Friday, December 30, 2011

A Man's World

Ever since my arrival, I have been struck by how few women I see in public, especially in the center of town after working hours.  That's when the tea rooms, cafes and restaurants seem to attract a clientele consisting solely of men.  Last night I joined them.  

I got together with the guy I befriended in the pizza shop on my first day.  His name is Ahmed.  We met on the main boulevard downtown where he introduced me to his buddy Walid.  The three of us walked through the crowd to an outdoor cafe to join two female acquaintances.  The five of us passed some time over a cup of capucin, which is a local variation of cappuccino.  There was nothing noteworthy about our gathering except for the fact that it included two women.  But they left not long after the men arrived.  

We three guys then set out to find a place for a beer and some food.  Ahmed and Walid led me to a restaurant that they knew well.  When I walked in, there was not a woman in sight.  As I looked through the menu for something to eat, I asked my companions about a dish whose name I did not recognize.  I've since forgotten what it was called, but it consists of a bull's family jewels.  I took a pass.  There seemed to be enough testosterone in the room already.  

We spent 5 hours drinking, eating and talking.  During that time, two more men joined us:  Ahmed's brother Sami and Walid's co-worker Anouar.  It was often hard for me to keep up with the conversation because it was clear that they were speaking frarabic.  What’s more, the Tunisian version is replete with vulgarities.  I suppose that’s to be expected from a culture where the men appear to spend so much time bonding with each other.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Local Flavor

Yesterday two of my students treated me to lunch.  I asked if we could have a traditional Tunisian meal.  You know what they say about being careful what you ask for.

We drove to an overflowing eatery where nearly everyone was eating lablabi. That's what we all got too.  You start by going to a corner of the restaurant where you get some day old bread and tear it up into small pieces in a bowl.  Then you take your bowl to the cook.  He tops it with a broth of something, some kind of deep red sauce, a greenish brown sauce, a spoonful of salt, some chili powder, some shredded tuna and two raw eggs.  He gives it back to you with two spoons that you use to mix it up into something about as thick as soupy bread pudding.  But it tastes much different.  My students and everyone else were lapping it up as if it was their first meal in weeks.  I, on the other hand . . .  Let's just say that I can now cross this dish off my bucket list.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Adventure Begins

Well, I wanted an adventure, and that’s exactly what I got.

Tunis is a bustling city where people speak a strain of French I can hardly understand.  As it turns out, the natives seem to have a hard time understanding the textbook French that I speak. So I guess we’re even.

Luckily my three thesis advisees met me at the airport.  They made it easy for me to activate my cellphone and exchange my dollars for dinars.  I also befriended a local at a pizza shop near my hotel.  We traded numbers and he offered to help me find a place to live.  So we will likely stay in touch.  But I’m not sure I will pay another visit to the pizzeria.  (What possessed me to get Italian food in an Arab country anyway?)

My trip from the U.S. could have been better.  I had to change planes in Orlando to catch a flight to London.  But the ticket agent told me that the airline would not allow me to board my plane to Tunis because my 7-month stay in Tunisia was too long for them to fly me there without a visa. There was a good reason I didn’t have a visa. The guy at the U.S. Embassy in Tunis told me that I couldn’t get one until after I actually arrived! The ticket agent wasn’t moved.  I was able to resolve the matter only by purchasing a (fully refundable) ticket for a trip out of Tunis at the end of February.  That way I could pretend to be making a short trip that did not require a visa.  Guess what I’m doing later tonight.

The worst part of my adventure came compliments of U.S. Airways.  (Doesn’t it always?)  I flew them on the first leg of my trip from Philadelphia to Orlando.  They had over two hours to get my bags to British Airways in time for my flight out of Orlando to London.  That never happened.  So I’m here in Tunis with no clothes other than the ones on my back.  The lady at the customer service desk took about 30 minutes to process my lost baggage claim and told me that the next step was for me to wait for a call.  Classes start in a week.  Let’s hope I don’t have to wait any longer than that.