Friday, August 29, 2008

I am the proud owner of a MBK Hardrock motorbike!!!! No, I haven't traded Lasfar in, but he is not good for riding around Douz - too much traffic. And to go see him, I have to take a taxi each time (a 5 minute drive). So I decided I wanted to be a bit more independent, free (and to have some fun!). It's a small Eurpopean motorbike. The bedouins import them in from Europe, then fit them with a few extra parts to make them better to drive in the desert as well as the roads. I have included one photo of just part of it. I'll include some photos of me driving it next time!

By the way, the cockroach problem seems to be gone. Apparently they were coming out of the drains at night (hence the 5 I found were only in the kitchen and bathroom). So as long as I keep the drains plugged when not in use, voila! No 'la cukaratcha'!

The weather is cooling down, today it was only 34. I actually had the AC off for awhile. It was nice to open the doors and windows.
My apartment is getting really nice. I'm nesting, and feel more and more like it is a home. I included a photo of sunset from my rooftop, and I will include some photos inside my apartment in my next blog.

So, back to the motorbike. I have been exploring the outskirts of town, and have gone to 2 palmeries. I discovered there is one down the road only a kilometer or so from my apartment, just before another small village. The village is great, shops line the 'main' street, people walking around - kids playing, families visiting, shopping. People are so friendly and warm and wave and say hello when I go by. I've included a couple of photos of this palmerie.

I had an early birthday party for my good friend Mounir, who's birthday is actually during Ramadan. He invited a few friends, including Mekki, another good friend, who taught me to make couscous. He makes the best couscous - so of course I had to learn from him! So we ate couscous & lamb, a delicious birthday cake with tunisian tea, and juicy sweet watermelon. And of course, we danced! I am reminded of a quote from a book I read "...and we shall eat lamb with our fingers in the light of a single sequin in the navel of a bellydancer".

In a couple of days it will be Ramadan, so I thought it would be a good time for me to 'get away' (ha!) for a week or so. On Monday I will go to Hammamet for a week. It's a beach resort town, with a beautiful mediterranean beach, great restaurants (that are actually open during Ramadan), and a medina. So I will spend a week swimming, reading, shopping and eating. (I know, life really is rough).
So, until next time, with much love,

Friday, August 22, 2008

Mekki's wedding

Well, it is a few days after Mekki's wedding, and I have finally been able to process all that I saw. Tunisian Bedouin weddings last 4 days (and go into the 5th day). The bride cannot be seen by anyone except her immediate family until after the four days is over.
The first night was a women's party that started at 10:30 or 11:00 PM, as it is too hot here to start earlier. There was a DJ who played modern Tunisian music all night. The party was in the courtyard of Mekki's family's home, and carpets, blankets and cushions were spread all around the courtyard, and it was packed with women. Women danced in the sand for many hours - women of all ages, from children to very old. Some were wearing traditional bedouin clothing, some modern.
I danced for hours, even though it was late at night, the desert air was still hot. Bikram's bellydance.
Day 2 started again late at night. We met at Mekki's house in Glissia (the bedouin village next to Douz) and the drumming from the musicians at the party were already heard, intensely playing, vibrating the sand as we walked. We walked to what was maybe the village square. Spread around the sides were again, cushions, blankets and carpets, already many women were seated, talking, and many men were standing around talking. The women sit separately from the men. At the back of the women's section, against a wall, was a beautifully decorated section of the wall - decorated with fabric, and in front of this was a few pieces of fabric, shaped like a box or tent, where the bride sat. The bride sits at the back, hearing the ceremonies, but is not seen. If I had heard another time about it, I would have thought it was maybe sexist, but it really adds to the mystery and beauty of the bride. There were four male musicians playing, all in traditional costume. Long white semi-full 'dresses', with red scarfs tied tightly around the waist, white and red hats.Three were playing drums, and the fourth a mizmar. The groom and a half dozen men (his friends? family? I still have many questions to ask) were standing in a line beside the musicians. The mizmar player would regularly walk past them and they would put tightly rolled money into his hat, I guess that is how the musicians are tipped. The women watched, zaghareeted, some danced, mostly talked, laughed and visited. Mekki's sisters and mother were dressed in traditional clothing. Absolutely beautiful and regal. Long swathes of fabric, some in shades of deep red, one in silvery white, some in deep turquoise blue. All wore many many many strands of gold necklaces, almost completely covering the front of the dresses, from the neck to the hips. As well, in front of the heavy headscarves, next to the face, were head jewellery, also gold chains with gold decorations dangling from the ends. I will post some photos in the next few days.
After the regular part of the ceremony, I was able to participate in the men's party afterward. Drumming, singing, dancing and gasbya playing. And eating couscous. Oh, and they had been practicing some bellydance beats for me to dance to, so of course I could not resist!
Day 3, same late start, same place, same people, but this time there was a band playing music, and many of the young men danced. I tell you, bedouin men can rival any bellydancer in moving their hips. I have never seen so many flexible hips on men (except latin salsa dancers). The music increased in intensity as the evening wore on, and the men performed. Very, um....intense and dare I say sexy!
Again, after the ceremony, I attended the men's party, watched the traditional mens dances, some stick dances, some where they hop up from a crouched position (incredibly hard on the thigh muscles!) and other dances. It was so much fun! Mekki's pinky finger was hennaed, and then bound with gauze, part of the tradition of being married. I danced with Mekki, and was so honoured to be part of this party, of this wedding, of being included in this community...
Day 4 started at dusk, around 7 PM, and I have to say this was my favourite night. It was a night I will never forget. We met at Mekki's family home again. Already there were many people gathered, there was an air of expectation and excitement, people talking. Also outside the gates of the home, was an ornately decorated camel, with a beautifully decorated box sitting on top. Mekki's mother came out of the gate, and was helped into the box. The camel stood, and led by drummers, she rode through the town, the procession of family, friends and community following, singing and talking in amongst other decorated camels and horses. You could still see Mekki's mother in the box, as it was decorated with mesh. THe evening was breezy, sand was blowing around, the air intense and building. After going through the town, we arrived at the brides family home. Mekki's mother got off, and all the women entered the gate into the family courtyard, waiting expectantly. Meanwhile, the camel box was being decorated more fully, and completely being covered up with red fabric, so no one could see inside the box. Soon, under canopy, the bride and Mekki's sister came out of the house, the bride still covered with fabric. She was led by her father. But as no man could touch her during the ceremony, he led her with a metal circular ornament. He led her to the camel, and she was helped inside. Then came the ceremony again, where she was led through the village, again led by drummers. Once we were in an open area, everyone parted into two sections and all was quiet waiting. Suddenly decorated camels raced through the pathway, dust and sand blowing around them. People cheered and zaghareeted. Then the same with horses. I know I have talked about how intense the feeling was in the air, but it really was. Intense, sexual, expectant, and happy. Very primal. Finally, the bride was led to the grooms home, she got out (again under cover), and wisked into what was to be their new home, within the compound of Mekki's family home. (I had seen Mekki and his brothers for a long time, building and creating this beautiful home for him and his wife). The women entered the courtyard, and through the open window of the home, I could see Mekki's sisters and mother helping to prepare the bride for her wedding night. Late into the night, the women left, and the men arrived, bringing Mekki. They brought him to the door of his home, and sang a traditional song to him.
Day 5 was not really part of the wedding per se, but in the moring, the bride sat outside of her home, on a decorated seat, fabric behind her on the wall, and women family and friends came to see her. She wore a beautiful white lacy dress, kind of a cross between a western wedding gown and a gypsy look. I dont know how else to describe it. Khol eyes, pointy silver shoes at the end of her dangling feet, her head covered in the gold head pieces, dangling gold chains, ending in gold hand of fatimas or fish, or some other lucky piece of gold, and of course gold jewellery covering her chest, her hands decorated in beautiful black mendhi patterns, weaving amongst her gold bracelets, and red henna'd fingers. I met her for the first time this morning. Her black eyes sparkled with a smile of recognition of me, she had seen my photos before. I can see from her eyes that she is a kind and good person, and also I can see that she has a good sense of humour. I am happy for Mekki as he is such an amazing person, and deserves to be happy. Tibur (the bride) is his cousin, he has known her all his life. But you can see they are in love, and happy.
There are many more things to tell, but I think I will stop for today, and just leave it at Mekki's beautiful wedding. Again, I am blessed.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Well, today I killed my second cockroach. Those who know me, know that cockroaches have always been my biggest fear, so the fact that I am still here is amazing. If I hadn't been so freaked out, I would have laughed; here I was last night, at 2:30 AM in my bathroom, naked and chasing a cockroach around the room with a bottle of bleach, while crying. I don't know who was more afraid, him or me. They are mammoth here, I think if I didn't own a camel, I would be able to use one for transport.
The temperature today was around 37. Although I have an air conditioned apartment, it works "shway" which in bedouin arabic means 'a little bit'. Whenever I am here, I take a cold shower every half hour or hour, my apartment for me is 'clothing optional'.
This morning I went to the weekly market with my basket, stopped for an omelette and tea at Ali Baba's Cafe, where I have been eating regularly. I live about a 5 minute walk from the market square, but there are lots of small shops even closer. In this heat, a 5 minute walk is hard. At the market, I spent some time at the live animal market, looking at some camels, sheep and goats for sale.
Last night I rode Lasfar for the first time since being here. It took me awhile to get to Douz - between Alatalia losing my luggage, getting my cargo shipment was a bureaucratic circus... I drove to Douz myself, the highways are fine, Tunis is CRAZY!
Anyway, it was so wonderful to see Lasfar again. I couldn't find him at first as he was hanging out with his camel friends. I called his name, and his head came popping up, his furry ears went back to listen, and he shuffled towards me (wearing his tether, he couldn't move to quickly!). He remembered me!!!!! I almost cried....
I rode him just a short distance in the evening, around 9PM last night. It was a bit windy, and the sand was blowing a bit, so I couldn't take him out too long, but it was so wonderful to be riding him again, to feel the warm dry sahara breeze, to see groups of camels on the horizon... I am in heaven.
Nothing is easy here, but the people are amazing. My furnished 3 bedroom apartment came with enough beds and couches for a small hotel (although I dont think they would make it in one piece anywhere - this will be their final resting place!), but no dressers or shelves. So I had to buy a wardrobe. My dear friend Mounir got a friend of his with a truck, plus several others whom I had never met to help with this task. Buying a large item like this is an undertaking here. We drove around the town, stopping at one 'furniture store' after another, each with a menagerie of various items, looking for bookshelves, dressers or wardrobes. After each shop, my bedouin friends would have an animated discussion (in arabic of course) about where we should go next. After a few hours, I found a wardrobe I liked, but no shelves for my kitchen. I mentioned that even a metal commercial one would be fine. So, off we went again, and finally found someone who agreed to make one for me. After picking up the wardrobe, the four bedouin men pushed, tugged, dragged and inched it up my curved stairway to get it to my apartment. All of this in close to 40 degree heat. When they got to one section where the ceiling was too low, and they realized it would not go up any further, I suggested maybe it would not work. By this point they were drenched wet. They did not answer me, but proceeded to take the whole wardrobe apart, to reassemble it in my apartment. That is hospitality. That is community.
When I told people in Canada that I was going to Tunisia for 6 months to see if I wanted to live there, I would usually get asked two questions. 1) Will you be safe? The answer is that although there are never any guarantees, I have never felt so safe or well cared for. Even by relative strangers, who have welcomed me into their community with warmth and acceptance. I am more likely to fly off a racing camel than be hurt by a human being here. 2) Do camels spit? Maybe some do, but in the hundreds I have seen, I have never seen one spit.
Tomorrow is my good friend Mekki's wedding. Bedouin weddings last 4 days, and July and August are the wedding months for them. Every night when I go to bed, I hear groups of women singing and drumming as they make their way through the streets, their beautiful voices echoing between the buildings, long into the night. There are also nights where the men wearing full costume, drum and dance. I am so fortunate that I will be part of this wedding, and Mekki's family have adopted me as their own.
Two nights ago, I sat in the sand in their open courtyard with them, some of us on blankets, some just in the sand, as the TV was pushed into the open door of the sitting room so they could watch their favourite program. As the program ended, close to midnight, I heard the drumming of another wedding party coming near. The drumming was so intense, you could almost feel it more than you could hear it. Idea and I (Mekki's sister) walked to the area where the party had stopped, and we watched for awhile, while the four men (in almost wide calf length 'dresses') played and danced. Is this my life? Yes. And I am blessed.
I could write so much more, but I also hear another party approaching and I want to go see....
With much love, Juanita