Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Great Excursion

Yesterday night I returned from our four day excursion to the South of Tunisia--the Sahara Dessert! The 32 of us students and about 11 teachers headed down by bus on Friday morning. I had more new experiences that I can even count and will try to tell you all about them. As for a quick synopsis--the trip was full of bus rides, stops at every side of the road attraction and monument that could possibly exist in the South and a huge gourmet buffet for every meal. It was a vacation done right...Oh, and Star Wars was involved!

Leaving Tunis at 8 am, we drove for 2 and 1/2 hours to the town of Kairouan, which is considered to be the holiest city in Islam following Mecca. Every year, a city is named the capital of the Middle East and this year, Kairouan has the honor. I had no idea Tunisia was full of so many historical and important places, such as this city, before our trip. The first stop we made was at the Aghlabid cisterns. Apparently, one way that Islam spread rapidly was by offering water to the inhabitants of communities, such as Kairouan, at times when water was scarce. They did so by using these cisterns. We then visited the Great Mosque, an increadible, beautiful and huge structure that is one of the most important mosques of North Africa. This was my first time visiting a mosque and I was blown away. The building was made from Roman and Byzantine ruins, with columns and tiles taken directly and not changed a bit, as you can see in the photos. Because we were not Muslims, we were not allowed to enter the prayer room, but we could peer in and see the floors covered in mats, and people setting up for the prayer at 12:30, because it was a Friday. All of the women were, of course, asked to wear headscarves. You can see some of us here posing with the entrance to the prayer room in the background.

Following the Great Mosque, we went to a smaller Berbere mosque. You can notice how beautiful the tiles of the mosque were. But once we entered the courtyard, I looked through an open window of the prayer room and saw a little boy being circumsized right in the open. Then, he walked out with his father and all of the Tunisians on the trip wished him Mabrook! (Congratulations) and the father preceeded to lift the little boy's gown and show us all. I have to say, I think that was the first time I've experienced such blunt culture shock.

We then had lunch in Kairouan and went on a tour of the Medina. We learned about this great custom Tunisians have, where you can just walk into a pastry shop and stick your hand into the plates of cookies and sample anything you want--my kind of country! We also passed some incredible shops selling traditional pottery, rugs and shelves and shelves of spices, including harissa, a spicy powder Tunisians put in everything they cook. I'm starting to get tired of it now, but I'm sure I'll miss it when I'm back in the US.

After another 3 hour bus ride away from the "Key to the South," we found ourselves in Tozeur. We had a free evening to relax, swim, eat a huge buffet dinner and, of course, shop! I spent the evening walking the main road with some friends, making friends with the different shop keepers and getting mistaken for Italian tourists.

I'm going to stop here, because I'm at school and we're about to have a lecture on Women and Gender in Tunisia. I'll finish the post later, but as you can already tell--we did a lot! So far, I've only mentioned the details of one day, but by the end of the trip we'd visted 14 of Tunisia's 24 states. Needless to say, today has been a long day at school!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Sand storm?

Now, Sunday night, marks the end of the first weekend in as long as I can remember that I was not traveling or moving in some way or another--from coming to Tunisia, to moving in with my host family, then heading to America and back again, I've had many displacements lately. As I sit at home drinking tea and eating homemade biscotti with my family, all I can say is that this was a restful weekend in comparison.

Today was one of those days that was wonderful for its simplicity. I woke up early this morning to meet some of the other CLSers at the La Marsa train station to go to church in Tunis. I know, I know--church (or anything for that matter) on a Sunday morning is a little unusaul for me, but when I travel, I'm always curious to go to a church and witness a community that I wouldn't normally come into contact with. We went to the French Protestant church just off of the main Avenue of Tunis, my former home. The congregation is really interesting, because it is mostly made up of Sub-Saharan Africans and the whole service is conducted in French, with translations available into English on headsets. At least the first half hour of the service was just song, with everyone up on their feet dancing to the music and singing along. I opted to listen to the service in French, which made it very easy for me to zone out--so, unfortunately I can't tell you what the sermon itself consisted of. But, being the language geek that I am, it was really fun to learn a new context for the French I already know.

We took the train back to Tunis after spending a little time in the city. Oh, what an experience the train back to Tunis was! Getting to the city, the train was almost empty, because we were so early. We rode from one end of the area (La Marsa) to the other end of the line (Tunis centrale) admiring the budding flowers and passing the white walls of Carthage...But on the way back, every rowdy teenage boy in the city managed to squeeze into our car. They proped the doors open with their bodies and hung out of the open doors and windows, all the while chanting and singing. I asked some of the more tame people and they said they were singing popular football songs, since the last game was just yesterday. In case you were wondering, Tunisia tied Nigeria 0-0. It was no where near as exciting as the game I went to, apparently. If you haven't already heard about it though--make sure to read about all of the soccer news that happened just this week on my very continent: Egypt became the first African nation to beat Italy in football history and, in bad news, the recent shooting of a player in Nigeria and the threat from the rebel movement to make the upcoming World Cup under 17 a target is jeopardizing Nigeria's plan to host the tournament. Here, there really is no seperating football from politics.
After getting back, I stopped at the local souk that is held down the street from my house every Sunday. Unfortunately, I couldn't stay for long, because the winds picked up so much that that is felt like a dust storm in the city--gritty bits flying into my eyes and attacking my bare legs. I headed back out in the evening though, after the dust had settled, just trying to get better acquinted with my neighborhood on a peaceful walk. I took back roads in random directions and found a whole different world just beyond the busy street that I live on. Teenagers were taking over the streets playing football with half deflated balls, children rode their bikes and tricycles, laundry was left outside to hangdry, signs were only written in Arabic script (as opposed to the usual translations into French and English on the tourist-populated avenues), the streets smelled of fresh bread, there was a whole store that had nothing but watermelon--seriously, watermelons stacked along every wall, old men sitting at cafes with flowers tucked behind their ears, piles of rubble and debris on one side of the street and beautiful white mansions with elaborate doors and decorations on the other side...I also passed a group of people banging drums and making a sort of yodeling noise as they marched through the streets. The noise is something that you make for celebrations and my host family tried to teach me how to do it, but I don't think my American tongue will get the hang of it soon. But there have been a lot of celebrations this weekend, because the results of the Bac just came out. Eager families of graduating high school students have been celebrating with parties and processions through the streets, like the one I saw. I think the best part though, was that I blended in totally--everyone was just so busy and content going about their daily lives that they didn't think to notice someone they might not have seen before. The other cool thing is that I've lived here long enough (although not very long at all) to start recognizing people and running into them as we pass eachother on our daily routines. I ran into a lot of people I usually take the 7:50 52 bus to school with on my walk today.

As for yesterday--after a full day of finishing my homework for the weekend, I went to a party that one of the host families threw for all of us. Let me just say that I hope to one day be as classy as this family. The father is an artist and has decorated their whole house with his art. It is an eclectic mess of colors and designs, but somehow it works perfectly. They had the most interesting chandeliers made of painted tree branches wrapped in fake leaves--very cool. They also had great food, wine and salsa music! Some of the Tunisians there even did traditional dances for us and the family's huge dog loves to dance, too. He would jump his front legs into the arms of different people and literally dance arm in arm with them--so cute!
And now, I'm off to bed--it's a school night, afterall!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Neon wonderland

Yesterday was a day of discovery--learning a new side to the places I'm starting to frequent and being reminded that there is always more than meets the eye. As all Fridays in this program go, yesterday was an intensive test taking day. We have weekly tests on Friday--one in our Tunisian dialect class and one for MSA in the evening. Our Tunisian test was a role play. I had to pretend I was at the market trying to order kilos of this and that, while asking for the price of different foods, their quality, etc. It was the quickest two minutes of my life with a whole lot of nerves leading up to it. The fun thing about it though was that the school brought in a local juice vendor this morning so that we could all practice naming fruits and ordering. I had a delicious banana and date smoothie! The second test was really my first test here, since I missed last week's. The bad thing about having it in the evening is that my brain completely shut off after class ended at 1 today, so, honestly, I spent the rest of the afternoon before the test listening to music and catching up on the news. Still, I had been so discouraged with Arabic for most of the week, but when it came time to put to use what I knew, it wasn't as hard as I'd expected.

As for the day of discovery: After the test, I walked up the hill in Sidi Bou Said to grab some gelato with some friends (you may be sensing a common theme by now—my love of gelato). The walk up uncovered a whole side of Sidi Bou that I had never seen before. The cobble stone street was lined with all sorts of vendors selling jewelry, clothing, post cards, pottery and everything else you would want for your home. It was clearly the touristy area of the city and the reason why so many tourists come to Sidi Bou--it was absolutely picturesque. Apparently there is also a great view overlooking the Mediterranean a little farther up the hill, so I'll have to explore more (and bring my camera). After that, we had a film night at the Center and watched this truly bizarre Tunisian film about a boy coming of age, called Halfouine. It was interesting because, although the bare plot was the same as other American films of its kind, it was intertwined with a lot of cultural significance. For instance, the boy's brother's circumcision was the main event of the film, about half of the setting was a Turkish bath and it was a twist on a Tunisian myth (which will make a great ghost story the next time I go camping).

After the film, I discovered another side of Sidi Bou that stands in stark contrast to the side I mentioned above. We went to the lac, which is an area near the aeroport that used to be a lake until it was cleared and commercialized by the city. The main road through the area was the closest thing I've seen to a highway in Tunisia so far and it was surrounded by an amusement park and hundreds of neon signs. We also found a Chinese restaurant and all sorts of other cuisines you wouldn't expect to see here. We ate leblebi, which is a traditional Tunisian dish of chickpeas and spices and eaten with bread. It is delicious! Afterwards, we had tea in a cafe sitting on what remains of the lake. We only managed to find the area because we were with three of the young Arabic teachers. Although it was all very commercial, it didn't seem like an area that many tourists frequent. The night was just what I needed though! It was a time to forget about being a student and homework--it felt like summer!

Come to think of it, I've spent most of my evenings this week in new places (which, I suppose, isn't that hard to do here). On Thursday, we had our weekly language socialization class and went in groups of four to a market in La Goulette, about 20 minutes from Sidi Bou. We went to this particular market because it is one of the oldest. Fish, fruits and vegetables are sold there, along with spices and random trinkets. Needless to say, the fish market reeked and was full of fishermen shoving fish in our faces. Once I got past the stench and my not regret for not wearing close-toed shoes, it was a great experience. The fruit vendors in particular were very nice and let us sample their different fruits. We also wondered around the city and got a chance to go to the beach.

The day before, I was in Tunis for my weekly pottery class. The class is held in an old building with a giant courtyard in what is now an artist’s colony. Our instructor is a Moroccan man who specializes in tiles. On Wednesday, we just became familiar with the area where we’ll be working and made pinch pots. Middle school came flashing back before my eyes and, unfortunately, I don’t think I’ve improved much since then. I hope to be able to redeem my pot next week when we paint.

And now it is a much needed weekend. I’ve already slept half the day away, well until 10:30. I have some plans to do more exploring--we’ll see how they play out.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Second Monday down!

Hello all! I thought it was time for another post--a report on the lazy (my weekend), the long (my school today) and the hyped (me after three cups of super sweet Tunisian mint tea, yum!). So, I ended up having a wonderful weekend, even though I didn't go on the excursion. On Saturday night my host sisters and I wanted to go walking. I thought it was just going to be a short walk around the neighborhood, so I didn't change out of my sweatpants and t-shirt, but when I got to the living room they were all dolled out in their cutest outfits. Needless to say, I changed after seeing the horrified looks on their faces and we ventured out to downtown La Marsa. La Marsa is actually a much bigger city than I'd thought. I had the impression that we lived on the main road, because it's always bustling with vendors and pedestrians and dozens of different buses. But now I see that it's just a side street. We walked past dozens of cafes, boutiques, through a mall, past an amusement park and thousands of resturants. We stopped and had the most delicious gelato of my life--nutella. Why can't we get this in the U.S.?! And made our way down to the Mediterranean. We sat on a ledge on the beach, eating pop corn and gazing at the stars. I taught my host sisters the "star light, star bright" song and we all made wishes. We also traded stories about watching the August meteor shower and I got to tell them all about my friends at home. The whole night seemed like one of those cliche stories about looking up at the same sky no matter where you go in the world. I think that would be my advice to anyone coming to Tunisia--make sure you look up!

Sunday was purely a boring homework day, so I won't get into that. Today was my first day back in class. Of course, I was super nervous about having missed three days of class (which is equivalent to missing 3 weeks), but I didn't feel behind at all. I think they had done a lot of reviewing of the alphabet, which wasn't hard for me to do on my own, so I didn't miss much new information. The day was the longest class day I've had so far--I got in at 8 in the morning and our last lecture ended at 8 in the evening. The lecture was on the politics of Tunisia, more specifically national security. The professor had a lot of provoking points to make dispelling the notion that Obama's speech in Cairo was revolutionary. He seemed to believe that the majority of the problems in the Middle East would be solved if the world just ignored the region for 5 to 10 years. An interesting point, totally impossible, but it did make me wonder.
And now some random photos I neglected to post earlier...

At the football game--aren't we a cute bunch!

A view down the street from my school. Just so you know, it's really hard to do Sidi Bou Said justice with a camera.

Some houses we passed on our way down to the beach after school the other day.

If you squint, you can see the Mediterranean in the background!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Just a hop, skip and a jump across the pond..times a few.

Bonjour tout le monde! I figured it was about time to update this blog. I just got back to La Marsa after attending the Pickering Fellow orientation in D.C. Going and coming back within 3 days wasn’t as aweful as I thought it would be, although the last few days feel like a whirlwind or a distant dream. But let me start from the beginning of where I left off the last time.
My Tunisian life has officially begun—I moved in with my host family on Sunday and they are absolutely lovely! I live in La Marsa, a suburb of Tunis that is about a fifteen minute bus ride from my school in Sidi Bou Said. There are also a lot of other students with the program in that area, so we can take the bus together and meet up easily. The family is a mother, father and two girls, one 17 and one 22. They are very laid back, which has been the case with most of the host families—they work hard during the day and in the evening just relax, watch television and eat a late dinner (we didn’t eat until 11:30 on Sunday!). The father’s been making the rest of the family suffer through Al-Jazeera English the past few evenings, so that I can make sure to stay up-to-date on the news and understand it all. It’s kind of cute, but puts them all to sleep. And the father comes from the Congo, so he’s actually more comfortable with French—I think he can understand Arabic, but he always responds in French. The program warned us at the start to say that we didn’t speak any French, because that would force us to use our Arabic more. On the first day, my family and I were all trying to just speak Arabic, but after I told them where I’m from and a few sentences about my family, it was obvious that that wasn’t going to get us far and when they all started speaking French, I couldn’t lie and act like I didn’t understand. So, I think my French is improving, or at least I’m starting to become more comfortable with conversational French.
The next day, Monday, my Arabic classes started. The 32 of us are divided into 3 groups and each have two teachers—one in the morning and one in the afternoon. We have two hours of class in the morning (8:30-10:30) followed by a half-hour break and another two hours of lessons. We are mostly learning Modern Standard Arabic, but have 40 minutes of Tunisian dialect every day, too. So far, we’ve studied the alphabet. It’s coming along well, but I think it will take a long time until we can easily see a word and recognize it without having to spend time playing with the sound of each syllable. After class, we’re free to go out to lunch in the area and can come back and work at SIT in the afternoon and the Arabic teachers are available then. In the evenings we’ll have different things to do. This week, we’ve had another Tunisian dialect lesson everyday from 5-6. We’ll also have a Tunisian cultural class every week. People can choose which to take and I’m signed up to take pottery—something I’ve always wanted to learn!
Yesterday, I took advantage of how beautiful Sidi Bou Said is and walked down to the beach with some people in the program after our evening class. We walked past the president’s palace and giant cliffs I didn’t know existed in Sidi Bou Said. Once at the beach, we stumbled across a pier-esque sort of attraction with cafes and souvenir shops. I’m just constantly surprised at how easy Tunisia has been to maneuver. I was so nervous about figuring out how to get home from where we walked to, but then the right bus kept falling into my lap. At one point I even started to run to the bus stop a block away when the bus I needed was coming up behind me, but then it just stopped and allowed me to board even though I was nowhere near the stop. That never happens in Louisville! Aside from their hospitality, Tunisians have also won me over with their food. I thought being a vegetarian would be a total pain, but everywhere I go, people are willing to work around it and it’s not even that hard, because they eat so many fresh fruits and vegetables here. Everything is very spicy though!
So, I left for D.C. on Wednesday morning, arrived Wednesday evening and had orientation on Thursday and Friday before leaving Friday night. I flew AirFrance (which was kind of scary given the recent crash) and the program even flew me first class! I was so caught off guard—somehow I hadn’t noticed the “Affaires” stamped on my tickets, so I had champagne to celebrate and watched this hilarious movie called “New in Town” with Renee Zellwiger. Normally I wouldn’t mention the movie, but the whole thing was practically a roasting of Minnesotans, so I could wholly relate and have had so many of the same experiences when I first moved up to the Great Midwest. The first day of orientation was spent at the Main State office. We had briefings about the contract we were to sign, the different components of the fellowship and were walked through the different clearances we’re going to have to get. We then went on a tour of the “Watch” office, which is a 24-hour office that reports on all the most important late-breaking news stories to different government officials. We were even on the same floor as Hillary Clinton’s office. That evening, there was a big reception for all of the Pickering Fellows (20 undergrad and 20 grad), as well as the Rangel Fellows. It would have been really fun, except I had the worst migraine ever. But still, ambassadors were there and all sorts of interesting people to talk to.
The next day was spent at the Foreign Service Institute in Virginia, where Foreign Service Officers are trained. We learned that for every post we’ll be assigned whose language we don’t speak proficiently, we’ll be taught the language—a 3 month training for average languages, 6 months for world languages and 1 to 2 years for critical languages (like Arabic). One of the Foreign Service language schools for Arabic is actually right here in Tunisia and one of the teachers for this summer program teaches there, too. For most of Friday we had various panels about the different cones of the Foreign Service, which are management, political, econ, public diplomacy and consular. They are just more specific job titles we’ll have to choose once we’re in the Service. I’m leaning towards political, which includes doing research on the political climate of the host country and writing reports. The political officers are the ones that publish the annual human rights reports. We also had lunch with Pickering Fellows who are currently in grad school or in the Foreign Service, so we got to learn more about the actuality of the fellowship and life in the Service.
And now, I'm back in Tunisia. I was worried about how it would be coming back here, whether or not I would regret reboarding the flight to come back after the reminder of what America is like. But as soon as I walked in and kissed my family hello, everything kind of fell into place again. The food at lunch tasted right, the cheesy leopard print sheets on my bed looked right and the lack of air conditioning almost feels right, too.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

C'est gratuie pour les femmes!

I wasn't planning on writing a blog entry today, but then the most amazing thing happened--I went to a World Cup qualifying game! Talk about a dream come true!! It was Tunisia versus Mozambique and we kicked butt, beating Mozambique 2-0. The game was such an experience. We took the almost half hour taxi ride there for less than 6 dollars and had this hilarious taxi driver from Italy who thought honking was a sign of friendship and honked at everyone--fellow drivers, pedestrians, cops...Once we got there, the tickets were actually free for women, which I very much appreciated. I also think it says a lot about the cultural shift in Tunisia, a country that is considered to be one of the most inclusive and publically equal cultures in the Middle East.

About 10 of us went to the game, decked out in mini Tunisian banners tied around our foreheads and waving plastic flags some little kids had handed to us. It was a great time to learn about subtle cultural differences--like how Tunisians dance to their national anthem, while we Americans stand stiffly and how they drink tea at the games, not beer. Everyone sitting around us was also very welcoming. They continuously offered us food, explained the chants, and exchanged high fives when we scored. It was just really fun to watch my favorite sport in a huge stadium with tons of fans, but even more meaningful to share in all of the nationalism and unity that football creates.

This evening has been spent studying Arabic. We have a bunch of homework to complete before Monday's classes and we're, of course, starting with the alphabet. I'm actually learning to write!! It's fun and the whole language seems a little less intimidating now that I'm learning to distinguish the different letters in written Arabic, knowing where one starts and another begins and the different sounds they make. My handwriting is so little-kid big though, taking up a few lines to feel like I've drawn all the details of the letter. The same book with the exercises even has throat exercises we're suppose to do to allow our throat to produce all the glottal stops! It's strenuous and definitely takes some humility to sit for what feels like forever trying to make a sound that just never comes out right.

And tomorrow we move to Sidi Bou Said to live with host families. Today, we had a lecture about family life, expectations and responsibilities in Tunisia. Of course, you can only talk about generalizations in a lecture like that, but it's gotten me anxious about what to expect...

Friday, June 5, 2009


First of all, being in Tunisia has somehow turned all the settings on the internet into Arabic. Needless to say, it took me a very long time to figure out how to start a new post. But now that I'm here typing, I'm at a loss for where to start...a lot has happened in the past two days, both in the program and outside of it and all good.
Yesterday was our first real day of orientation. I don't know if I've explained this yet, but the 32 of us are all staying together at a hotel in downtown Tunis until Sunday. Here we're living two to a room and attending programs during the day and evenings and usually have freetime for lunch and at night. On Sunday, we'll all be moving to Sidi Bou Said, which is a really nice suburb, where we will live with host families for the next two months (that's something that was changed, fyi). So, yesterday we walked and walked and walked all over downtown Tunisia and the medina. In teh early morning, I went on a tour of the Medina with an FTLA (a former young Fulbright scholar that works with the program). She showed a small group of us all of the different traditional cultural things you can buy there and explined their significance. We learned about traditional weddings, symbols in Tunisia (like the khomsa-hand and ain-evil eye), etc. Then, in the afternoon, a larger group of us was given a tour of the city. We learned about the traditional guilds in the Medina, saw the two main mosques of the city (the central one is pictured two the left), learned about how Islam is/isn't practiced here and saw all sorts of former Italian and French villas, a lot of which are squatted now and completely in ruins. Actually, CEMAT, where we are having our orientation, is a former Italian villa.

Following that morning, we had a traditional lunch in the Medina for 1 dinar (less than a dollar!). Even though I got my sandwich without fish, it still tasted like fish. Everything here tastes like fish--its kind of a Mediterranean thing, I suppose. But I'm being more flexible about vegetarianism while I'm here so I don't mind at all. Later we had a briefing at the American Embassy just outside of the city. We met with Foreign Service Officers and talked about life in the foreign service, as well as security things we should know living here. Don't worry--everything's safe! We then went to SIT, where we'll be having our Arabic classes. During the year, the building is used for the popular study abroad program and this is the first summer this program has it, but the facilities seem great! Then, we walked down to the amabassador's house for a reception for 'people who encourage cross-cultural communication,' or something along those lines. It was us CLSers and other fulbright Americans and Tunisians, as well as the diplomats in the area. The amabassador's house was amazing--overing looking the sea. Apparently the president is jealous, because the ambassador to the U.S.'s house sits higher on the hill overlooking the sea than his, so the president had another home built on the other side of Sidi Bou Said to sit even higher. What a life! The picture on the right is me on the walk to the amabassor's house.
Today involved less walking. We were at CEMAT all day, studying Tunisian dialect. I didn't realize how drastic a difference exists between Modern Standard Arabic (what is taught in classes) and dialects of Arabic, but apparently speaking MSA is the equivalent of speaking Shakesperean English to an American today. But it's necessary to learn as a foundation for understanding different dialects and reading the literature of the Middle East, as all media is printed in MSA. So far it's been a lot of phrases to memorize, which is hard to do without knowing what all the words mean, but then little things will remind us of why we're learning them so intensively. Like this evening when I was in a cafe, a waiter walked by and said the very phrase (Saaha) that we had been studying a few minutes before and so we knew the correct response (A'eishen, hiya bis mella? (my transliteration is poor, btw)). We ended up having a really great conversation in 6 languages--Spanish, French, German, Arabic, English and Italian. This is why I love to travel!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Take-offs and Landings

It's about 4:30 in Tunis and I'm sitting in my hotel room enjoying a little down time after arriving in the city around 11. In just a few short hours though, I've had more new experiences than I can count. First--flying over the Mediterranean Sea is probably the most beautiful thing you can do. It is nothing but blue for miles. It also represents a very drastic change in scenary. We left Paris by flying over the colorful and green fields around the city (I also actually saw the Eifel Tower for the first time!) and, after 2 hours, we found ourselves in a totally different environment--everything looked so brown from the place. But it was also beautiful, just a different kind of beauty. When we landed everyone on the plane started clapping. I don't know if that was because we had a kind of shaky last few minutes or if it was all the Tunisians returning home or the other students on the program so excited to finally arrive in the place we've been looking forward to for so long.

We took a bus to the hotel which is on the main street of Tunisia and now have a few hours until the orientation officially begins. I walked down the main street with a few friends. We stopped at a cafe and had crepes, as well as our first impromptu Arabic lesson of the trip from the owner of the cafe. Everything I'd heard about the people of the country is true so far--everyone has been very welcoming, open and ready to teach us their culture and language. We then continued walking down the street until we reached the old city, Medina. It was marked by a beautiful gate (on the right). We wound our way through the very very thin alley ways, past venders selling all the Tunisian fashions and Western clothing. There were also mopeds!!

What I'm most surprised about by being here is how similar it feels to so many other places. We often forget how many similarties people share and arriving here in this country on this continent I've spent so much time studying and talking about in disconnected words is already teaching me a lot about needing to maintain that simply human perspective in my work and studies. Tunisia seems like a great place to learn this lesson--it is a country with its own culture that sits between and unites so many other cultures--European, Middle Eastern, African...

Monday, June 1, 2009

Up, up and away!

Hello everyone!

I'm trying something new--using technology on a regular basis! For those of you that know me well, you know that this is sort of a stretch of my abilities, but it feels like the right time to start committing my travels to memory. This blog is sort of an experiment, as I don't know how well I'll do with keeping up with it. I've never been an avid journaler, but I think that this is different enough that it might work. I'm also writing it from my laptop--yes, that's right--I finally broke down and invested in one!
I wanted to start this blog to chronicle my summer in Tunisia, fall in Senegal and Spring semester in the Netherlands. I'll be country-hopping for awhile and am really excited, because that's how I work best. In Tunisia, I'll be studying Arabic intensively for two months. I don't know all the details yet, but it sounds like we'll have 4-6 hours of class a day and 4 hours of homework a night. On top of that, we'll be attending lectures, cultural activities and going on weekend trips. Plus, we'll all be living with host families. I'm in Washington, D.C. right now and just finished my orientation for the Critical Language Scholarship. Everyone in the program (abouth 30 of us) has been amazing so far. We spent all day today at an orientation--talking about logistics of the program, attending a career panel (with someone from the State Dept., International Rescue Committee and the private sector) and hearing from past participants and Tunisian scholars. We've also had a lot of time to hang out and get to know the people we'll be spending the next 2 months with. I just got back from some sightseeing--I saw the Lincoln Memorial, White House and Capital Hill. On our way back, we coincidentally found the Dept of State, too! It's so fun to be in a place so much revolves around.
I leave the States tomorrow at 4 p.m. We'll be flying through Paris and arriving in Tunisia on Wed. I hope that everything is going wonderfully with you and I'd love to hear from you while I'm away! So keep reading and maybe we can live vicariously through one another's journies!