Monday, October 31, 2005

Tunisia

For the first time in my life I am in Africa, in a Moslem country, in an Arab country and in a non Democratic country. However, I am visiting my brother in law who has rented a huge house in a very beautiful and very rich suburb of Tunis called Sidi Bou said which, by day, is full of tourists.

In fact the strange thing is how similar to Italy everything is. Arriving in the airport (which looked like all airports) I expected to see people from the Magreb with more rights than Europeans. Indeed in Passport control, there was a, that is one (1) desk reserved for citizens of UMA (Union of Magrebian Africa ?). However, it was closed and citizens had to wait in line with us foreigners. The guy who checked our passports had lighter skin than Elisabetta (to whom I am married).

I noticed one or two women in the long (slow moving) lines with covered hair. This would be about par for the concourse in Rome Fiumicino Airport.

Outside it was dry with wide open flat spaces. At one point I thought (silently to myself) “look at that maniac walking around in a hospital gown”. The I realised he was wearing traiditional Tunisian clothes, while everyone else was wearing pants (mostly blue jeans).

Riding to Sidi Bou said from the airport, I noticed a woman driving a taxi. Now I know that Tunisia is very modern for a Moslem Arab country but I was surprised. Compared to Italy the roads were huge (4 lanes each way) the cars were few and people drove very slowly.

Sidi Bou said has a local ordinance which requires all houses to be painted white and blue. This is one thing that made the similarity to Greek touristy towns more disorienting than striking. Also, sad to say, most people on the beautiful street were tourists. Touristy it may be, but Sidi Bou Said is one of the most beautiful spots I have ever seen. Little winding streets between white walls often overgrown with bougainville and an amazing view of the amazing harbor of Tunis, Tunis and Carthage (which has definitely recovered from the Scipios).

I drank tea in a cafe. Here there were western type tables outside. Inside there were fairly high terraces were one reclined to nibble and drink off of trays. There was perfect 100 % segregation. All of the Tunisians sat on chairs at tables and all of the tourists reclined on the terraces. One odd thing is that the place was all one big room with no back area hidden from customers. Thus I saw a waiter smoking for the first time. Also when accidentally I paid actually more than the waiters opening bargaining offer, I couldn’t help but notice all of the waiters laughing and pointing at me (actually Elisabetta pointed it out to me).

After sunset the street was full of Tunisian twenty somethings 90 % of whom wore jeans. They were walking on the street not in a mall so this was clearly not the USA but it could have been the north coast of the mediterenian as easily as the South. I recognised that global capitalism had definitively engulfed Sidi Bou Said when I saw the one certain sign – a Che Guevara T-shirt.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Rob,

Nice description on Tunisia.

Just wanted to know.. if one can get along with just english ? Is language not a big problem ?

Robert said...

I think that one can get along with just English. I also speak Italian which helped, since Tunisians speak French well and Italian some (for Italian tourists). My sense is that language is not much of a problem.

Robert said...

I think that one can get along with just English. I also speak Italian which helped, since Tunisians speak French well and Italian some (for Italian tourists). My sense is that language is not much of a problem.