Wednesday, January 19, 2005

driving note

Just meant as an addendum to what Tiara wrote.

The driving here is nuts. Seriously crazy. I have yet to see a
vehicle that doesn't have a scratch, and those without serious body
damage are in the minority.

Tiara's director described it something like driving in Italy but with
the difference that there the drivers were good doing stupid things,
and that here they're terrible doing stupid things. Like passing on
the outside to turn left in front of a moving car (two wheels up on a
sidewalk to be able to get on the outside...) or pulling a u-turn on a
highway (no speed limits worth anything, of course - so fast traffic)
from one shoulder to the other while the traffic rages. And only
wimps use signals. Meanwhile pedestrians, donkeys, cyclists,
cart-pullers and motorbikes just sort of weave in and out wherever
they like. Traffic lights almost mean something (most cars abide by
them), horns are to let other people know that lights have changed,
that they should be faster, that a car is coming (so pedestrians aught
to get out of the way), that you are merging in front of them... etc.
So are high-beam flashes. One-way streets are suggestions, as are any
traffic-flow controlling attempts, like police with whistles in the


Winter Weather

It is raining today, not the subtle showers that I remember from a Vancouver winter, but the thunderous pounding of torrents falling on the old tiles and stones of the city. Loren, asleep in the chair next to me, and I are at ENDA headquarters this morning. It seems the office is always a flurry of activity and strands of arabic float from room to room as people pass documents and search for information. The morning we took a tour of the building, it is an enormous three story house, outfitted for work with computers, workstations, meeting rooms and document records. The rooms are open spaces and usually hold five or more people and their equipment and records. We have met all the staff, though I'm afraid, until I've had a look at how they spell their names, I won't be able to remember most of them. Strange how names don't stick when they are in a foriegn language.

Our life seems as transitory as ever, as we move from one location to another. We looked at an apartment yesterday that is owned by the Co-Director's Mother. It has two rooms, a salon, a balcony, the smallest bathroom I have ever seen and an adjoining miniscule kitchen. We are satisfied with it and will take it, though we cannot move in for at least a week. There is currently no stove, fridge, furniture, or other appliances. Also, the previous residents appropriated every fixture that could be unbolted, unscrewed or otherwise removed. This includes all the lightbulbs and light fixtures, closet knobs, sink plugs, light switches and even the door's deadbolt. I can't imagine what they might need them for, but was told that it's a very common practice, particularly if the residents have children.

Loren and I will be headed to Hammamet this weekend as our hosts (Wifak and her husband have offered to lodge us until our appartment is ready) will be traveling to their family's home south of Tunis. Apparently there is much to see there, and it is more tourist oriented so many of the city's amenities will still be open. Tunis shuts down completely over the Aïd holiday. Mr. Cracknell has found us an excellent deal on a room there at a well respected and fairly large hotel, so we shall enjoy our time there as a vacation, and try to forget for a while that we have to adapt. It will feel good, I think to see an Arab city without the pressure of needing to understand how it operates. If we do not have internet access there you may not hear from us until Monday, but then we will have much more to share. Hopefully we can keep you updated even from there.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

an odd sort of trip in an odd sort of a place...

Well there folks, seems we made it out here in the african yonder...

And what a bizarre trip it's been too! Through London as Tiara has
begun to chat about - where we had a fantastic time there with our
resident tour guide and super friend Jodie - looking beautiful way out
there through the smog and what light was admitted into the narrow
street-ways. We caught a plane from there out to Tunis and the
craziness that seems to be rife in this country began.

I wasn't particularly surprised to find the military at the airport
with cigarettes held loosly in hand not quite concealing their
handguns. I was a little more surprised to find the women at the
bathrooms who wanted money for the priveledge of using the stalls -
clean though I'll admit they were -. And at the same time, one of the
strangest and most exhasting things about the place was the whole
conversing in french thing. That and hearing the inaccessible arabic
swirl around - an inpenetrable haze of words that I can't wait to
learn to clarity. I'll go on more about this later...

Tunis! It's a big city. A sprawling city of concrete steel and
masonry that extends in all directions, I am still at the delight
stage. I delight in its stench - something like stale fish and the
sea - I delight in the weird network of streets and avenues that weave
their way about like the web of an industrious spider tripped out on
some powerful chemical soup - I delight in the open air markets and
cacophony that is everywhere around. It is a strange and enticing
world that we have taken up residence in.

Anyhow, that's about it for now. More to follow - I still need to
make those critical "I'm alive" phonecalls to the family...

Drivers and Sheep

Well we're here and so far we have survived. Strangely enough, I always imagined that the world outside of canada would be far more different than it is. Tunis is not so unlike the places I have been before. Driving though parts of the city remind me of Edmonton, north of the river, only with a few very notable differences such as the language, architecture, colour of skin and density of population.

Perhaps the hardest thing to get used to is the drivers. I'm not sure if I am more nervous in the car or on the street. The drivers do not follow lanes, do not indicate, use the horn more than the brake and are not afraid to ride the curb in order to sneak past the person in front of them. The pedestrians also ignore crosswalks, lights and signage. The plan on both parts seems to be move slowly and don't change directions rapidly and no one will colide with you. You really have to pay attention. All the same most every car has a dint somewhere.

Thursday and Friday are holidays in Tunisia, it is the day of the gift of Abraham. Apparently, though it's all second hand information, when Abraham dreamed that he slit the throat of his son, he awoke and prepared to do it in life, as dreams were believed to be an invocation of reality and had to be followed. So faithfull a man was he, that God spared him his son and required only that he sacrifice a sheep instead. So on this holiday every tunisian family acquires a sheep. I mean every family. There are sheep everywhere on leashes, in the back of pickup trucks, in the markets, tied outside family fences. I've never seen so many in a city. Families may buy their sheep weeks in advance and they keep them healthy and happy until the holiday. Children play with them and they are generally considered pets. But on the holy day all that changes. The men of the house take the animal into the street or the yard and using a knife from the kitchen, they slit the animal's throat and bleed it to death as an offering. Then the meat is cut up and cooked for dinner. Apparently partially as a result of this practice my employer rarely eats meat. In Tunis the butcher is the butcher, not just the vendor of meat. You want chicken? Point at one and they'll kill it and pluck it for you. It's a brutal reminder that meat is the body of an animal. And it begs the question how much do I care for meat if an animal has to die by my gesture for me to get it. I might just stick to fish which is dead by the time it hits the market.

I'm sure it's only the beginning of the surprises, and I'll try to keep you up to date as I hit them. Missing everybody!

Sunday, January 16, 2005

In Londontown

Third day in Londontown and not a bit of fog yet. What a marvelous world of history, diversity, artistry and smog. I am constantly amazed by the multitude of people and the diversity of humanity in this town. I have heard people accented with the languages of places from every corner of the world in this place, English accents are almost hard to come by. And I find that already my neck is kinked with a particular bend from straining my eyes upward toward the details in the architecture that loom over me. Every narrow street is like a chasm and every wall is distinct. I am almost disappointed to find that Londoners forget to look, to marvel at the wonder of generation stacked upon generation and the sum of that history written in the walls. All the same I can appreciate the confusion it creates as well. There is an odd discord that is created by the luxury and intensity of so many richly designed structures in such close proximity. Perhaps Londoners block it out or gloss over it for their sanity.

We toured the town and saw the sights from the second story of an open air double decker. A whirlwind tour if ever there was one. It was a beautiful, unashamedly touristic event and gave us a feel for the rich history of the area. Who could have imagined so many years of history, so many generations of mankind concentrated and etched in one place? Very revealing.

We would dearly love to do it all, tour St. Pauls, visit the Dungeons of London, spelunk in the British Museum and so much more. It would take years to begin to uncover this great city, more years than I think I have available for it. I begin to wonder what I will find in Tunis and Carthage where the history goes back still further. I suppose we'll find out soon.