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!