Wednesday, June 01, 2011

how are you?

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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Back into the swing of things


Don't know if that post is ever going to make it to see the light of day...

do know that we're starting a newer longer-term blog that's not quite so specific.

What can I say? I guess we got used to chatting with the world on a more regular basis. That, and we'd kind of like to keep in touch.

you can find our new blog here: Continuity

Hope to start hearing from you soon!

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Back in Canada...

But thinking about Tunisia.

Actually, there's one memory in particular to catch my eye on. A while before we left Tunisia I sent in a little tag to the effect that I had been to a cobbler to have shoes cobbled. Then the thread went dead. I’m picking it up.

The shop was just off a lesser used road heading out of the Medina in downtown Tunis. Through an archway that would have at one time lead into a villa’s central courtyard but that instead lead to a gritty narrow alleyway, a sharp right-hand turn and up a long set of brick and slightly tiled (fully tiled in their day) stairs and into a high second-floor alcove-cum-hallway. At the top, a pile of discarded leather with the odd broken shoelace sat outside of a rough paint-flaking door. A knock and it opened.

I handed him my shoes - the soles were separating from the uppers. He looked at them. He looked at me. “Why don’t you just get another pair?”

“I like these ones.” He looked at me like I was nuts. Then he looked back at the shoes and kind of shrugged.

The room was full of odd memorabilia. There was leather littering the floor with the exception of a well-worn path from the entrance through to his workstation. There sat a pile of Nike knock-offs and a pile of leather that was prepped to turn into the knock-offs, all in front of a massive and ancient sewing machine. On the wall were photos, of kids, of his father, of the former president (conspicuously absent was any reference to the current president). There were also American-bashing cartoons, Chinese New Years balloons, Tunisian touristy scenes and magazine cut-outs of Italian or Lebanese models. Hanging above it all, reams of shoe-laces, multiple bobbins of different colours of thread, and leather-working tools sagged from perches all over the place.

Then, the scruffiest-looking chicken that I have ever seen peeked out at me from behind some internal doorway. The head was followed by a leg stretched straight out. The body followed. It kind of clucked then cocked its head.

I looked up at the cobbler. He was engrossed in his work. He had grabbed nails and glue and was doing something with them and with my shoes. I looked back at the chicken.

I was in the second floor of an older building - in the cobbler’s place of business - downtown. And there was a chicken. Its feathers were a mess, it was scrawny, and seemed blissfully unaware of anything.

Bang! One nail in. It startled the chicken. The chicken was now looking at the cobbler. Suspiciously. Bang! Bang! Bang!

He handed me back the shoes for two dinars. "Done." "Thanks."

And now I'm back in Canada...

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Cold Keyboards

This one's going to be short.

Because I'm in the internet cafe (Publinet) and there's no heat and it's officially winter here and the door's wide open.

It's not really that cold. But, there's the no heat thing. In Canada, you don't see anyone sitting out on the patio with their laptop. That's 'cause it's cold out there. They stay in where it's warm.

Though it's not 'that' cold here, it's still cold - you know, late fall temperatures. And that's late fall in and out of doors. Which is to say it's plenty cold where I'm trying to type.

With a repressed shiver, I'll send along a little chat about my shoemaker experience when I have a little more time to type. On a warm keyboard. For now, I'm just going to sign off.

Told you it was going to be short.

Friday, November 18, 2005

The Black Hole that is Tunisia

I can't help feeling, particularly these days, that we have only
barely begun to understand the nature of the violations of individual
rights in our host country. With just a few weeks before our
departure home, we have started to open our ears more to the problems,
though by necessity we keep our mouths resolutely shut. This is not
our home so we cannot speak to the problems we see without politely
but firmly being asked to go, but ask me about it when I get home...

In the mean time, do check out the news. Tunisia is in the middle of
a major scandal around freedom of speech, Internet censoring, and
human rights. It is playing host to the World Summit on Information
Systems which is all about sharing technology and freedom of access to
information. It is a paradox that this summit is being held here and
it's putting in evidence the nature of rulership and it's grip on the
people of the nation.

I can't access the pages myself, but friends outside of Tunisia tell
me there is an article on Human Rights Watch on the Summit and Tunisia
that you might find interesting. Also, Amnesty International has
produced a country report on Tunisia that will be full of interesting

Please keep in mind, when reading these, that we are really not in any
danger here. If there's one thing that Tunisia does very well under
this leader it's to take very good care of its visitors. The police
may be a menace to the Tunisians who are brave enough to go against
the grain, but they ensure that their guests neither see nor hear much
about it.

And furthermore, I promise not to get involved. So you can feel safe
about that.

But do ask me about it over the holidays. There's so much we have to
be thankful for. So much we don't even realize.

Love you all!

Monday, November 14, 2005

Recipe for Lablabi

Here is a recipe for Lablabi that I found online at the Congo Cookbook
of African recipies. ( Go ahead and try
it if you like. Ours had hard-boiled eggs in it too, which I highly
recomend. I'd suggest if you want to party that you prepare this in a
crock pot and keep it warm before you go out ;) Just don't throw the
bread in until you're almost ready to eat it.

Lablabi (Tunisian Chickpea Soup)

Chick peas, day-old bread, lemon juice, and olive oil (and harissa,
Tunisia's famous hot sauce) are the basic ingredients needed to make
Lablabi—a soup in Tunisia.

What you need

* two cups dry chick peas (about a pound)
* four to six cloves of garlic, minced
* one tablespoon harissa sauce (from can or jar)
* one tablespoon cumin
* salt, to taste
* juice of one lemon
* six tablespoons olive oil
* a few slices of day-old bread, preferably day-old french bread,
broken into small pieces

What you do

* Wash chick peas and soak them overnight.

* If desired, rinse chick peas. In a large soup pot, cover chick
peas with water, bring to a boil, and cook until tender (ten to twenty
minutes). — Or start with two pounds of canned chick peas, drained and
rinsed, and heated in four cups of water.

* Add garlic, harissa sauce, ground cumin, and salt. Simmer for ten minutes.

* Immediately before serving: add lemon juice, olive oil, and
bread crumbs. Serve hot.

Some cooks add a pinch of bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) to the
water in which the chickpeas soak.

A more traditional method is to start with whole cumin and grind it
immediately before preparing the soup.

The soup can also be served by placing portions of bread crumbs in
each soup bowl, ladling the soup over the bread, and pouring equal
portions of lemon juice and olive oil over the soup. Serve with
additional harissa on the side.

A richer lablabi soup can be made by frying the garlic, some chopped
red onion, a chopped carrot, and some chopped celery in olive oil, and
adding this to the cooked chick peas. Additionally, the chick peas can
be cooked in chicken broth or chicken stock.

Lablabi soup goes well with hard-boiled egg or pan-fried fish.


Dancing the Night Away

Even though Loren and I love to go dancing, we rarely do. I think the
major blocker is that we both tend to fall asleep at around 11:30, and
that's usually when things are just getting started. In Tunisia, it's
been even more difficult since most of the clubs are way out on the
North side and there is not public transportation that will get us
there easily. In fact there's no public transportation to some of
these areas at all, except for taxis. And while a six or seven dollar
cab ride there might not seem like much, the cost doubles for the ride
home at the wee hours of the morning. Add cover charges and a couple
of drinks and you're looking at a 50 dollar night (which is about 10%
of my monthly salary!).

About two weeks ago, Anise, the owner of the small pirate video store
asked us if we'd been to any of the clubs in town. We'd talked about
some of the DJs that we like, and what kind of music we listen to
before, so he knew we were into club culture, at least some. Hearing
that we had very limited experience dancing in Tunisia, he offered to
take us out with some of his friends. About a week later, I gave him
a call and said we were in. He made some calls and put together a
night out with his friends for Saturday.

The party started at five past midnight, after he closed the store,
changed into black slacks and slicked his hair. He and his friend
Karim picked us up and drove us out toward la Goulette to a small club
called Le Jasmin. It was a very small club, probably the smallest
I've ever been in. Imagine a club with Che Guevara faces stenciled on
the walls, a central counter running almost the length of a room three
times the size of a large living room, a built in bench running the
length of all the walls, some cubes for tables and chairs, and a small
bar counter at either end of the room. That was our club. Oh, yes,
and there was a tree growing up through the building, and through the
roof. We took particular notice of that, as we happened to be
standing under it when it started raining outside and we got
thoroughly wet.

Can you believe that in that small space they managed to pack hundreds
of people? At the beginning of the night (after midnight) I leaned
over to comment to Loren that in Canada this would never pass, for
fire-hazard reasons. Apparently in Tunisia that doesn't apply. There
was a live DJ spinning tunes of all types together. Arabic, retro,
techno, euro pop and hard house, all mixed to a seamless electronic
drum-beat. There were so many people it was dancing room only. There
was nowhere to sit down, and almost no way to move through the crowd.
The last time I've felt so packed in was at the Edmonton Rave
featuring Charlie Mayhem and DJ Irene.

Anise and Karim's friends joined us over the course of the evening.
The total group consisted of four men, and four girls. We danced in
our little space for four hours! And the club was a hoot! Very
different from dancing back home. For one, all the girls know how to
move, and I mean really move, with swinging hips and shoulders, and
undulating bellies. And for another, all the boys dance too, and
dance together, for in Arabic culture there is much more interaction
and contact between people of the same sex, but much less between
people of the opposite sex. I should mention also that this
particular club (and maybe all of them?) had a healthy percentage of
gays and lesbians, though Loren and I are convinced that many of our
friends weren't aware (which may have been for the better).

I would like to mention too, that the forward nature of Tunisian men
applies to night-clubs as well as to the street. They're better
dressed, but otherwise not so different. Our entourage of four men,
Loren included, spent the entire night keeping the boys off us girls
(who were a pretty bunch, if I do say so myself). The men are forward
to the point of actually following us right out of the club at leaving
time. I got into a car with Loren, Anise and Karim, but the three
other girls climbed into a car with only one guy from our party. They
were followed by a car of four boys who had been trying hard to pick
us up at the club. At one round-about the boys got out, presumably to
get phone numbers, and we stopped our car behind them where Anise and
Karim got out too. Loren jumped out (with some difficulty, for the
child proof doors) to even up the numbers (four for four). About five
police officers materialized out of nowhere, as they are wont to do
here in Tunisia, and the boys all shook hands, and thumped each other
on the backs before calmly disbursing. The poor pursuers departed
without a single number.

At around 5 AM we retired to a the house of a friend. There some
drank water (to rehydrate and sober up), some smoked shisha pipes with
sweet apple tobacco, some kept drinking, and we all chatted with each
other. At 5:40 the mosque sounded and all we laughed as those smoking
and drinking held off for the duration of the two minute call to
prayer ("le moindre des choses!"). Two, kept right on smoking, and we
were advised that they were allowed because they weren't Muslim. In
fact the group was very diverse. We had to Canadians, one Lebanese,
one French/Egyptian, and a bunch of Tunisians. And among them we had
one Christian, one Buddhist, one Atheist, one Tunisian Jew, and
several Muslims. Quite a crowd.

By 6:20 everyone was ready to go, and we were loaded into the car of
yet another friend who took us to the city's best Lablabi shop, which
was nothing more than a canteen in the side of a wall. Lablabi is a
salty soup made of boiled chick-peas, harissa (hot paste), day old
bread and egg. It's heavy, spicy, salty and loaded. It comes in a
big home-made pottery bowl and looks brown, lumpy, and sort of gluey
and glutinous (from the soggy bread) like stringy cheese. We were
served this in the car, and it turned out to be the perfect solution
for day-after-party syndrome. Though it tasted pretty good, Loren
could hardly stomach it. I told him better not to look at it.

Then we were taken home, where we crashed in bed at about 7 AM. We
only managed to sleep until 11 before a call woke us. Still not
recovered, we were brought very much awake and decided to get up

It was a wonderful party, and we really went all out. Did I mention
that we paid for absolutely nothing? Not cover, not transportation,
not one drink (and we got several more than we wanted), not lablabi
for breakfast. We were considered guests, and treated with Arabic
hospitality. They must have spent about 80 Dinars on us, but wouldn't
hear of letting us pay. Nothing expected from us, but to have a good
time. And that's exactly what we did!