Ramadan is almost over, I have even more respect for the Tunisians of the desert, fasting 14 hours a day, often in 40 degree heat. That includes no water or cigarettes. I spend a few hours in the desert during the day and get a headache from lack of water...
And right at the end of Ramadan, Rustyn and Jesse arrive, I am so excited to be able to see them and to spend some special time with them... They will meet my friends, Lasfar, and see the sahara that I love so much...
Here are some more of my musings...
Glimpses of my day:
The head of a young camel hanging from the doorway of my butcher shop, seeming to be crying because of its short life… Sweat dripping profusely off the nose and chin of the butchers kind face as he attends to his many customers….Little girls holding hands and walking to school their uniforms crisp and pink, smiling shyly at me as they say bonjour.... A husband and wife pulling hay with their hands from the back of their donkey cart, the cart brimming over with green luscious grasses, their faces etched with the stories of their day-to-day toils, backs hunched, satisfied smiles… a very young boy, maybe four, walking down the street, clutching tightly to his handful of coins, his face proud and serious with his responsibility, minutes later seeing him return, head held high, carrying a loaf of bread to take home....a gaggle of silly goats prancing down the road in front of me as I ride my motorbike, their ears bouncing jauntily from their heads, seeming to be laughing to themselves, daring me to try to catch them… my neighbour who owns a gas station (a pump for motorbikes) cum small hay and parsley supplier, waving to me with a big smile as I walk by to get my daily supplies… Lasfar’s big brown long lashed eyes as he is watching me watch him, munching on an apple I gave him…Looking out into the desert, the waves of endless sand dunes…trying to decide which camel to watch next, there are so many, where do I start? The young fuzzy tan one intently watching me? The beautiful soft white one nearby? The goofy dark brown one? Eye candy… Hearing Mounir speak out directions to the camel drivers as another bus load of tourists prepare to head out… riding my motorbike home from the camel station, tired, but happy after taking tourists out into the desert, passing groups of camels and drivers on their way home…my heart smiling, hearing the hypnotic sounds of the call to prayer as I type this…
I sat on my balcony tonight, the warm dry breeze playing with my hair, spinning and dancing with the sand on the road. The swaying palms moving together wistfully in mesmerizing rhythm. Most people at home, eating their meal after a day of fasting in the seemingly endless heat of the day. But out of the quiet night, I heard children’s laughter, giggling children. Looking up, I watched as a donkey and cart crossed the road, the adults sitting on the cart, tired and bent over, finally heading home after a hard day. But the children, like any children in the world, found game in even the most ordinary moment. Chasing the cart, taking turns touching it, giggling. Their voices were music. Pure joy. In the darkening night sky, I watched their faces, happy, well loved children. They could have been any child anywhere. Same child, different location. Different life, different world. Yet not so very different.
I sat on my balcony tonight and, amongst the cart toting donkeys I watched all the motorbikes go by, some carrying entire families, children riding often in front, the men driving carefully as the women sat behind. There is something so special about this custom. Even couples who have clearly been together a long time, have a special, caring look on their faces as they drive by, the women carrying a secret smile on their faces, knowing they are being taken care of by their man.
Four young men stood on the side of the road in the pitch dark night. They were not the only people on the road. There are always cheich topped old men walking by, disappearing into the night, their light coloured robes waving in whatever slight breeze there is. Women with scarves, some modern, tied around their heads in a fasionable way, other old women, wearing traditional long caftans, holding their large scarves with either their hands or teeth, if their hands are full.
As I sat, enjoying the night breeze and watching the oh-so different landscape than I am used to, a pick-up truck sped past, dusty sand blowing off the tires, carrying a half dozen men in the back, laughing and talking noisily, mostly standing, precariously hanging on as the truck swayed back and forth on the road as it sped by. A minute later a second pick up truck came by, stopping briefly, as the four young men waiting on the roadside hopped on to the back of the truck and joined the others, and off sped the truck, crammed full of testosterone laughing men, off to who knows where.
So I decided to make Kefta today, which are delicious middle eastern lamb meatballs. The only butcher shop I had been to in Douz was the one for poultry. Yes, I learned that butchers who sell poultry and eggs do not sell beef or lamb.
So I went in search of a butcher to buy ground beef and lamb. I walked into the first tiny shop, dark and with barely enough room for two people to stand. As I became accustomed to the dimness, I tried so hard not to look at the grayish white ball of something resembling a brain behind the glass cabinet. The smell of raw meat and guts in the warm air was overwhelming. It is something we aren’t accustomed to in the west, with our air conditioned shops, and everything refrigerated. Meat, organs and blood. Like the animal was just killed – which it likely was. I showed the man the piece of paper where I had written down in French the words ground beef and ground lamb. As he shook his head, no, I noticed another man taking a knife to the head of a goat. Black fur, its eyes and everything still intact, just severed at the neck. I checked with myself to see if I was going to faint. No, I think I’ll be okay. But I was glad to be leaving. Wow. Breathe.
Feeling a bit shaky, but so proud of myself, I decided that maybe I had enough interesting Tunisian experiences for one day. Besides, the basket I was carrying was very heavy with the vegetables I had already bought at the market, and it was getting close to noon and hot.
As I was heading out of the market area towards home, I noticed legs of (goats??? Cows???) hanging from a shop entrance. OK Juanita, you can do this. This shop had a large door, and looked more modern inside (by more modern, I mean that the men working there had aprons, and a bigger counter top). But large slabs of meat, from ribs to legs were scattered on the counter top, large chunks of meat and carcasses hanging from hooks from the ceiling from ribs to legs to entire sides, several people in the shop choosing and buying meat. Flies freely buzzing and landing where they wished, no one paying them any attention.
I come from a place where meat is sold in supermarkets, hormone infused, but neatly labeled, dyed prettily red, no resemblance to the animal it once was. Even though behind the lovely packaging, many of those animals are tortured, often living their entire lives in small cages or pens, force fed, sometimes never seeing the light of day. Then the petrified animals are cruelly slaughtered en masse, maybe not being killed properly before being processed. All before we buy the nice neat packages, shiny with wrap in the spotless and faceless supermarket.
I showed the man my piece of paper, yes, he nodded as he grabbed a large section of lamb ribs and with a huge butcher knife chopped off a section. No, I said, and tried to describe ground meat. He looked confused. By now, everyone in the shop was paying attention and trying to understand me. Then I said the word Kefta, and everyone in the shop nodded and smiled.
While the butchers were hacking off chunks of beef and lamb to be ground, one customer, a young man gestured to my hand, looking for a ring on my finger, asking if I was married, while another man was saying something about Kefta. After things settled and the butcher was cleaning and disinfecting the grinding machine (YAY!), I stood back to wait and watch.
So much happening here, one man came in, dressed very well in modern western clothing, expensive shoes, and walking like someone from the city. He walked a bit like he owned the place, picked out a big juicy piece of beef, and unrolled a wad of bills from his pocket to pay, at the same time as a teenager came in and bought two legs of (cow?), their hoofs still intact, sticking out of the paper wrapping as he walked out of the shop. I almost expected the legs to start walking out on their own, or for the cow somewhere else in the shop to say – “hey, where are you going with my legs?"
As I waited, another man, an ancient black Bedouin man, wearing a worn and not so clean robe and cheich, came in carrying a large plastic and cloth sack, waiting expectantly, off to the side, patiently waiting for the owner of the shop to be free. After the customers left, the owner took the old man to the back of the shop, and I could see a plastic bucket mostly empty, but with some scraps of meat and bone in it, and he emptied the bucket into the old man’s sack. The old man bowed, thanked the owner, and left.
A few minutes later another ancient black Bedouin man came into the shop, accompanied by the teenager who had earlier purchased the legs of whatever they were. At first smiling at the owner, soon there was an animated argument, the old man obviously believing he had paid too much, his black eyes peering out of his deeply lined face, eyes still sharp despite is obvious old age. After a few minutes, another man in the shop became mediator, and talked to the old man, a few dinars were exchanged, and everyone was happy.
What different lives I am seeing here, in such a short period of time. What variety of life. I felt so rich, being part of this, witnessing this way of life. Rich, and humble.
I now also noticed the ‘cutting block’ where all the meat was being cut. Behind the counter in the middle of the floor, I don't know why I hadn't noticed it before. It was huge! An enormous tree trunk, about three feet in height and almost as wide. The top of it was bloodied, layered with chunks of meat ground and cut into it, rough and chopped up, the surface varied hugely in height, with waves and chunks of tree missing from all the hacking over time. Then I noticed blood, bits of bone and meat on the floor, flies in heaven, happily galivanting everywhere in bliss. The tiled walls were spotless and gleamed, so I imagine (maybe just hoped) the shop was cleaned daily. Regardless, this is now my home, and my new life.
By the way, my kefta were absolutely delicious.
Until next time,