Wednesday, July 15, 2009

No news is good news, right?

Sorry about the lack of updates--I've tried multiple times and each attempt ends with my falling asleep and adding random sentences while I nod off, none of which make sense when I wake up. So, take 5...

This has been an eventful week filled with a lot of cultural excursions in the Tunis area. As for the wedding I mentioned in my last post, I ended up attending two of the wedding ceremonies. In Tunisia, weddings are multiple day long parties that include a separate party for both the bride and groom, a party for the signing of the contract, multiple dinners with the entire family and, finally, the actual wedding party. On Sunday night (as in 2 Sundays ago now), I attended the party for the groom a couple of blocks from my house. Practically the entire bunch of us Americans were there as everyone in al Marsa knows each other and they all go to about twenty weddings a week in the summer. The party was mostly just sitting and listening to music blare, but the really neat part was when the groom debuted. He came out appearing frail and unable to walk with his entire family behind him. This was to symbolize the support of the family. The procession walked this way from his home to the party with red and green flags (the colors of weddings) waving and everyone chanting and drumming. Once at the party, the groom got a dot of henna applied to his pinky and everyone gathered around him to give him money and good wishes.

On Tuesday, I attended the actual wedding party. It was pretty similar in that everyone sat and listened to music, except it was held in an ornate wedding hall rather than outside. The bride was also present (of course) and she wore the most elaborately beautiful dress. The two of them sat in thrones in the front of the audience while a cameraman filmed close-ups of them relentlessly that were channeled to a big screen TV in the front of the room. Weddings here follow a complicated traditional process of dancing at certain times, sitting at others, watching the bride dance then the groom, dancing with the couple...I didn't quite get the hang of it, so I just danced, sat and stood awkwardly wondering if I was doing the right thing at the right time, but it was a fun experience.

Thursday, all of the women in the group went to a hammam, which is a Turkish bath. Two of the girls in the program are getting married shortly after we return to the U.S., so this was like a bridal shower for them, because it is customary for women to gather in hammams to begin the wedding ceremony. We entered the hammam banging barbuka drums and singing and, once inside, we lit candles and danced before going into the actual baths. The baths were much different than what I had expected—they were slabs of tile that you could sit on in three different rooms of varying heat. In the central room, you could pay a woman to scrub you down or to get a full body mask or massage. It sounds weird, I know, but in the context of the hammam, it was all very normal. We spent hours in there and then left the baths to have another celebration in the foyer. The two brides-to-be got henna applied and wore some of the traditional wedding accessories, like ornate metal shoes and special gloves while the henna dried.
On Friday we had our weekly test and afterwards I was in need of some major non-Arabic time. So, I had a night out with the girls--very classic summer, but with a Tunisian twist. We “did Bousalsla,” which is the street that most of us live on or off of and it gets kind of hopping on a Friday night. We went to a cafe for pizza and the pizza cost 1 dinar (about 75 cents) for each person to get their own small pizza! Then we went back to one of the girls in the program's house with the intention of baking a cake, except her host family wasn't there and we couldn't figure out how to light the oven. So instead of baking a cake, we fried a cake! Considering that Tunisian cooking has everything slathered in oil, it was very traditional of us--cake pancakes are actually good!

After I got home late that night, I had the most epic conversation with my hostfather about the Congo, his home country. He told me all about the history, the culture, the languages, etc of the country. What was so funny to me was that our entire conversation seemed like a dialogue taken from my French 204 book--using vocab about immigration and assimilation, languages, and foreign aid/globalization and development. At the time we were learning that in school, it seemed useless to know the word for "indigenous language" before I felt truly comfortable holding a basic conversation. What I've learned, however, is that the in-between vocab and comfort starts to come naturally and I'm actually really thankful that we spent so much time learning what felt like impractical vocab. Now, I just hope that my Arabic vocabulary will come in just as handy (although I have a little less hope for our vocab words like humidity and overcrowdedness).

Saturday morning I left early to go on our third program excursion. This time, we visited the Northwest, which is the only area of the country overflowing with trees and other greenery. I hadn’t realized it, but I had really missed foliage. It’s funny how so many of the things we take for granted in the US just don’t exist here. The trip was wonderful and definitely the most relaxing trip we’ve taken so far, what with the weather actually being cool and the scenery homey. Our first stop was Dougga, which is a town known for its Roman ruins that are supposed to be the finest of all of North Africa. The ancient city is especially interesting because it used a Punic city for its foundation, leaving an obvious blend of architecture. We had a tour guide who is an archeologist at this site take us around and show as the coliseum, baths, and temples. At the amphitheatre, we had a talent show. I wasn’t courageous enough to perform anything, but it was neat to sit in a theatre from the year 106 watching friends perform and thinking about how many people had sat in the same seats.

After the talent show and lunch in Dougga, we headed deeper into the Northwest to what is arguably my favorite town in Tunisia, Ain Draham. It is the cutest village nestled in the woods and it reminded me very much of the parts of East Germany known for their woodwork, because the big attraction of the town was its fine woodwork made from olive trees. We only had a short stop here and I think everyone was sad to move on, but it was an especially interesting because the director of our program is from there and she had a lot to tell us about the area, including showing us her old madrasa. This is also the area whose main export is cork. Driving through the forest, we saw tons of trees with the bark half scraped off and we passed the world’s largest cork manufacturing factory—another world’s largest I can cross off my list!

That night, we stayed in Tabarka at a 5 star hotel that definitely deserved the rating. We had a beach front view and could literally throw a stone into the sea from our balcony! The evening was nothing short of relaxing—a delicious buffet dinner and late night chatting with some friends over platefuls of desert. I then spent the morning at the beach. After lunch we began the journey back to Tunis with stops along the way. We passed a town known for its high number of storks and they really were everywhere—nests covering the roofs of houses, flying in swarms over our heads. Apparently in Tunisia storks do not bring children, but rather the Tunisian fable is about an owl that takes children away. Our final stop was Bizerte, often called the “Venice of Tunisia.” It is a town sitting on a channel filled with boats. We were there for the sunset and it was a really nice way to end the mini vacation.

This finally brings me to a more recent time. The theme of this week at school is music. On Monday, a very famous group of classical Tunisian musicians performed for us at our school. The music was absolutely incredible and they played a lot of covers and I was surprised to recognize so many of the songs. Then, yesterday, I attended the International Carthage Music Festival with the program and heard the Moroccan and Tunisian symphony perform. The Carthage Festival is a huge deal and brings people from across the country and the world and it is held in the ancient theatre I saw two weekends ago. They have a very eclectic bunch of performers from Bollywood to orchestras to Tunisian, American and French pop singers. The symphony last night was interesting because it was a classical orchestra, but included traditional North African drumming.

Now, it is bed time for me. To make up for the concert going so late last night (until 12:30) we only had three hours of class today. But tomorrow, it’s back to the gritty 4 hours, so I need my beauty sleep.


  1. WOW -- what amazing experiences you are having. I can't believe you were in that bath and got to be at such an elaborate wedding. And the trip sounds great, too. Thank you so much for the update!!!! Tamara

  2. The orchestra with drums sounds so cool. Strange, though. And you look skinnier. It wasn't just this picture (nice shirt, by the way).

  3. Hi Sweetie, you looked so tired in the photo, but happy. Your trip is amazing. I loved the connection with all the previous spectators in the seats you inhabited in the theater. I have those same thoughts, often.
    What a trip. I know you are working hard and I am so proud of your accomplishments, but wow, what a trip. Enjoy. Love you, Amy