Thursday, May 28, 2009

fundraiser update

Sunday, March 8, 2009. I organized a Fundraiser at Vancouver's Kayan Mediterranean Restaurant, for little Yessen to pay for both his exploratory surgery and surgery to remove the lump from his neck. I was hoping to raise enough money to pay for his surgery as well as help with some of the many needs in the bedouin village I live near, in the Sahara, Tunisia.

What an amazing success!!! The restaurant was completely booked, and $2,110.00 was raised! What an incredible community of dancers, social workers, family and friends I have...

YOU did this - and you should feel proud. I am.

It has now been over two months since the fundraiser. It has been difficult to find the right families to help. People are proud, and, although poor in
finances, these families are rich in love and hospitality. I have been given much more than I have given.

After Yessen's doctor examined the cyst, he said that the lump is not malignant, and that he will wait to do surgery to remove the lump in another two years when Yessen is a little older. Thank you. What a blessing to know he will be alright. Inshallah. So although I won't need to pay for surgery, the family is very poor I will buy them a lamb to raise.

Thanks to you, I have also been able to pay for eye surgery for Ammar, a Bedouin man who had almost gone blind by the years of sun from the Sahara. His surgery was a few weeks ago, and a success, but unfortunately since then infection set in, so he has needed more medication and more time in the hospital. I don't have a photo of him.

Then, I learned about a nine year old boy, Bahaa, who has a problem with his eyes, I went to visit the family, and I could see that it is quite significant.
I can't imagine how it must feel - he can't study, or even see very well. The family has had a prescription written by the doctor for special glasses to help strengthen his eyes, but they haven't been able to afford them. The average monthly wage here is between 15 and 30 dinars a month (roughly 12 to 25 dollars). Cost of living is cheap here, but that is not enough to even feed a family. So, very soon, Bahaa will be getting his glasses. As well, I will purchase a few goats and sheep for this family.

Rgaia is a middle aged woman who lives alone. Both her parents have died, she has no other family, and she is somewhat mentally handicapped. She lives in a spotless but very sparse one room home, with the 'kitchen' just a curtain behind her bed.
She works when she can, picking dates, or at whatever she can get. But there is always a shortage of work. She has no other means of income. With your donations, she will soon have three or four sheep to raise. I also gave her some cash to help with her immediate needs. As well, I will purchase some much needed supplies for her kitchen.

Kharia is a dear friend of mine. You may have seen photos of her and her children on my blog in earlier entries. Although their home is tiny and sparse, it is full of love and open to a constant stream of guests stopping by for tea or a meal. Because of you, they will soon have their own electricity.

Fatma is an older divorced woman who has been living with her brother and his family. However, she is an unwelcome guest, and has ended up being almost a servant. Her son, a young adult, wants so much to build a one room house for her. Your donations will pay for electricity for the home.

Thanks to your generosity, you have made a difference in many lives.

Love, Juanita

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Apr/May: My shipment/ Yung and Mai visit the Sahara

Right after Suli and Mina left Douz, Mounir and I, along with 4 other Bedouin men, left for Tunis, as my shipment from Vancouver had finally arrived.

We drove all night with the two pick up trucks. To help make the journey shorter, Mohammed (an amazing singer) sang to us on his cel phone from the other truck!

We arrived in Tunis in the morning. Going back and forth from the port, to various customs offices took all day, in the heat. We were exhausted.

The last customs man was unbelievable, his extremely personal questions made it clear that he wanted to take me out. When that didn't work, he told me that I would have to pay $800 in taxes. When my mouth dropped open and I said that was unacceptable (I was told it would maybe be $100). I went and got Mounir from the next room. The customs man kept telling me I was a rich Canadian and could afford it. Finally, he said, 'Okay, $150!!! Wow...

By then it was the end of the day, and we had 30 minutes to get to the port to get my things. After getting lost a few times, we finally found the place just before it closed. After loading my shipment onto the trucks, we drove to the apartment where we were spending the night, and the guys took everything off the trucks and put it inside the apartment.

Early the next morning, after feeding a stray kitten that had decided it wanted to be a stowaway on the truck tire, the guys repacked it all and we drove the long journey back to Douz. We stopped for dinner at a roadside barbeque place, where you pick out your carcass of sheep that is hanging in the doorway (with skin and wool still attached), and they cut it and barbeque it for you. Delicious!

Now I had only two days to unpack my things to prepare for the arrival of my dear friend from Vancouver, Yung, and her sister, Mai.

When Yung and Mai arrived, I showed them around Douz, shopping and exploring.

The next day we rented a car and I took them on a daytrip to Tozeur. After the last experience with the driver, I decided I'd better drive. But the physical and emotions of the past 3 months finally caught up with me (I spent March in Vancouver, sorting and packing up my things in storage, and having a fundraiser!) I was starting to feel sick, and driving all day did not help. Still, in spite of being very very tired, and not feeling well, we had an amazing time! We saw 'the chott', (miles and miles of the salt lake), went through the ancient village of Tamerza, saw Mides, the gorge near the Algerian border, the tiny village of Toujane, that seems to be frozen in another time. We also went through the medina of Tozeur.

The next morning we we set out on the trek, I was feeling a lot better. Our destination was Hwidhat Erriched (a lake - well, pond - in the middle of the Sahara with a beautiful hot spring).

We drove with 4 x 4 to awesome Mount Timbaine, where we climbed to the top, overlooking the endless Sahara. (see photo) Unfortunately, now Mai was feeling sick, and we wondered if we would be able to continue. We stayed at Timbaine that day and night, so Mai could rest.

WHAT IS WITH MY FRIENDS AND THEIR FEET???? We were sitting around the campfire, Mounir had brought a cake to celebrate my birthday. Yung got up to pass me the sparkler she brought along, and stepped right onto the red coals of the fire. It was so lucky she was wearing socks, Mounir ripped the sock off her foot, where the coals had stuck. She had one quite large blister on her toe, but it would have been much much worse without socks. After soaking her foot (see photo!), I put moleskin around the blister to protect it and to allow the air to heal the blister.

By the next morning, Mai was feeling somewhat better. Yung and Mai decided to push on that day, and see how they would feel the next night. Then we would either continue or return back.

The short story is, Mai got better, and Yung's foot was healing nicely, so they decided to continue on to the hot springs of the lake, our destination. The dunes were incredible, the weather beautiful.

When we got to the lake, under a perfect full moon, the three of us giggled, while we splashed and soaked under the moon with the sands of the Sahara all around us.

Yung and Mai (as well as Suli) fell in love with Lasfar (of course!)

On the way back, I was so glad that we met with a family of Algerian Bedouins and spent the night camped near them, so Yung and Mai could have that experience. Yung, Mai and I spent time with the women and children, dancing with them. Yung even danced the traditional 'hair dance' with me and one of the Bedouin women!

Over the six day trek, we ate well, listened to Mekki and Mohammed sing and play beautiful music and danced.

After the trek, Yung and Mai hired a car and driver (an amazing one this time) and took a daytrip to Tatouine and the area. I stayed behind and tidied up, did our laundry and prepared catfood because I was going to Djerba with them the next day.

The 3 of us spent a few days on the island of Djerba (Greek mythical island of the lotus eaters), where we rested, swam in the mediterranean, shopped in the souk, visited the spanish kasbah... It was the perfect thing to do after the trek!

After they left, I visited La Griba, the oldest synagogue in Aftrica (some say the world), 586 BC. The next morning I took the louage back to Douz.

Now I have less than two weeks to do the paperwork for my Tunisian residency card, as my visitors visa is up. Then I go to Vancouver for two weeks to dance at my dear friend, Joanna's CD release show.

Inshallah, when I get back to Douz, we can start to build my home and b & b....

Treks are over now until the end of September, as it is already getting very hot. The last few days it has been 35 degrees in the shade... The summer is beginning in the Sahara.
Love, Juanita

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

April - Suli and Mina's visit to Douz

What a crazy two months this has been! Days after moving into my new apartment, my dear friends from Paris, Nadine and Sandra came for a short but wonderful visit! (see previous blog entry)

After they left, my friend from Vancouver, Suli and her marvelous friend, Mina came. After spending a couple of days relaxing, shopping, drinking coffee on my rooftop garden, I took them on a daytrip to Tatouine, Douiret (an ancient Berber village carved out of the rocky mountainside), Ksar Ouled Soltaine (an ancient fortified Berber grainery and village). Alas Matmata and the Star Wars Bar movie set alluded us. Our hired driver, Kamel, kept getting phone calls from his 'habibi' and he kept trying to give us the 'drive by' tour. After we passed Matmata, and I kept asking him where Matmata was, he finally said "everywhere is Matmata"!!! By then I had figured out it was not a language or cultural barrier, but a 'work impaired' driver.... By the end of the day, it became one of those things that you joke about for years!!!

The next day, we went with my new neighbour, Sonya, to the hamam for gomage (scrub) and massage. I think Suli and Mina had a cultural experience never to be forgotten, and I'm sure not too many 'western' friends get to know each other quite that well...! Then we went to Sonya's home were she performed the ritual of applying henna to our hands and feet in intricate patterns. Sonya absolutely would not allow me anything less than the traditional patterns (after all, she said, I am now a Marzugian - a tribe from Douz), but she finally conceded to give Mina and Suli a 'less expansive' pattern, which turned out beautifully!

The next morning we set out on the 3 day trek. After bouncing over the dunes in the 4 x 4 for many hours, Mounir could not find the camel drivers (who had to leave two days ahead to meet us at our starting location). We drove back to a cafe at the edge of the Sahara to try to call them. By then we were very tired, so we voted to spend the night there. In the meantime, they found the 'illusive camel drivers'. We ate dinner by candlelight in the ambiance of the palm leave cafe (which I now told Mina and Suli was the 'real' Star Wars Bar), pitched our tents inside the cafe while the driver slept on a table.

The next morning we set off by camel towards Mount Timbaine, our destination. But, it was not meant to be... At lunch, Suli and Mina wanted to help get firewood, but Suli slammed her foot down on a piece of wood sticking out of the sand... she was such a trooper, as it was bleeding quite bad. So, we stayed put for the rest of the afternoon to see how her foot would do. By the next morning, Mina and Suli decided that, because of Mina's back and Suli's foot, we would not undertake the difficult trek to Timbaine, but just do a simpler trek through the dunes, to just enjoy the Sahara and it's beauty. So that's what we did.

Suli got some great photos of her doing yoga in the desert, Mina and Mohammed really bonded (Mina speaks arabic), we sang songs as we rode, ate very well... by the last night, Suli was even able to dance! Oh, and the big hit was the 'bunny ears' that she brought - even Lasfar had a photo taken wearing them!