought of my friend Asnaf’s name if they had asked me for my name. I got in free didn’t buy the 7 dinar ticket and didn’t pay the 1 dinar camera fee either. The great mosque is absolutely amazing and really beautiful. However at the back of my mind I knew I had lied and cheated. Generally action-reaction occurs to me pretty quickly and due to the guilt in me I knew something had to go wrong it was a question of when. Similar thing happened to me in Moulay Idris in Morocco where I had lied about my religion and some of the mosque pictures got corrupted for no apparent reason; strange huh?? These things do happen.
Kairouan is considered to be the fourth holiest place for Muslims. I got out of the mosque wondered along the street and asked people from where I can find panoramic views of the mosque. The carpet sellers gladly invited me to their shops asked me to go upstairs and have a look at the view as long as I paid a visit to their shop where they could convince me to buy something. The first place didn’t have good views but they nearly convinced me to buy although I didn’t and the second place had decent views but they didn’t even bother asking me because they were busy with some tourist and would have though let’s not bother with this South Asian.
I walked along the medina walls till I got to Place des Martyrs and then to the Zaouia of Sidi Abid el-Ghariani, Maison du Gouverneur, Mosque of The Three Doors, Bir Barouta famous for a myth that the water in the well is flowing from Mecca. I walked all over the medina, took lots and lots of pictures and then finally got out of the medina to get to the Aghlabid basins. This site is a little away from the medina and since roads are not well marked I decided to ask someone. Near a small bus stop I saw three girls and I decided to go and ask them. Given a choice I always prefer to ask a female because more often than not they are reliable although I’m beginning to change my mind in Tunisia.
One of the girls spoke broken in English and the others didn’t at all. After getting some information of what seemed like directions, this girl asked me from where I was and the usual small talk. Then she asked me for my email address and I said why don’t we go and have a cup of coffee ;-)
She was initially hesitant but then she wanted to walk away from her two friends to sit in some place to copy my email address. I guess she didn’t want to agree to go for coffee in front of her friends because she was more than ready to go for coffee afterwards. We went back to Bir Barouta cause there is a pretty decent café there and then she said lets go somewhere else as it was a little crowded.
She asked me if I was hungry and I said no and then I asked her if she was and she said a little. I said then let’s go and get something to eat. We walked what seemed like 2kms and I was beginning to wonder where the hell we were going. During this walk she said to me that I should think of staying the night in Kairouan instead of returning back to Sousse. Light bulb should have got switched on at this stage however decided to give her the benefit of the doubt. Now the time was about 1330 and I had plans of going to El-Jem to see the Colosseum at sunset.
We got to this restaurant and then she asked me if I had money to pay. Light bulb got switched on a good 60% still decided to play along and figured what harm could happen I’m not going to stay here lets have some food and get out. I told her a white lie that Houssem is cooking for me today and has invited some friends over and hence I have to get back to Sousse. She asked me what I liked and I said caftege which is a fairly cheap item. When he brought the caftege she said she didn’t like caftege and it was for me and I said I’m not hungry and this for you and eat it. I ate a bit and I said ok let pay and go and she said no wait the waiter is bringing more food. I was like ok and then she started telling me how she wants me to help her in her studies and asked if I could bring her a laptop computer when I’m coming next year. I have no idea how she came to the conclusion that I was coming next year. Then she said that if I could send her some money via western union and showed a text how this Italian couple had sent her some money with the secret western union code when transferring money. I could have lit up the whole of Kairouan with the amount of light bulbs that were glowing on top of my head. I was like ok it is time to leave and then the waiter brought two plates of barbeque lamb with fries and other vegetables. She said its 24 dinars and I literally hit the ceiling.
I said I don’t eat meat and I didn’t order it even and tried hard to convince the waiter but in vain. Then the waiter took my plate and gave it to someone else and she said ok no it will be less than 24 but 2 minutes later he brought another similar plate and I didn’t understand what was happening. I got up paid 20 dinars literally left her in the restaurant and came off. She said she is really sorry and got them to wrap the food and we came off. I was pretty cheesed off but remembered all along that I didn’t pay the mosque entrance fee and I lied so here is retribution. It doesn’t take that long. She continued to hang out with me, we finally found the Aghlabid basins and cisterns and then I went back to the louage station and got a louage back to Sousse.
Another story for the experience list, never learn I suppose. But really there was hardly a warning on this one. Got back to Houssem place, he was not home yet went to the nearby internet café and then Houssem sent me a text and he was back in about 30 minutes. I already have 4 missed calls from the girl in Kairouan.