Sunday, July 26, 2009

Happenings and Reflections

I'm back in my host family's living room listening to the hum of France24 on the t.v., watching my host mother pray on a tapestry from the corner of my eye and full-heartedly emphathizing with my host sisters that they have to live in this Mediterranean heat 12 months out of the year, whereas me...well, I'll be leaving in 1 week, a fact that blows my mind. Today I returned from my final program excursion (to the Cap Bon), which marked the first official "last" of something from the program. From now on, it is time for going down the hill, picking up pieces and remembering what it is like to leave a place I might never return to and people I might never see again. This weekend, some of us students had talked about things that we've started taking for granted here and what it will be like to be back in the US away from them--will we be startled by the silent absence of the call to prayer? feel lonely away from the friendliness and forwardness of Tunisian culture? And a life away from the beach--I don't even know if I'll be able to cope. The following are some things I've grown accustomed to in Tunisia, but might have neglected to mention:

--Five times a day, I hear the call to prayer—a lulling Muslim prayer sung through a raspy intercom. It echoes throughout Tunisian towns and from my house (where I can see ten mosques from the roof), I hear the prayer loudly and with words easily defined. From school in Sidi Bou Said, however, the prayer is distant and easily mistaken for slight hum of a radio.

--Greetings in Tunisian dialect are very simple: just like the French say Ca vas?, which is both a question and a reply, the Tunisians say La bess? However, these two little words can often lead to a cycle of repeating the phrase over and over again, because Tunisian dialect loves to use repetition, leaving you unaware of whether your question has been answered or if you’ve been asked. This confusion will lead me to keep repeating the phrase and by the end of an interaction, La bess has probably been said 10 times by each of us.
--Cats are everywhere in this country—roaming streets, sleeping under cars, eating out of trash cans…No one seems to own animals here, but the number of homeless cats (and some dogs) is pretty out of this world.

--Tunisians are addicted to sugar. Fruit is always eaten on the very last day it could be edible to ensure it is at its sweetest; tea and coffee is served with equal amounts water and sugar (only a slight exaggeration) and every time I try to buy plain yougurt at any grocery store, the person checking me out warns me that I am about to buy something without sugar as if I should put it back.

--The two most common things you can buy on the street are breadstick crackers (unfortunately pretty tasteless and undelicious for how prevalent they are) and mini flower bouquets. Men and boys walk up and down the sidewalk dressed in red vests selling these little handpicked (from someone’s garden) flower arrangements that other men will buy and hold in their palms all day, bringing the flowers up to their noses every once in a while, or will put them behind their eyes while sitting at cafes.


As for the weekend trip--it was everything I needed and put the icing on the cake of my spoiling. We visited the Northwest, the region known for supplying the country with oranges and grapes. Tunisia has a tradtion of every city and town displaying a large statue in it's center to represent what the city is known for. We've seen a coral statue, a saxaphone, a stork...and now we can add a tomatoe, orange and grapevine to our list. On our way to our final destination of Hammemet, a center of tourism in Tunisia, we made a few stops. We visited another city of ancient ruins and an adorable art gallery and restaurant overlooking the Sea for our second stop. From the roof of the restaurant, we had an incredible view of white houses and blue shutters in every direction save for the dock. It was one of those picturesque places you never want ot leave.

We got into Hammamet in the early evening and had free time until today, when we left at 2. We stayed at a 5 star hotel with rooms with ocean front views and I did nothing but swim, shop and eat way too much food at the buffets. It was the kind of vacation I would've never allowed myself to do on my own, but I'm really thankful for it after one of the most stressful weeks in the program. Hammamet completed my picture of Tunisia and showed me how much I've gotten to now this country for what it really is, which is not a resort in an area with more tourists than Tunisians.

And now, it's into the final week. For the rest of our studies, we will not be learning any new material, but rather reviewing. We've completed 15 chapters of my thickest textbook to date in a program that has covered what some colleges consider two year of Arabic instruction. Needless to say, I'm exhausted, but will still try to savour this last week to the best of my ability.


  1. Saying Goodbye is such sweet sorrow.
    It is better to have loved, and lost, than to have never loved at all.
    The pain of your loss will be a warm memory you charish tomorrow. (That one is mine.)
    These feelings you are having, leaving Tunisia, are all the thoughts and emotions we have had about you, in your absense, from us this summer. Come home safely.
    Love you, Aunt Mary ann

  2. Mary Ann has said it all -- and your post is so beautiful that it has brought tears to my eyes. Enjoy it all, sweetheart -- Mom