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.

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