Thursday, September 30, 2010
Tunisian Boyfriend: check.
I took the train downtown by myself today and spent a few hours roaming around the Medina (more on that later) and after I grabbed some lunch (ordering food here seems to be an enormous ordeal so more on that later too) I decided to relax on a bench for a few minutes. This was after I was relaxing on a bench not eating my lunch- that took half my life to order - because it was gross and a guy sat down next to me and would not stop speaking French to me. Even after I told him I spoke zero French. Through a series of pantomimes I figured out that his name was Mamadu, he was from Mali and played soccer here. And once he found out that I was American he said, "Oh! America! Party! You party? Let's party sometime." That was the only English he knew. So I eventually left because it was exhausting trying to hold a conversation entirely in charades.
I found another bench a little ways down and another guy sat next to me. Is it just me or in America isn't there the rule that you don't sit on a bench if someone else is sitting there and if there are other seating options, even if there is room? I'm talking about the standard three-man bench. I suppose it you're bleeding from the head or swooning from the heat and need a place to sit and call 911 you could ask to share a bench and even then you sit on the other end but I just don't see it happening very often at home. It happens ALL THE TIME here. (Just yesterday I was enjoying the solitude on a bench overlooking the sea and a man sat down and offered me half his sandwich.) And they don't sit on the other end, they squeeze in right next to you - which this man did. It was a three-man bench and another guy had already sat down on the other end and the new guy got comfy in between us. He was wearing a suit and smoking a cigarette and he spoke a little English. He started chatting with me - about where I was from, how long I had been in town, how did I like it so far. He told me his name was Aziz, he was a Berber date farmer from down south in the Sahara and that he was on a week long vacation in Tunis. And then he said, "I would be very happy if you would let me buy you a coffee." I explained to him that (thankfully) I had to catch a train. So I said good bye and got up and then he got up and started walking with me. "It would make me very happy to walk you to your train." Um...okay.
So we start walking and we came to a street to cross (Sidenote: cars don't stop for pedestrians here. Ever. Even when they have a red light. It is a battle of wills to see who will stop first. I've always won so far.) and he grabbed my hand, presumably to help me safely across the street because he recognized that I was 80. I instinctively pulled my hand away and he asked what the problem was. I explained to him that in America we don't hold hands to cross the street. And yet he kept on trying, and we had to cross like 10 intersections. I really do think it was him being the gentleman - he would wave at cars to stop for us and let me walk ahead of him. So I wasn't too put off by it. And I've noticed that everyone here does in fact hold hands. Everyone walks arm in arm or with their arms draped across shoulders. Men, women, boys, girls - everyone. It's sweet. Except when a stranger is trying to practice the local custom on you.
I evaded the hand holding for all 10 intersections, including a dangerously busy roundabout (I'll tell you sometime about how the Party Honda and I were accosted by a blue VW in a roundabout yesterday.) and I was seriously worried that he was going to insist on accompanying me home on the train and I was all set to karate chop him in the neck to get him to leave me alone. The entire time we were walking he kept saying things like, "I would like to take you to the Sahara." "You are very beautiful." "Please come back to Tunis tomorrow so we can go for coffee." To my great relief he stopped about 100 feet from the station and said how lucky he felt to have met me on his very first day in town and I thought I was home free...
And then he moved in for the kiss!
It is customary here to give a kiss on each cheek for hello and goodbye and I've had people do it to me whom I've just barely met. So I was afraid this would happen but was hoping I would get out of it. But he grabbed my hand and with lightening speed moved in and I seriously could not have turned my head any father to ensure that he got the cheek and not something else. Because it certainly looked like he was aiming.
I broke free and booked it to the station, all the while wondering what constitutes an engagement amongst the Berbers. If it's a casual conversation followed by a walk to a train station then I am in big trouble.
I realize that this is the type of story that TERRIFIES my parents. Right now my mom is on her knees saying a prayer of gratitude that I was not carried off to live the rest of my life on a date farm. So I would like to report to them that I never felt threatened or afraid and there were thousands of people around and he was nice enough, if not extremely forward, and I was serious about karate chopping him if he got too fresh.
Although, Dad, just think of all the free dates you would get if it did work out.
So I mentioned that I would write about all the other things that happened today (and there were a lot, including another guy very passively hitting on me and I didn't even realize it. I can't even get a date back home but here I'm Miss America. Two men gave me their phone numbers today, for crying out loud.) but this is clearly too long already and you're probably bored to tears and I'm tired. I'll tell you tomorrow. Maybe. Bronwyn and Chris are leaving for the weekend and I'll be left with the boys. It could be pandemonium for a few days. Especially when Henry figures out that they're gone. He's a sweet, funny kid and I love him to bits but when something happens that he doesn't fully support he has a look that says, "You better run before I laser beam you with my eyes."
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
It's called brik and it's tuna and an egg wrapped in filo dough. It was ... not bad. I mean, I don't think I would go out of my way to eat it again but it wasn't awful. Our waiter spoke some English but Bronwyn had to still figure out a way to explain to him that we wanted the egg fully cooked. She said that sometimes it will be like it's fresh from the shell. Ew. When our waiter found out we were Americans he said that he really wants to go to California so I told him that's where I was from. A few minutes later Hotel California was playing over the radio and he came out singing it. Cute.
Speaking of cute
We saw a whole lot of this
But I kid. Here's what's really cute.
Me and Sam
And here's Henry trying to figure out how to scale the wall to get to the ships
We took a horse and buggy ride down by the beach. It was a very Seinfeldian moment for me.
Saturday, September 25, 2010
Where I'm sure Ye Olde Roman High School Drama Department put on productions of Our Town and Grease. But today they were setting up for a different event.
Nope. Still don't want to see it. Even in such a cool place. I can't justify giving James Cameron my dollars or my dinars.
Next up was Tophet.
This is where the Phoenicians sacraficed thousands of wee babies. Oh, Days of Yore. You're so charming. With all your killing and stuff.
When you go to these places there are always a handful of tour guides trying to get you to pay them to take you around. I suppose it's worth it, if you like guided tours. I can't handle them. It goes back to the 4th grade when I went to the Natural History Museum on a field trip and all I wanted to do was see the dinosaur bones but the guide made us look at old pottery and arrowheads and even at the age of 9 I knew this was some sort of sick joke. I mean, the dinosaur was RIGHT THERE! And we're looking at ancient kitchen junk? I'm clearly not over this. Anyway. Guided tours. Lame. Especially when I can barely understand what they're saying to me. So I tend to ignore them. But this one guide would not be ignored. He kept following me around and telling me about dead babies and crushing up sprigs of lavendar and rubbing it on my hands and telling me, "This is the plant of the Emperor. You are now the Emperess!" Yes, I get it. Now either show me the dinosaur or shoo.
I got out of there with my a sprig of lavendar tucked behind my ear and enough Punic mud on my flip-flops (thanks, flood) to start my very own ancient ruins site and headed on over to the Punic Port.
This place is actually really cool. It's a man made port and circular canal that was used by the Phoenians and later the Romans for all the war and trade ships. There's an island in the middle with just a few ruins on it. But for some reason this water way geeks me out. My sister Gina's 6th grade class studies Carthage every year and when I found out about this place I got super excited to tell them about it. (I get to g-chat with them next month and be the expert on the ground. I'm a dork.)
The island was a muddy mess but it didn't stop me from roaming and checking out the ruins. And amid the ruins were no less than 50,000,000,000,000 giant black beetles that were easily twice the size of my big toe. EEEEK! I won't tell you what they were doing. Okay, I will. They were mating. Knights of Columbus! I wish I knew how to say, "Cover your eyes, kids! We've got some frisky beetles around here," in French to warn all the school children present. And the ones who weren't making babies were scuttling around at lighting speed. I was wearing capris (who says they're just for men?) with ties around the cuff and one of them was undone and it kept flopping against my ankle and it would give me a heart attack everytime because I thought for sure a beetle, or 30, had latched on to me. And I didn't want to stop to tie it for fear of that actually happening. So I just walked as fast as I could across the mud and made it out alive. Barely.
And now for a visual from your Dork on the Street in Carthage. Because I love a good map.
Friday, September 24, 2010
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
1.) My plan for this afternoon involved more Roman ruins but it ended up being gellato on a bench overlooking the beach. I have given up trying to capture the color of the water here. My camera doesn't do it justice. When I get home I'll get my crayons out and I'll draw you a picture. But until then you'll just have to take my word for it: it's gorgeous.
2.) While sitting on the bench, enjoying the gellato, I heard some German being spoken. So I looked in that direction and Wilf and his mustache were crossing the street!! Could you imagine if this is how the rest of my trip plays out? What if I have random Wilf sightings for the next two months? That would be AMAZING!
3.) I was also up at Sidi Bou Said doing some shopping today and the guying running the place was laying it on really thick. You remember how I said they're all Handsy McGees around here? Will my new best friend Mohammed was a master. Him: "You're eyes! They're beautiful! This necklace makes you look like a queen!" Me: "Uh huh. How much are these earrings?" I must have not looked interested enough because the next thing I knew his arm was around my shoulder and his other hand grabbed mine and he said, "And your lips! Do you have a boyfriend?" And that's when I snort-laughed in his face. I mean, come on! He did give me an excellent deal on some earrings though.
4.) The boys and I hung out in my room for a little bit this afternoon. Sam was nestled on my lap and Henry was fiddling with a toy on my bed. I thought we needed some music so I turned on some Abba and started singing along and shimmying. Sam dug it. Henry gave me a look that said, "Is this a joke?"
Saturday, September 18, 2010
It looks like a fortress on the outside and on the inside it looks like this
Friday, September 17, 2010
Mine, naturally, did include it and I can now check it off. We played last night and Bronwyn and I both came home with prizes and, I'm just going to say it even though it wasn't officially recognized, the sweet victory of bringing the best treat. Homemade peach jam and cheesy scones. Score! I am not competitive by nature and I feel like I'm a gracious player and loser. But I do love to win.
While we're sort of on the subject of food, let's talk grocery shopping. There are a few options here: 1.) the embassy commissary where we can get some common American products, 2.) the produce market where we get the fruits and veggies, and 3.) Carrefour, the international Wal-mart. I've been twice to Carrefour, once during Ramadan and once after. It was like the difference between the population of North Dakota and the population of India. Madhouse. But a glorious one. And I've been twice to the produce market, this last time all by myself. The guy helping out spoke a little English but I still had to play a bit of charades with him. After he was done bagging up what I'm pretty sure was some form of pumpkin he offered me this mystery fruit. It was about the size and shape of a large olive, it had smooth dark red skin and he motioned for me to just bite into it. Why not? (I'm not writing to you from my cell in an opium den so you know it ended well) (I'm not sure where it comes from but I've always had this notion that all international scrapes end in an opium den. If I do get in scrape (which I won't, Mom) and don't end up in an opium den, I'm going to be a little disappointed.) It was sweet and had the consistancy of a not-quite-ripe apple. Crisp and crunchy. I asked him what it was but he didn't understand, "What is this called?" or "What is the name?" or "Name?" or the universal sign for "What is this?" (point to thing, furrow brow, shrug shoulders). So I had to dig deep into my non-existant French to come up with the word for name and all I could think of was nomme de plume so I said "nomme" and did the aforementioned shrugging and that did the trick. It was a jujube.
I can now check off "Eat exotic fruit offered to me by a stranger in a foreign land" from my list.
Thursday, September 16, 2010
He always looks that surprised. Today I introduced him to Lyle Lovett and the Spice Girls.
This is Henry.
He likes to jump on my bed while I pretend to be asleep.
Monday, September 13, 2010
Sunday, September 12, 2010
Including Wilf, the older German fellow with a spectacular mustache and a never-empty glass of beer who has been living here for the last 14 years. He had a gift for saying slightly inappropriate things to all the ladies. When I met him I had the confilicting desires to run away and to ask if we could be best friends. You know he probably has the best stories. I'd have to cover my ears for half of them but it might be worth it.
Saturday, September 11, 2010
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
I had to do some serious talking to get into the embassy this morning. All I wanted to do was use the gym but I'm not on the guest list yet so I waved my passport and flashed Bronwyn's badge at the local guard who mans the front gate who said, "This badge is not for you." So I smiled and said, "But I'm living with them and they said I could come and use the gym." And he said, "This badge is not for you." So I smiled even more and took off my sunglasses and said, "But it's just the gym and I'm here for three months and you know them, right?" And he said, "This badge is not for you." So then I really pulled out the charm and said, "Pleeeeeease." And he opened the gate. Then once I was inside the complex I couldn't immediately see the gym beyond the pool so I asked another guard where it was. He said something back in Arabic. So I said, "Gym. Exercise." He shrugged. So I had to start doing an elaborate pantomime of exercise. I started pretending I was on the eliptical, which didn't help so then I jogged in place and did a few jumping jacks and finished off by wiping my brow and panting a bit. He just waved his arm in a general direction. I bet he does that to all the newbies and goes home and tells his family and they have a good laugh over it. I would totally do the same.
Monday, September 6, 2010
A view of where I walked yesterday:
Years ago I was at a fireside where this couple who had served a mission at the Navuoo temple were showing pictures from it. They must have shown 15 pictures just of the door knobs. At one point another door knob flashed up on the screen and the lady said, "Gosh, you just can't get enough of those, can't you?" I was ready to try out the Catholics if I had to see another.
I'm telling you this as a warning. There is a possibility that I will become just like this with the doors at Sidi Bou Said.