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Published: August 26th 2018
We arrived in Monastir, Tunisia on Saturday, August 4th
and it is now August 26th
. Where has the time gone and what have we done? We know by the reports of weather in other places many of you reading this have experienced hot weather and we are no exception, but this is northern Africa so guess we should have expected it. The first couple of days here we were on the “wall” near the marina office as it was quite windy so they figured it wasn’t the best time to move Tsamaya and we agreed. On Tuesday we were moved into our permanent location for the winter allowing us now to “settle in”.
With the temperatures being near 90 before 9AM we have typically been doing our walking around early in the morning, coming back to the boat for the hottest part of the day where we have the air conditioning running and then back out in the evening. It is not only the temperature, but the humidity has been very high as well which really is what has been hard to adjust to. It has been working out OK, but at times I have been feeling like we have
been living in a cave during the day. Fortunately now it seems to be cooling down some OR we are just getting used to it a little more so we are now planning some trips to take us outside of Monastir to see more of this country. There is a lot of history to learn and plenty to see so want to use our time before heading back to the US to explore.
For those of you that may not know Tunisians speak both French and Arabic. We found that the little French we have picked up over our travels has definitely been helpful especially when reading menus and greeting people that we meet. We are also trying to pick up a few basic words in Arabic, but we found that there is Arabic and then each country has its own Arabic words. As an example there is an Arabic word for thank you, but another word in Arabic that means thank you but is only used in Tunisia with each country having their own version. It was very confusing in the beginning because when we asked how to say something in Arabic, some would give us the Tunisian
version and others would give us the standard Arabic – it is difficult enough for us to learn one word and not two for the same meaning!! Guess if you think about it would be similar to some areas of our country using the word soda and other areas calling it pop or soda pop. Fortunately in the marina there are quite a few that speak English well so can ask questions of them, but we also find the vendors in town also have excellent language skills and can move between Arabic, French, German, English and some can speak Polish and Russian as well. If you are in the business of selling, it is important to have the language skills to do this well. We have found very quickly that the shop keepers here are excellent at selling and that is why our luggage heading back to the US will be very full!! When you walk down the street, a vendor will try to “usher” you into their shop saying “just take a look” which can be quite dangerous as they have some wonderful items here among the other more standard touristic souvenirs.
There are many things that let
you know very quickly that you are not in Europe anymore. As soon as we pulled into the marina you notice the Rabat (fort) and the minaret of the nearby mosque. You also quickly see the white dome structures which contrast from the tall highly decorative steeples in Europe. Many of the doors here are metal with pierced decorative holes and most of the buildings we see are only one or two stories tall. The hotels along the beachfront and some of the apartment buildings are taller, but in the center of town this is not the case. When you stop long enough to look around the dress of many of the women is a stark contrast with many wearing the head scarf and longer conservative dress. Note that this is not all women here as many are wearing western style dress and others have a combination of western style clothing with the addition of the head scarf. Tunisia is secular and as a result there is a mix of conservative and non-conservative as seen by the variety of dress and the ability to buy alcohol in some shops.
When you go out to dinner for the first time
you notice that many places do not sell alcohol but serve tea, coffees, water and various types of juices. A definite contrast from eating out in Italy and France where most have a glass of wine with their meal. We have learned that there are restaurants that do serve alcohol but they are typically a little higher priced with their food as well.
When you walk in to the stores you see some familiar items such as fanta and yogurt, but some have Arabic writing and other items have French. Pictures on things help but sometimes even with that it is hard to figure out. As an example we were looking for milk, but couldn’t seem to find it in the refrigerator section, but could find cartons that are similar with pictures of cows on them, but they were smaller cartons similar to cartons of cream back in the US. When I put the French words into google translate I got back the result of “milk rotten”! We did find the milk, but it is in boxes that are not refrigerated similar to the ones we used to use back in Botswana. It sometimes is the little things that
take you a little extra time to find as they aren’t quite where you expect to find them in the store.
We have been working with the euro as the currency for quite some time now in Europe. Here in Tunisia they use the Dinar which is based on 1,000. If you see the price of something and it is listed as 4,500 it really is only 4 and half dinar so you have to remember to drop off the last 2 digits. Currently one dinar is equal to about 36 cents! At first glance it looks like things are very expensive, but on the contrary the cost of living here is very low. We can go out to dinner here with both of us having a nice meal for a total of 8-12 dollars. Most restaurants do not serve alcohol, but a few do. We typically do not go to the ones that do as they seem to be a little higher priced with their food as well. We still have items in our freezer that we need to use up, but it really is hard sometimes cooking onboard, when the meals are so inexpensive. The first couple
of weeks we were eating out more often than normal as we didn’t even want to turn the stove on in the boat as it was so hot. We mentioned the other day when we ate out that we will definitely have quite the shock when we get back to the US as we wouldn’t even be able to go to a fast food place for the price of the meals we are eating at restaurants here with very good wait staff.
We were afraid that we would not meet any other cruisers with coming to Tunisia so early in August. Luckily for us we hooked up with Jim and Kathy from SV Inishnee and we have really hit it off. Since then we have met up with others as well making our time enjoyable here. I am part of a FB group called Women Who Sail the Med and all 3 women on the boats we met are members as well - it has been nice to put a face to a name. We went out to dinner one night with both SV Inishnee and Mark and Gina from SV Rum Truffle. Now we have connected as well
with a Danish family, Vicky, Pre and Zara on SV Lucky Potato making it very enjoyable. They will be leaving soon, but it sounds like we might connect again in the spring which would be nice. Fortunately Kathy and Jim will be here a little longer so planning some day trips away from Monastir with them which will be fun.
The people we have met in Tunisia are very welcoming and they are eager to make you feel at home. We know that some are store vendors and they are in the business of being pleasant to potential customers, but we have met quite a few that seem to be very genuinely warm human beings that want to be helpful. We were very lucky that after only being here a day or two we met Marowane and his daughter, Lina. We have a sailing organization burgee on our boat and Lina had been sitting in the nearby café trying to figure out what country the flag was from. They finally came over to ask which led to a very enjoyable evening of visiting. One other reason they came over was that we had been having numerous people coming by
and climbing on to our boat. It is most unusual to have someone do this uninvited; in fact it has never happened before. We would be sitting down below reading and all of a sudden we could feel the boat move with someone getting on the boat. The reason everyone gave was to take a photo! When Marowane came over we were up on top trying to get a few people to move off the boat. We tried to explain to them that we didn’t want them to get hurt and that the boat is our home. It was definitely an awkward situation for us as they in fact were not causing any harm, but on the other hand it is an invasion of privacy without the courtesy of asking. Marowane did not say that was the reason, but felt that he came over to try to explain. We found that he was born and raised in Monastir but finished his degree at the University in Montreal and has worked there. He also has lived in the US in New Jersey as he taught at the university level in NYC and now lives in the United Emirate with his wife
People Climbed Onto the Boat to Have Photos Taken
we saw this happen on numerous boats, not just us!
and three children. By the end of the evening we had exchanged email and phone numbers as he offered his assistance if we ever needed it while he is here visiting his family.
Fortunately for us Marowane contacted us and we set up a time to meet. With his older son, Fady, and his nephew, Anas, we hopped in his car and we were treated to a tour around the town with explanations of the changes that have taken place and some of the history of his country. We ended the evening with his treating us to pizza for dinner at a place near what used to be the 1st
President’s summer palace. What a wonderful resource of information for us. He is so easy to talk to that we could ask a wide range of questions from the basics about the tipping practices here in Tunisia to learning more about the Muslim faith and the history of Tunisia. Another night we had another great opportunity to connect with Marowane and more of his family. This time Fady, Anas and his brother-in-law, Makrem, came to see the boat. Bob got in to his teacher mode and did lots of
show and tell with the chart plotter which got a little too technical for the boys so I took them and showed them videos of us sailing, dolphins playing and some sights from various places that we have traveled. After touring the boat we then drove around the town again to different parts of the city learning more on the way. This time it was the evening before the most important holiday in the Muslim religion, Eid al-Adha (feast of sacrifice). This occurs the day after Ramadan and it last for 3 days. It is the celebration that follows from the story of Abraham with the killing of a sheep. The sheep is then eaten by the family and friends with some given to charity. As we were told you could not call yourself a true Muslim if you did not fulfill the charity portion of the celebration as well.
Marowane took us to the place where people go to pick out and purchase their sheep for the celebration. We found that there are many things to look for in picking out a sheep. First it must be at least 6 months old, it must be a male and
there cannot be any signs of any cuts or injuries. An example that was given was if the ear was clipped, it would not be acceptable as that would mean there had been a cut with blood. The next morning would be the time that the sheep will be killed and cooked. We were introduced to the person that is in charge of the selling of the sheep and he told us that he had brought thousands of sheep to sell and when we got there in the evening there were not that many remaining. Marowane as well as his son, Fady, warned us that we might not want to walk around town the next day as we may see things we might not want to see as they will have slaughtered the sheep and there could be some “gruesome” things in the streets. Fady in particular told me not to walk near any of the houses as we might see charred heads of sheep. We took his advice and stayed on the boat the next day as everything was very quiet. As we heard the description of the day from Marowane’s family it sounds very similar to Thanksgiving –
it is a very important day to spend with family with plenty of food to eat. I was told this is a day that everyone in Tunisia should have the opportunity to eat meat. I did ask about the charity portion and how that was handled. I found out that they either know someone in their community that is in need or the meat is given to an organization that will be sure to distribute the food. The celebrations last for 3 days. Another of the days is for charity and this time in the form of money. A set amount would typically be set per person in your family. As an example if the amount is set at 5 dinar and you have 5 people in your family you should then give 25 dinar to charity. There are five pillars of the Islam religion: 1) declaration of faith 2) obligatory prayer 3)charity of alms-giving 4) fasting during Ramadan and 5) a pilgrimage to mecca. This does not mean all Muslims must adhere to all of these as can be seen by the number of people on the streets that do not go to the Mosque to pray 5 times
Eggs Are Used In Lots of Dishes Here
and there is plenty of fish and vegetables too
per day, but from our discussions with Marowane and his family the pillar of charity is critical.
Marowane also took us to one of the tombs of an officer in the military but also a close friend of Mohammed. It was good to have an explanation about the tomb and who was being honored in this way. It was numerous pieces of information such as this that is helping us to understand a little better about the area. It truly has been wonderful to have had a chance to meet someone that grew up in Monastir and has been willing to give us his time to help us understand more about his culture and country.
The second time we were out with Marowane he introduced us to a food that is very common in Tunisia called the brik. We had mentioned to him that we would see it on a menu, but didn’t know what it was so that was enough for him to stop at a place so we could try one. Marowane told us that it is very common for people to eat these each day of Ramadan after they have fasted for the day. He
Fresh Bay Leaves, Garlic, Red Peppers & Loofahs
are only a few of the offerings seen on the streets here
said in actual fact he is quite tired of eating them now! It is made out of a shell similar to that used for making egg rolls. Cooked potatoes that are mashed up are put on the dough, then shredded tuna and capers are added. We were told that the norm is to then put an egg on it, but many do not like the egg so that can be optional. It is then deep fried and served with a mixture of diced up onions that have been marinating in lemon juice. It really was wonderful! We have been finding other street food as well while wandering around. One was a pita that they put a pepper spread on, then added cooked meat (chicken or lamb), and filled with lots of shredded vegetables. It was good, but that pepper sauce is definitely hot as you could almost see flames coming out of our mouths. For dinner one night Bob tried a dish called ‘ojje’ which is a red sauce with sausages. He said it was very tasty, but that red sauce was definitely hot. I have found out that the green peppers that I bought in the store the other
day were not sweet peppers – guess everything with pepper here is HOT!
There are many craftsmen here in Tunisia and it is obvious from the merchandise you can find here – it ranges from ceramics to beautiful handmade rugs and tablecloths to silver work and woodwork made from the olive tree. As a matter of fact yesterday we had a very enjoyable time in shop learning about the different methods of making the rugs. The process started with them serving us mint tea, they then pulled out a number of carpets for us to see and then invited us to walk on them to get the feel - they are definitely artwork in themselves. Those of you that know us probably can guess that we didn’t walk out of that shop empty-handed. Now how to work out bringing all of this back to the US in a few weeks. When we mentioned that as a concern, they told us it wasn’t a problem at all as they could package them up and they would weigh less than what is allowed for hand luggage. They just don’t know us and what else we plan on taking as hand luggage.
Not All is Old in Monastir
and some of the new incorporate tiles of the past
Bob is confident that he can fit them into our checked bags – in a couple of weeks, we will see how we do with the packing!
One thing we have been disappointed with here is the quality of the fruits and vegetables here. We have been spoiled by the markets in other countries. The daily market that is here in the center of town is full of produce but as Bob says some of it looks like they have been tossing it back and forth like baseballs for quite a while before offering them for sale. We then go to the grocery store and on some days the vegetables are “a little” better, but still not near the quality or selection we have been used to in Italy this year. You never know what you will find in the stores – today for example I went to get some tomatoes and there were none to be found in the shops. Fortunately we found that there is another market at the “souk” which is a little farther away from the marina on Friday’s and Saturdays. There they have lots of clothes for sale for what amounts to be a
dinar or two ($.36 - $72) but they also have produce which are in much better condition making the trip there well worth it. It would be about a 40 minute walk to get there, but instead most take a taxi which costs only about 3 dinar (just over $1) which is quite the deal. We think that part of the difference is that the produce you see at the markets here are only local with nothing imported from other countries. We aren’t positive about this, but that seems quite likely.
Around town you see numerous statutes and you find that most of them are of the 1st
President of Tunisia, Habib Bourguiba. He was President for the period from independence in 1957 to 1987. He was very instrumental in obtaining independence from the French in 1957. Among his priorities were education, fighting gender inequality and developing the economy and having a neutral foreign policy. Marowane explained that he made numerous changes to the city as well. He took out numerous residences to establish a park which is one we walk through daily to get to the medina (old part of city which is enclosed by walls). Across the
way from the park is Bourguiba’s mausoleum. The mausoleum is surrounded by the cemetery of Monastir as he stated he wanted to be buried “among his people”. The irony that Marowane pointed out is the very obvious contrast between his mausoleum and where “his people” are buried is quite notable.
People will ask where we are from and when we say the US, many times the first thing they say is “Trump – NO” and then comments will be made about how they really appreciated many of our previous President’s. The names mentioned most often are Carter and Obama, but others are as well. On our travels over the years we have had many state how much they appreciate the United States and all that they have done to help others. Now we are being told that unfortunately the US is no longer a beacon for democracy as the US is abdicating its leadership for democracy and instead of helping countries that want to move themselves to democracy, the US is now spending money and time forcing it on countries that do not want it such as Iraq and Afghanistan. It is now sad to hear how others view
The Souk (market) is on Friday & Saturday
with plenty of clothes to choose from & spices too!
the US and its position in the world. We had been looked to as a leader and now that is not the case.
In talking to people here we also find that Tunisians do not consider themselves Arabs and if you study history you understand why. They make a very clear distinction between the Middle East and North Africa – they are North Africans. When you read up on the history of this area, you find that the Barbers from North West Africa settled in this area 5,000 years ago as they became more involved with agriculture and animal domestication. 3,000 years ago the Phoenicians founded Carthage with the Romans overtaking the area 2,000 years ago. The Greeks arrived as winners of the 3r Punic Wars between 149-146 BC seizing Carthage. Carthage came under the control of the Vandals who were the center of the Germanic Kingdom at the time. In 534 the Byzantine Empire controlled the area with the Arab Muslim arriving in 670. Next came the Normans between 1134-1148, then the Ottoman Empire gained control. The French arrived controlling the area until independence from them occurred in 1956. As can be seen from their history their origins
are not Arab and that is mentioned by many.
With such a long history here in Tunisia we are anxious to get out and explore some of the area to learn more first hand. We have been fortunate to find a driver that speaks excellent English who will be taking us on a couple of day trips later this week.
We will be coming back to the US in a few weeks so hopefully we will get a chance to see a few of you when we are back.
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