Friday, February 13, 2009

Bus Stops, Politics with the Debbabi's and Hairstyles by Zainab.

I've been so busy lately that I haven't had the time to write an entry for a week, which is a year of updates in study abroad time, but since I don't find too much value in sweeping generalizations of what I'm living, feeling and experiencing, I'll just type whatever comes to mind and hope it somehow documents what I'm living for Court 5 and associates: 

My days are mostly punctuated with three things, bus rides, politics with the debbabi's and hairstyles by Zainab. I live in La Marsa, a large suburb of Tunis, and I take the bus daily to Sidi Bou Said, the suburb where I have class. The bus rides are probably my most real and genuine interaction so far with the pulse of urban life in Tunis, which i mean to say its my most frequent contact with a wide range of Tunisians- students, laborers, shopkeepers, shoppers, etc, etc. The bus is always late and always crowded, but no one seems to mind either of those "problems." This is because time does not exist in Tunisia and neither does personal space...two concepts I'm growing to appreciate more and more everyday. My host family doesn't have a clock in the house and a class that was supposed to start at 10 started at 11:20 today and we all just drank mint tea, orange juice and water until everyone got there, which I couldn't love anymore. In terms of personal space, I will say it's mildly off-putting at first when you don't have your 1-foot radius of space, as a security matter, at first. But, in general, it just feels very human and the general understanding of hospitality and affection among strangers here is much stronger than in the states. An illustrative example from the bus stop: While walking up to the crowded bus stop on a rainy morning, I saw an empty chair under the awning, which totally excited me in a way only something like that can, and as I was about to sit down, I felt hands on my back from the women on either side of the chair. When I turned around expecting to find a small child or an imaginary friend, the women were pointing to a puddle and started drying it with their newspapers. That is the Tunisia that I have seen and am living so far, and maybe it's because I'm still heavy into the first weeks euphoria that I'm only seeing the good things that I want to see...but it's as real as anything and I'm as happy as can be. 
After class, I go back to La Marsa to a very charismatic, intellectual, elegant and dynamic host family. They are originally from Niger, but have lived in Tunisia for generations and have more relatives than I have acquaintances and some of their extended family also took students from my program, so many of my friends are also my "cousins." My immediate family is a Mom, a Dad, A 17 year old sister, 13 year old brother and 3 year old sister. We have dinner together every night, which always inevitably turns into cross-cultural exchange and socio-politico comparisons between "Al-Gharb w' Afrikeea Al- Shamaleea ( The West and North Africa.) Today, our conclusions were that Eqypt is the mother of the world, Obama is the president of the world ( not because people love him, but because America's actions affect the entire world, a fact that was said with disdain and rightfully so) and iron and irony have too different of meanings to be one letter apart ( my 13 year old brother had an english test today). After dinner, we sit in the living room and Zainab, my 3 year old sister, does my hair, which hurts a lot, but she loves it and I can't say no to her since she marches around the house spritzing herself with parfum speaking french/arabic while her two little pigtails stick straight up. 

I can't write this entry without mentioning how happy I am to be with the other students in the program. I just feel very lucky to get the next 4 months to get to know them while getting into all sorts of good trouble wandering through the winding roads of the markets here, eating street food, drinking tea, getting colds, getting better and speaking french/arabic/english. 

Also, Lara is planning a trip to Tunis and Tunis is planning quite the trip for Lara. Hope you are readyyyy!


your expatriette in tunis.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

time of day: non-existent
place: somewhere over the atlantic ocean.

The first thing I want to do when I get to the hotel is shower; I haven't been sleeping on the plane at all and I know I'm going to be exhausted when I get into Tunis, so the kind of refreshing shower that substitutes a night of sleep is in order. I guess I could've been looking forward to sleep, but that's a cardinal expatriette sin on a first day of travel... what's better than a new city by the sea through the lens of hazy eyes? But, since I'm in between Toronto and Paris as I write this, I have a long time before I should think about that. A more pressing and relevant matter comes off the Toronto front. One, never fly transit through Toronto again. Flying transit requires about 8 more steps there, each which happen to be on opposite sides of the airport, I barely made my flight...Two, amidst being flustered and a little dazed from being in transit, when I sat down at my gate to board the second leg of my trip with 5 minutes to spare, a guy came and sat down next to me and we paid little attention to each other- he was reading something, I was talking to some friends whose voices I knew I'd miss, etc. etc. But by the time I had boarded the plane, I had convinced myself that guy was my close (emotionally- but far, globally) friend. For some reason, my instinct was to tell the New Jerseyian turned Parisian man next to me my whole thought process, "How could we have sat next to each other and not recognized each other? Do humans really have such tunnel vision that they only see what the expect to see?" I went on for 10 minutes to him about the non-story (since, i now believe it wasn't)...Anyhow, the man soon after moved when the seatbelt sign was switched off, "Maybe there's more legroom on the other side?" he said politely. The plane was empty and he really could've used more legroom....and even though his move ironically gave me more legroom, I was  the kind of embarrassed  I used to feel in middle school. Rambling to a total stranger-not a good way to start my new chic life in Tunis. You can take the rambler away from loyola, but you can't take the ramble out of the girl? (<--- clearly since i just relayed this story via the webtron) I couldn't pay much attention to it since Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 was on and the Coke I ordered- since I caught Jenna's craving from yesterday, had just gotten here.  


your expatriette in tunis.

P.S. I'm here now and after 2 layovers, I can say confidently, don't wear leather boots without a zipper to the airport- I know they look chic for travel, but it's very un-chic to fumble with them at security for 10 minutes. Eeks.