E-mail From Tunisia...
September 26, 2007
Oh ye of little religious faith. That is me. Kind of funny that it would be me who would find myself
fasting for not one…but two…religious events out here in Tunisia.
The first event was Ramadan. This is an extremely important time for Muslims – they fast from
sunrise to sunset everyday for approximately one month. Of course foreigners aren't obliged to follow
this. What we are to do is respect those that are fasting. This means the absence of those great little
sidewalk cafes. This means no munching on a snack as you walk down the street. This means no
sampling of the dried fruits and nuts in the medinas. These are the things I take pleasure in. Oh well.
This played a large role in why I made a decision to not eat between breakfast and dinner. Of course I
ate some breakfast a bit after the sun had risen. I wasn't celebrating Ramadan – I was only respecting
it. And this really only last the first four days of my time out here. Once I got to more of the 'tourist
destinations' the rules were much more lax (thought I never ate while walking down the street).
A holiday that would also fall during this period was a holiday of my fellow 'chosen people' – Yom
Kippur. The day to atone for our sins. I thought about it and realized I definitely have things to atone
for from the past year ( I don't really see the things as sins…but I'm sure others might disagree).
Hey…give me some credit. I did turn down the offer to smoke hashish with 'The Spice Doctor' in
Atoning for this 'high holiday' did require fasting from sundown on the 21st through sundown on the
22nd. This meant I would have to mesh the two 'fasts' together – I would compromise and eat one last
meal as the sun was just about to set and would then congratulate myself with a nice meal after the
sunset the next day.
All I can say is that for the second time in my life, atonement was had. (At this moment, I am giving
myself a big pat on the back.)
Since I know a lot of peeps at home have no idea about Tunisia, let me take a moment to enlighten
For starters, it's a small country in Northern Africa that borders on the Mediterranean Sea. The two
languages spoken here are Arabic and French.
For Europeans, it tends to be an all-inclusive holiday. I've likened it to our Mexico. Most of these people
rarely venture from their resorts to see what lies outside of them. And when they do, it's to the center
of town to the medinas for a few hours (you can tell because almost all of them come equipped with the
accessory of a fluorescent wristband). A couple hours before the sun goes down, the towns are void of
All along the coast the towns consist of almost completely whitewashed buildings with accents either in
turquoise-blue or Smurf-blue. It almost has a Santorini-esque feel to it (I am only assuming this as I
have never actually been to Greece). It's stunning. The color of the water is just as stunning with the
Mediterranean shining in different shades of blues and greens. On the beach in the south, the beaches
even have camels to ride! Sunset comes complete with the prayer call. Around 5:30 locals are
everywhere buying their baguettes and Arabic sweets for the evening. Being Ramadan, everything is
completely shut down from around 6:30pm – 8pm. The medinas are ghost towns during this time
which gave someone like me an opportunity to be amazed by the doorways (which I even had to start
giving myself a limit of how many photos of doors I was allowed to take). Around 7:20pm or so there is
a big boom (like a cannon). For the taxi drivers that might be out, the first thing they do is whip out a
cigarette. It's clear that it's not the food thing that is a problem for them to stick to during the day; it's
the smoking thing. At 8:00pm people once again emerge and streets are again alive. Now it's mostly
men who have come out – smoking their sheesha and cigarettes, drinking tea and playing card games.
As for the women, it's far less conservative out here. I never saw a full burka. Never. This is much to do
with the president banning such things years ago. Props to Tunisia for some women's rights. This was
definitely in contrast to Morocco where the full burka consisted at almost every turn.
And then there's the food. Ohhhh… Tunisian food! Why don't we ever see this at home? Every meal has
been beyond satisfying. The nicer restaurants even give some pre-meal nibbles to break the Ramadan
fast (dates, bread, dipping sauces, etc.). My love has been salade mechouia. And then there are the
sweets which are a bit intimidating to look at. But I learned not to be apprehensive as they turned out
to be delicious. And who knew tea with pine nuts could be so tasty? (And Parms – to clear something
up… Remember that NY street food we ate at 3am that you called 'Tunisian food'? I saw nothing of the
sort out here! Haha.).
Was it ever a bit of a challenge for me out here? At times, yes. Much of this was due to my non-
proficiency in the French language. The other part was having no cafes during the day just to pass time
in while I was in the south.
Being an American is rather a rare thing out here. Not one vendor ever guessed 'American' when they
would rattle off places they would try to guess where I was from. Russia and Poland? Yes. America. No.
And when I did talk to some people and they found out where I was from, they would let out a sigh.
Ahhh , America. That is my dream. That's at least what a couple guys said. And sadly, they know it's
just a dream. One told me he knows he will only be able to see it from his television. And what am I to
say? I pretty much know it is true, too. Once again, I just felt fortunate to be able to see so much of the
world while others don't have the opportunity. I know not all Tunisians feel this way about
America…but the ones I spoke to did. And not one person ever muttered the word 'Bush'…another
I really didn't meet any other travelers out here…probably the first place I have ever experienced this.
Well, I did meet one. A Brit named Gordon. He befriended me on my first day. We walked around the
ruins of Carthage and it was clear that Gordon was a talker. By the end of the hour or so, I think he had
spewed out about 2,500 stories relating to past travels, all whilst never asking me anything or letting
me get a word in. And what in the world would be the odds that this man would be not only staying at
my hotel…but staying in the room next-door to mine!? So he asked if I wanted to grab dinner. I was
polite and said 'okay'. Dinner continued the same way. Stories all about Gordon. Boring stories. I was
actually checked-out and not listening any more (once he started talking about finding out he had a
bowel problem while I was eating, I was able to get a few words out "Umm… not while I'm eating,
okay?"). Then when I expressed wanting fruit for dessert, he told me 'that eating fruit at night was
asking for the 'express train' to hit'. Um… shut up, Gordon! I came to learn that no company is far
better than bad company…
Okay. So one of the things I was atoning for was thinking badly of others. Well, I guess I am already
compiling things to atone for when Yom Kippur rolls around next year...