Berber Life in
|The hilltop Berber village of Chenini.
September 22, 2007
Since I am in southern Tunisia I figured I would venture into the desert. Normally I would try to do this on my own. But after
reading my Lonely Planet, it sounded as if it would be a bit challenging – and that sounded like it would be a challenge for a
French speaker…imagine how it would be for a non-French speaker! Plus if I did want to get out to the villages from Tataouine
(the largest city in that part of the desert) I would have to pay the taxi driver a sizeable amount. From my calculations, the
cost would be the same to book the trip through a company.
And, my friends, sometimes ‘ease’ is the name of the game.
My 4x4 picked me up this morning and even though it had a capacity to hold six people, there were only three of us. I liked
My two ‘kat-kat’ (as I would learn this is how ‘4x4’ is pronounced in French) were from France. We failed to speak a common
language…but this didn’t stop them from being two extremely sweet women who even gave me a bottle of water when they
found out I was beyond thirsty and all of the roadside stands were shut due to Ramadan.
On our way into the desert, we stopped at some salt flats. It was no Uyuni (in Bolivia) but it was still fun slushing around in
salt. At the Uyuni salt flats I would have seen my reflection. Here I was looking at my shadow. Better than nothing. I’ll take it.
We then passed a donkey. I pointed out how cute it was. Then one of the French women started making donkey noises. I
couldn’t help but laugh and think of my friends back home as we have quite the joke about this – though it is not at all
appropriate to write in an online journal. (Ari, Lauren, Cindy, Elisa, et al. – just know I was thinking of you ladies!)
Next came some mini-dune bashing. The poor French women I was with were scared to death. Judging that we picked them
up from their resort, I’m going to take a hunch and say that they have never ridden in tricky road conditions…let alone off-
road conditions. (You should have seen their shock when they first saw that it was going to be a 100-km ride to Tataouine. As
for me, I was impressed as I thought it was going to be further.)
We arrived in Tataouine. We first went into a patisserie where we were given a tour. Now this was a tour I could get on-board
with (even if it was conducted in only French)! It didn’t matter – I saw what was going on with the making of the Arabic
sweets that I have had a fun time indulging in. That being said, life was so much easier when I loathed nuts and these things
did absolutely nothing to tempt me. Damn the almond and pistachio for being so tasty! I just digressed. I was about to get to
the part where this patisserie trip left me with a dilemma. Today is Yom Kippur. A day that I have committed to atoning -
which entails fasting. Tasters were being passed to each person after we watched the process. Now…it would have been
extremely rude to turn the taster down, would it not? I was now torn between trying it and not offending them (and in the
process, breaking my fast) or somewhat offending them but sticking whole-heartedly to my fast. I decided to not be rude in a
foreign country. Hey, it wasn’t my fault that the tasters actually tasted good.
As for Tataouine, it was just another city. With just another market. I got pretty lost in the market (go figure) and couldn’t
figure out which entrance I came in from. This could have posed a problem because I needed to meet my ‘kat-kat’. And I
couldn’t ask around because I couldn’t describe the location to anybody in anything that sounded even close to French. But
after trying to back-track for the fifth time, I figured it out. Phew! I didn’t want to be that person who was holding everybody
Next stop was Chenini – a Berber village from 900 years ago with architecture that isn’t like anything I have seen before. All I
can say is how much we take everything for granted in our developed world. I get bored and restless if I don’t have something
fun lined up for a weekend – these people (along with countless others in the world) are in the same place doing the same thing
day after day after day. For their entire lives. I would almost be happy to take a shorter life-expectancy if this was the case for
me. Yes, that sounds bad. But I am just being brutally honest. Oh. I guess the kids do have the daily joy of seeing new 4x4s
arriving in their village so that they can beg people for money (and the French were giving it to them – tisk tisk).
I also realized during this visit that I was happy that I just dedicated one day to come out here because I couldn’t really see
myself spending an entire day and night out here. I’m sure many would love it. But not me.
Then it was lunch time. In the midst of my fast. The Ramadan thing isn’t too hard as all of the cafés are closed during the day.
But sitting their with family-style portions of couscous, soup and Arabic sweets definitely posed more of a challenge. It was
painful. I wanted some. But I refrained. The atoning would continue. It would make dinner taste that much better, too…right?
I used this time to think of the things I was atoning for over the course of the past year. I’m not about to spill my dirty laundry
in a journal – but it goes without saying that I had things to atone for. Some of the mild things, though, were passing judgment
on people (after all, who is this scrubby traveler to judge?), losing my patience in certain situations (luckily, this hasn’t
happened once during my RTW Part 2 trip!) and writing negative things about people in my journal (guilty of doing this just
yesterday). But after tonight I will have a clean slate. At least I think that’s how it works.
We made a couple more stops and were then homeward bound back to Djerba.
Good-bye desert, hello sea!
Me and the Berber architecture.
|Some of the pottery they are known for.