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!*

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