Your Name in Arabic, Tunisian Post-Revolution Graffiti, and of course, the requisite social anxiety

Sunday night I returned from my first family holiday as an honorary Brit.  From what I can tell, the Brits are serious about their holidays.   The whole US/UK/European vacation/holiday thing is something I’d like to post about separately, as it’s a loaded issue, but for now I’ll just say that I was a bit nervous about going since I’ve only been on a few vacations in my time that are “proper” holidays.  I’ve gone to other parts of the world for a bit of study, or to visit, but have only done the whole “beach” holiday thing twice, and both of these trips involved activities like snorkeling or Disneyworld so there wasn’t a whole lot of sitting around.

Let me just say this right off the bat:  I am terrible at “relaxing.”   My first reaction to the word is to get nervous and to feel kind of claustrophobic, as what many people find relaxing I find annoying.  I enjoy going to the beach to swim, to have a walk and to hang out for a few hours, but I can’t do it all day.  I get antsy, both physically and mentally.  I once had a huge argument with an ex who swore he’d never go to the beach with me again since I was so bad at sitting there.

The other thing that made me nervous was the whole issue of being around C.’s family for a week.   They’re kind and lovely people, but I’m always worried that I’ll say or do the wrong thing, both as an in-law and as an expat.  I’m usually kind of the odd person out in most groups, unless they’re of my making–a hodge-podge of quirky idealists whose lives don’t happen in a linear fashion.  Like English majors.

C.’s family, and like C. himself, are very task-oriented. Conversely, half the time I don’t even know what planet I’m on.  It’s the classic INFP thing.  (For more on life as an INFP–Meyer’s Briggs type–check out the basic description here and Corin’s blog about being an INFP here.)

But back to Tunisia.  Isn’t that why you’re here?

Being in Northern Africa was fascinating.  I’ve always wanted to go there, especially after reading Paul Bowles books  and the translation of Isabelle Eberhardt‘s bizarre and reckless life.  I loved the call to prayer that started around 4:30 in the morning and happened four other times during the day and evening.  I love the sound of Arabic, especially when sung by the guy walking down the beach I heard on my last day.  Gorgeous and full of longing.  I love the elegance of written Arabic, and Islamic architecture:

Mosque courtyard and steps to prayer tower

Great mosque in Kairouan

Doorway in Sousse near medina

Sorbet-colored building in Sousse 

All the hotels were surrounded by palm trees, and the flora was fun to admire:

I think this is some kind of mimosa.

Two salutes to the sunset

Am dying to know what kind of tree this is.  Was like a rat-tail cactus crossed with a pine.

mystery tree

Loved the combination of modern and ancient:

And weird signage:

This is a Russian pub. Lots of Russians come to Tunisia in the winter months.

Looks like one very long amusement park ride.  Millions of years long.

And of course signs of the recent revolution:

Tunisian flags everywhere

Various young men often approached us as the locals are very friendly and want to know if visitors are enjoying their country, especially after the drop in tourism this winter.  “Tunisia!  You like?”  wasn’t uncommon to hear from while walking down the beach.  It was great to see such pride in one’s country, and the sense of optimism. However, Tunisians do need the tourists to return as it’s their primary source of income.

A few young men offered C. to trade me in for some camels.  It’s a joke, a friendly exchange, one which the men seemed to feel absolutely no self-consciousness in offering.  It seemed like my role in the game was to be flattered, and feigned as much when one man offered a “trillion” camels.    On another evening, though, a different man’s grandmother was offered, to which C. replied, “Well, is she a good cook?”

Very reassuring.

Couldn’t care less who I’m traded for as long as no one’s riding me.  

One of the highlights of the holiday was the morning visit to the Sousse Medina, or marketplace.

C.’s mom, after a number of visits, has gotten good at bantering with the locals.  “I’ve already got some!”  she’d say to the men calling at her about buying some shoes.  She’d shake her bag, indicating the shoes inside.

“How much?” the vendors would instantly reply.

“Ten dinar,” she’d say, and the men would all moan and tell her she’d paid way too much.

C.s mom mid-barter and me

It’s fun to banter but the tour guides instructed us on the latest scams to watch out for.

For example, the hotel where we stayed, Hotel Tour Khalef, was all inclusive.  Upon arrival, one is issued a pink plastic bracelet, like one might get at a fair, or in a hospital.   (Many jokes about having “escaped” ensued.)    Down at Port El Kantoui, men sat by the entrance to the port, and on spying the pink bracelet, would call “Hotel Tour Khalef!  Do you remember me?   I was your waiter last night!”   The hotel is so huge that not remembering one’s waiter is possible.   The men would then lead the clueless off to a “discount” camel ride, or another activity that would cost a lot of money.   You gotta hand it to these guys–in a country where work can be scarce, this is not the typical pickpocket scheme.  In fact, I rarely felt at risk for pickpocketing–less so than Barcelona, or maybe even New York.  In Tunisia, it’s taboo to prey on tourists as they’re so crucial to the economy.

I didn’t get any photos, as I was usually too busy choosing treats, but many markets were full of pistachio nougat, sesame sticks, praline peanuts, Turkish delight, and almonds.  YUM.

I met a woman at the hotel who had been coming to Tunisia for 26 years.  Apparently, one gets bit and keeps coming back.  It’s so inexpensive to visit, especially with a package trip, that some retired folks stay for months.  It’s actually cheaper, food and heat wise, to stay there in the winter months rather than heat one’s home in England.

So will I be back?  If I can help it, oh, yes, please.

The married for almost one year couple. Awww….

Sousse beach at sunset

*Thanks a million, katrillion camels to A.M., C.’s mum, for treating us on this trip.

May you have many more days of sun in Tunisia!*

11 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Erika
    Apr 15, 2011 @ 08:39:15

    What a gorgeous and fascinating post. I would never think to travel to Tunisia for a holiday! Your photographs are beautiful (fun to see you and C. too). It is always a challenge to travel with someone else’s family – regardless of cultural differences and it looks like you did it brilliantly! (What is nice about the INFP trait, I think, is the ability to keep ourselves company inside our heads, LOL).


    • taramoyle
      Apr 17, 2011 @ 14:37:31

      Thanks Erika! Yeah, that’s true about being an INFP. Never a dull moment in my brain, but sometimes I do envy those who don’t overthink things! Sounds like paradise sometimes. 🙂


  2. mariellen anderson
    Apr 17, 2011 @ 23:36:54

    Gorgeous photos! I enlarged the one of you & A shopping–can you send it to me? Sounds like you have found a regular holiday location. The architecture is amazing: my favorite building is the sorbet color!


  3. David
    Apr 18, 2011 @ 19:20:31

    Hi, glad you had fun. I had noticed someones twitter feed had gone a little quiet.

    I have to say, I’m not one for laying in the Sun. I can and have done it but most of the time I can’t do it for long. I’m not a normal Englishman.

    I have to say the caption “Couldn’t care less who I’m traded for as long as no one’s riding me.” made me giggle. It appealed to my eternal 14 year old (AKA Bevis & Butthead style). I have to say in C’s defense on the matter… Do you honestly trust him to feed himself properly?

    Glad you had a nice time.


    • taramoyle
      Apr 19, 2011 @ 13:47:36

      Thanks David! So glad my appeal to all those with eternal 14 year-olds is working. 🙂 Hope you’re enjoying the sun in increments of your own devising….


  4. Joan Hales
    Apr 20, 2011 @ 11:28:40

    Sounds like Tunisia was great fun! Your mimosa looks like an Australian species of Acacia, commonly called wattle.


    • taramoyle
      Apr 20, 2011 @ 21:00:01

      Thanks Joan! Maybe it was an Acacia–I don’t know…. I could have just walked around identifying plants and flowers all day and probably still wouldn’t have gotten past the tip of the iceberg.

      Thanks again for reading. 🙂


  5. Char Herzog
    Apr 21, 2011 @ 03:11:07

    Enjoyed reading your adventures! What fun to visit a country where everything seems just about the opposite of what we are used to. Right now, warm weather and sunshine is just the opposite of my world in Minnesota! We had a dusting of snow when I woke up! Ugh!
    I got to visit Sara 3 different times in Senegal, West Africa. I loved sitting on the floor and eating out of one bowl with the Wolof, or going to the market and bartering, or trying to cool down in 125′ heat by sitting under a spray of water from the hose. This book helped me understand the Senegalese better, “African Friends and Money Matters.” It’s a must if you are going to live in Sub sahara Africa!
    So happy you had such a good time!!


    • taramoyle
      Apr 21, 2011 @ 12:26:46

      Wow–sounds amazing, and I’m glad Sara’s having quite the adventure too. I would probably not hold up under 125 degree heat, but I don’t envy your snow! Hope you get some spring weather soon, and thanks for reading!



  6. emily june brown
    Feb 13, 2013 @ 19:04:23

    I loved your post. I am visiting Tunisia this summer and you have made me so excited. By the way we call the tree ‘the monkey tree’, as it looks like monkeys tails supposedly.


    • taramoyle
      Mar 08, 2013 @ 22:11:59

      Hi Emily,

      Sorry for my belated response–for some reason comment notices are not currently reaching me. You’ll have such a great time in Tunisia. I found it to be quite magical and would go back in a heartbeat. I’m very happy supporting their changing society esp. as so many rely on the tourist economy. Thank you so much for telling me about the monkey tree! So good to know! 🙂 Have a wonderful trip!


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