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Published: January 30th 2008
the Crazy Writings of: Snow White
Did you miss me? I know I did! We have just gotten back from a week of travel around this fabulous land, and I'm just regaining the ability to speak. Since we missed two weeks here, I have to backtrack.
(Bess Davis, another student on the trip, has a blog on www.BessinTunisia.blogspot.com... check it out!)
JAN 14th: Exploration of Tunis
We ran amok around the capital Tunis aujourd'hui, and it was fantastic. The medina, or Old City, is in the center of town and surrounded by an ancient stone wall. It,s full of crazy twisty turns, stalls of art, pottery, clothes, scarves, jewelry, hidden cafes and a mosque at every corner. And you are never allowed to forget the souk-owners themselves, oh boy! "allemagne? italia? angle-terre? russich?" non, america. "ah mon dieu, i love america! new york, britney spears, frites (french fries)! come into my shop, i give you good price, for americans only!" there are bright colors and beauty everywhere in these cramped treasure chests, and if you don't feel like buying anything today, DO NOT TOUCH ANYTHING. It's like being in Genie's cave, cause once you touch something, you
are magically destined to buy it, or you'll never be allowed out. "blanche neige, oh mon dieu, c'est blanche neige!" (Yes, that is Snow White) We ate lunch in one of these overwhelming alleys just outside the infamous Zaituna Mosque, credited with giving Tunisia is scholarly culture.
JAN 15th: Bardo Museum
I started to feel a little sick today. Zut, I think there must have been fish in my couscous or something. Eh, c'est la vie. It's the cost of my lifestyle, so I don't really care. I think the country has conspired against my vegetarianism, though. People don't really understand the concept, because it expressly defines in the Qu'ran that humans are Allah's favorite creation, and animals and planets were created for our food. It makes sense to me, I just explain that I'm strange. That seems to amuse our family and friends here, and they accept their strange American girl. Lucky me!
But to Bardo! Oh my goodness, it was still breathtaking despite feeling ill. We didn't spend nearly enough time, but my art-nerd self will always feel unsatisfied leaving my art behind. Also, I'm enjoying our class. Our professor is very endearing and playful with us. We have been learning a lot of architecture in preparation for our field travel. Apres le musee, we had another culture lecture. We went to another side of Tunis, known as the Maltese Quarter for the architecture and inhabitants before WWII. CEMAT, or the Center for Maghribi Studies in Tunis (www.la.utexas.edu/research/mena/cemat) is based in a beautiful Italian-styled home hidden away off a busy avenue. The director of the research center, Dr Michalak, spoke about Tunisian cultural anthropology. Among many other professions, he lives in Tunisia years ago on assignment with the Peace Corps, learned Arabic AND Tunisian, and now is director of CEMAT. He listed site after site that we should visit (all already on the itenirary!), and explained many local dishes we cannot leave without tasting. Afterwards, a few of us sought him out in his office to talk longer with him about language programs, areas of study, jobs we all want. It was incredible.
I walk around this country like a big blue eye. I see and notice everything like a wide-eyed baby. Everything is new, shocking and unnatural. Everyone sees me, too. I walk the streets like a beacon: look at me, I am foreign and strange! Then it changes, and it's like they are the babies, and everything about me is new shocking and unnatural. I wonder if my pale skin is blinding, my eyes so bright it hurts their eyes. People must squint when I walk by. I feel so light, I'm embaressed meeting people. "Hello, my name is Robin. Let me lend you my sunglasses, so we may converse."
Mosaic workshop today with an infa,ous Tunisian artist. His place was in Sidi Bou Said, by far my favorite town so far. To say the least, I was geeking out pretty bad. He explained different techniques and study forms, talked about how long it takes and showed us many of his own. It was an incredible experience hearing all he had to say, and it just furthered the feeling of being an infant when we were given ceramic cubes and Elmers-like glue. Had a blast, though.
I would like to take the time to describe how I wake up here. Around six o'clock in the morning, the mosque in my neighborhood starts its call to prayer. It's quickly become a co,forting sound that I know I'll miss when I go home.If that doesn't gently wake me up with thoughts of God, the roosters do. Or our fa,ily's dog, Filo, decides the blank white walls of our courtyard are being cheeky and feels the urge to hollar at them till they open up and let him into the street to chase one of the million of stray cats prowling just outside the door. I also want to point out that either roosters in Tunisia are mentally challenged, or I've been living a lie by believing they only crow just before dawn. Most nights when the boys are dropping us home from cafe after dinner, around midnight, they're still going.
Another lecture today, by an impressive female professor from Tunis, Dr Shalwa. She spoke about the transformation of Tunisian women from traditional to modern, and gave fantastic insight into everyday life. I'm hooked, because there is so much to study in this country, I think I've become addicted. I spoke with her afterwards, and she said to give her a ring if I come back and need help with research. Also got her e-mail if I have any questions, and to keep in touch. This country really is amazing.
Speaking of being a woman in Tunisia, I've gone on several dates since I've been here. It's pretty ridiculous. One mention that I am 'celebataire', and my Maman has me talking to all kinds of good looking men. A girl could get used to this attention! It's also obnoxious on the streets, but you have to laugh it off or go home, because they sure as hell won't knock it off. I'm going to some disco (club) tonight, so we'll see if these boys know how to dance. Two guys on our trip, their host brother Safwen, seems to be the central guy my family is focused on. Our fa,ilies are best friends, and the boys take us girls out a lot. Safi's friends all meet up with us, too, and I adore them. They are all brilliantly funny, educated, and welcoming. We've been adopted into this community, and I don't ever want to leave. I've decided to pray to God for a Wizard of Oz-like tornado to make it magically fall on New Jersey so all I have to do is cross the Delaware to go from home to home!
(post-script: The disco was entertaining, I suppose. We went a bit early, and they dance like the French. As Carolyn puts it, you have an invisible box on the floor, you dance in it, and don't leave it. Mimes were the worst cultural creation on this earth, cause that dancing style SUCKS. Jan 19th, we left for the South. But that will wait for our next edition of.................... ROBIN AND CAROLYN'S ADVENTURES IN AFRICA!)
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