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!


  1. How beautiful!!!! I can't wait to read more about your trip! Mom

  2. I loved all the photos, even more on your facebook page. Absolutely fabulous beauty and culture. I am a bit taken aback by the youth being circumsized and then walking away, not crying, screaming away. Wow. Wow again.
    I am so interested in all you are learning. Women and gender in Tunisia. That must be fascinating. Aunt Mary Ann (Amy)