Saturday, September 13, 2008

“There is a moment, too, when one is newly arrived in the East, when one is conscious of the world shrinking at one end and growing at the other till all the perspective of life is changed…” Letter from Gertrude Bell to her mother, Florence Bell, Jan 29, 1909

My ‘Robson Street” or “West Broadway” is – well, I don’t know if it has a name. It is one of the streets in the market, and instead of walking past designer shops, bistros and starbucks, I walk past and squeeze between motorcycles weaving in and out converging with people walking goats, donkey carts, trucks, men wearing cheich’s on their heads and ‘robes’, women with headscarfs, some wearing modern jeans, vendors off to the side selling everything from parsley and spices to plastic tables, to dish soap to henna, there is no order, all is chaos and all is full of life, vendors sometimes calling out, sometimes saying assalama, a hundred voices, donkeys braying, goats complaining loudly. I smile. I am home.

I've decided to include a few excerpts from my new book (rough draft), but I think you will enjoy them...

Walking down my street at night, in the light of the streetlamp, it looks like there are snowdrifts up against the side of the street, and up against the buildings. It is actually the sahara, creeping into everything, inching its way, taking ownership of everything. Note to self; don’t buy white towels again when you live in the sahara. At least don’t forget them on the clothes line all night. By morning, they are coated in browny red sand.

Where else can you walk to the market, basket in hand, hearing the clip clop of donkeys with carts as they pass on the street? Where else can you go into a tiny shop that sells everything from bug spray, clothing, and brooms and buy fresh eggs that sit on the shelf and are carefully given to you loose in a bag, instead of labeled and overpackaged in a refrigerated section of a great faceless supermarket? So fresh, they are the eggs from chickens that may live right beside you, as you hear them clucking as you hang out your laundry on the line on the rooftop, overlooking the town of white cement houses, mosques and minarettes. Where else can you jay-walk right in front of the police station, just after saying Assalema to them? Where else can you walk to the weekly market, where sheep, chickens, goats and camels are for sale in the same market as olives, laundry soap and assorted clothing? Where else does everyone disappear in the summer months for the afternoon, the town becoming eerily quiet, only paper wrappers, plastic bags and onion skins blowing around in the hot sandy breeze after the crazy frenzied morning market?

Sitting alone in the café, while the men around me played cards, I was almost inconspicuous. Not really, not by a long shot.
Not only am I female, and not too many females come into the café, but I am also fair-haired, and as much as I don’t like it, clearly western. But the men in the cafe only glanced at me once in awhile, somewhat curious, but more interested in their card games. I sat close to a corner listening to the humming of the voices, watching the smoke creating a hazy oasis in the hot and bright white of the day. Four large ceiling fans whirled at full speed, creating an oh so slight dry warm breeze. Apparently this is where many men gather to play cards in the middle of the day, when shops are closed, and the sun is at its highest. Dozens of tables of men, their voices one big hum with the occasional burst of laughter or raised voice. I watched the expressions on their faces, a study in personalities. Some had stoic faces, their expressions not giving their hands of cards away. But most were unable to, being Arabs and passionate in nature, I think it is harder for them to keep their emotions hidden. However, even the men who clearly weren’t doing so well, played their cards with bravado, testosterone the common thread throughout the establishment.

Today I woke up to a fly trying to climb into one of my nostrils. It is not fly season yet, but I am getting a tiny taste of it, and already dreading it....
This morning I went into the kitchen, made myself a cup of Tunisian coffee on my ibrik. I was so proud that I am starting to use my kitchen. Then I walked over to my clean dish rack – and saw an army of tiny ants marching in double file from my wooden spoon (which I thought I had cleaned) to a crack in the wall. Oh boy. So, once again, out came the bug spray, spraying all my ‘clean’ dishes, which now had to be rewashed, wiped up the dead ants, wiped the bug spray off the counter before I washed it (poisonous). Then I had to boil water (no hot water during the summer), rewash the dishes, and then take the plastic dishwashing bin to the bathroom to dump it down the toilet (there is a leak in the drain pipe under my kitchen sink that needs to be fixed). The simplest things are not simple here. Just when I thought I was done, I noticed a black spot on the floor – oh, no, I know what that means, a clump of ants having a party on a piece of onion or potato I must have dropped last night. Damn this country. Damn that I love this country so much.

I am back from my 'vacation' in Hammamet. I had forgotten how hot Douz was. It has been between 40 and 45 degrees in the shade in Douz. My friend Nadia wrote me about rain, and apple pie in Vancouver. A different world.

I wont talk much about Hammamet. The beaches were beautiful, and it was so nice to swim every day, and I spent half my days at the beach. Hammamet also has decent, but expensive food, and many people were very nice. HOWEVER, Hammamet also has a huge number of men who have only two goals in meeting you - money or sex. Period. At first it was flattering, then irritating, then depressing. I think the only reason their obvious and crude lines works on some women, is that the women who come to Hammamet are often interested in having a two day 'relationship'. Don't get me wrong, there are many nice people in Hammamet, but there is a huge culture of young men who, if you even say hello, or glance their way, will paste themselves to your side and it takes a crowbar to pry them loose. And they do not understand the meaning of NO (or "La"). This is not an exaggeration. It really was bad... My bag was also stolen on the beach, lost my really nice camera, prescription reading glasses, cell phone, drivers licence. Lucky my passport & visa was in hotel.
I did meet a new friend in Hammamet, a Russian girl who just started a small business. We had so much fun, laughing over dinner at our similar experiences, so that in itself was worth going to Hammamet.
I'd much rather talk about being back in Douz. In spite of the heat, I am glad to be back home. So, seeing as I dont have a camera right now, I will not include photos of Hammamet, but some other photos I took before I left, mostly of people from Douz or Glissia. Enjoy. Love Juanita

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