Friday, February 18, 2005

Three Little Thoughts

1 - the alarm clock is still going strong! I got in today and it played the minuet half-way through in reverse. Actually kind of creeped me out. I know that I have to either chuck it out our 3rd story window or open it up and try to fix it (because I like tinkering). I think the former option is winning me over. The prospect of another night of funky alarm clock dreams...

2 - I haven't yet tried red tea. I'll let you know what I think of it when I do. It actually sounds pretty cool.

3 - have you ever seen an evershifting mass of thousands of birds? I did. I sat and watched it for almost an hour on avenue Bourguiba today. Incredible. It has to be seen to be believed. I'll try to get some photos that do it justice. And the noise! It almost drowned out the traffic sounds (horns and police whistles) which is incredible considering it was rush hour.

Importing Failures

This entry is to tell you all about the two things that I experienced recently that can only be described as importing failures. The first comprises the sticky, red-brown substance floating in the gold-coloured-rimmed glass in front of me on my desk. They call it tea. Red Tea. It is, in fact made from a substance that once was a black tea leaf but they call it red after it has been prepared. And oh, has it ever been prepared.

Have you ever let your tea steep for too long in your cup or in the pot? It goes really bitter, right? That's because if you over steep your tea the tanic acids (like in red wine) get released into the water and make it bitter. Usually this happens after about 6 minutes with a black tea and after three minutes with a green. (Another tip for green tea drinkers is don't use boiling water, that brings out the acid too.) Here the tea has been boiled for a very long time, over the stove with the leaves stuck to the bottom of an old tin tea kettle. Just before consumption they add an obscene amount of sugar, stir and then pour. It is sticky sweet, thick, red and has a bitter after-taste that will shrivel your tongue. I highly recommend it as an authentic Tunisian experience, but just once.

The second import gone wrong is actually from Canada. They have imported Celine Dion. She plays on all the radio stations and coffee shops. I have listened to here here at my work place and this morning Loren and I got to workout to her live collection. By the end of the hour Loren was on the verge of lunacy. It seems like everybody has her collected works, in English only, mind. And did I mention that they only seem to import her slow and sappy stuff? Nothing peppy just sad or moving. Worse, everybody seems to want us to be pleased that we're Canadian too and can't figure out why we're not singing along. Can you imagine Loren singing along? Hee, hee. I'd love to see that.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

possessed alarm clock

A bit of levity after Tiara's rant

Last night we discovered that something was amiss in our appartment. Generally, after shutting off the lights and cursing and turning them back on again to set the nightly alarm, we quickly shut them off again. Generally, the alarm clock is in the same place on a plastic lawn chair stationned next to Tiara's side of the bed. Generally, it only works in 12 hour time with an AM/PM indicator.

Last night it said it was 18:88 in the year 2888 in the month 18 and day 88... That seemed wrong to us.

Thing is, it refused to be persuaded of the rightness of our opinion and patiently ignored our attempts to change it. We tried hitting reset. We tried bashing it a little. We tried hitting the pretty little buttons that had hitherto meant something. nothing.

We set it down, sighed, and the bloody thing went off. Tiara and I looked at each other. We looked at the clock. It read 12:00 AM and 14 seconds - 15 seconds - 16 seconds and so on in neat little second-long intervals. I reached out and gingerly took the alarm clock back in hand. I set the time effortlessly. I looked at Tiara - and she at me - with a somewhat stunned expression, and set the alarm for the following morning. Then I set the alarm down and we turned off the lights.

We lay there for somewhere around 8 minutes barely breathing, getting our hearts back under control (the alarm is more than a little jarring), and getting settled for sleep.

It went off. Loud and in a different pattern... A little chunk of the not-so-catchy electronic minuet - some choking sounds, electronic fuzz, a little more of the tune... We turned the light on again. Apparently we were back in 2888.

I picked up the machine and slid it into its casing and chucked it into the hall. "I have a watch with an alarm in it," I told Tiara. She smiled an 'isn't that nice' kind of a smile and stared off in the direction of the bleeps and chocked off sounds of the alarm clock. All of a sudden it was quiet.

Tiara looked at me, got up out of bed, bent over, picked up the clock and I heard her set it down in the living room. She came back into the room smiled at me and turned off the lights. At which point the alarm went off again.

I heard the bed creak as she lay down in it, put a hand over my heart and intently let it go...

It woke us up at 4 am. That's a little early. Then it was quiet.

It went off in echo to my watch this morning. We tried to ignore it as we exited the appartment to the gym...

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Rant for Canadians

This rant is not new, and a few of you have heard it before, but I am still so passionate about it that I'm going to make sure you all hear it one more time. It's a bit long, but it's worth reading and I will be very, very grateful to those who read and respond.

* * * * *

Imagine for a moment, if you will, that something in your nation is not right. You don't live in Canada or even in a democracy. It doesn't matter what it is, really, an injustice in the social system, a political wrong-doing, whatever. At some point you are so sick of it, and so angry that you are ready to do something. Imagine you hear about a rally that's going to take place, and though you're not much of an activist type, you decide you're going to participate. You put on your jeans and tee shirt, grab your partner or friend and set out for the rally, mad and excited to be doing something about it.

Imagine you get to the sqare a little early and there are only about twenty people, which can't be right because you know at least twenty people yourself who will be going. There are a couple of police officers there who tell you there's an important function happening and they would just like to check your identification.

They can't explain it, there's a problem with their computers, would you mind just comming with them to the station while they double check your record. They're so polite, and they are the police, you can't refuse. Apparently the twenty other people are coming too. You all leave with them, a little disappointed, and when you get to the station you wait for about 20 minutes while they check with their computers. Then you're free to go.

Imagine that every person who went to the rally was diffused this way. There is no rally.

Imagine you write a letter and make some noise, and then your mail is opened daily before it ever reaches your mailbox. A box full of opened letters from your family, creditors, employers, friends. Imagine you make enough noise that you get interviewed by an international news paper. Two days later you get beat up by a bunch of thugs. Not related, right?

Imagine you get mad enough to start shouting on a street corner and collecting a crowd, about how it's not just and a few days later you get picked up by some government officials and join the list of dissappeared persons. What can anybody do about it? Nothing.

Imagine you did all of this, and nothing, not one thing, changed.

* * * * *

I work in the poorest district in Tunis. As described to me by a resident, it is to Tunis as the Ghetto is to New York. I see poverty here and a deep distinction in class. Where here I see frustration and thinly controled anger against the way things are, in the wealthy district where I live I see cynicism and disgust. This democratic nation offers few opportunities for citizens to feel like their voices are heard. I don't know the country well enough, but I get the impression their voices would fall on benign but deaf ears.

I get angry, and here's the rant, when I see how seldom Canadians use their voice. In this world your opininon is more likely to bring you pain and conflict than polite responses and action. We have every opportunity and freedom to ask for change, to fight for what we believe in: justice, fairness, equality, compassion and beauty. Most people in the world do not have that right or that option. Should they fight for change they may throw themselves against the wall of "the way things are" for years with no acknowledgement. Or they might try once and be removed from the situation permanently.

What is it that really makes you mad? Really? For me it is structural limitations on people's potential. That's why I'm working in poverty alleviation in Tunisia. Know what else eats me? Lack of long-term planning by our Federal and Provincial Governments in a number of areas. That's why I joined Canada25.

What gets you? Is it small? Huge? There's something for everyone, not one person dosen't have a beef with the way things are.

Found it?

Now here's the thing. Do something. ANYTHING! Write a letter, make a phone call, donate, attend a public meeting, talk to your boss or the HR representative. Make some small difference. Exercise your right, your RIGHT, for just one hour this week and make the country, province, community that you live in or international environment a better place for you and your kids, your friends, for new immigrants, for everyone. It is a priviledge reserved for a very small proportion of the world's population. You lucky, lucky people have this thing by birthright or by acquisition. Please use it, on behalf of yourselves and those who don't have the option.

Just one small action today, this week. Write it down. Do it.

I promise you, you'll feel great about it when you do.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Canvas and Supplies!

Yay! I have canvas. I have supplies. I have wood. I have more supplies and better yet, I have a Tunisian friend who is helping me to get the stuff at a decent rate! mwahahahaha! I'm giddy with the possibilities as I must admit I was more than a little sad to see all that stuff packed away and left in Canada.

But now I'm set. I have three large-ish (about two by three foot) canvases that are on the go. I'm working primarily in acrylic on those bad boys, but I plan to be adding in some mixed media elements as they become necessary.

I have a gaggle of tinier canvases (ten by twenty centimeters) that I'm raring to get going on, and the house is awash in saws, staple gun, stray bits of paper (for papier mache), glue, sticks collected from outside... the list is pretty long. And while I'm working on art, I'm also working on improvements for the house - like a new coffee table for the living room (ours is a mat-black monstrosity) and side tables for the bedroom (we ain't got none) and covers for the lights (we have bare bulbs). It's a slow process, but the experience of working on craft in between art steps is a great one. It's always been a bit of a weakness for me, and I'm set on building it up.

Also, I got an English Teaching job at AMIDEast - an American NGO English School, and I'm starting to teach here at ENDA too. Looks like I'll be nearly doubling Tiara's salary come the end of the month :-) Yay!

And with that, adieu for now and I'll keep you updated with more developements as they come up!

Candy for Canadian Buddhists

Today I awoke with the same lame foot as I went to bed with last night. I'm not too surprised, I guess, ever since I pulled a tendon in the arch I've had to be careful with it and I've done more walking here than I ever did in Edmonton, even when I was walking to the Museum each day. It's a twenty minute walk up and down two steep hills to get to the gym in the morning, and while Loren and I both wanted to do a workout, it was obvious that I shouldn't be walking that distance today.

I was ready to give up, but very persistent Loren came up with another solution. The gym owner Mike (pronounced Mee-keh) attends the mosque every morning for prayers and had offered us a ride before. The mosque is only a few blocks from our house and I could easily walk there. We set out early to wait for Mike at the mosque.

When prayers were over, a few dozen men started filing out from many different entrances. We spotted Mike by his white fez, and he collected us with a smile and very little words. He also picked up another morning client at the corner and we all ended up at the gym.

It was good to get to the gym without the hard walk first, and we set to work at a leisurely pace because we had arrived so much earlier than usual. After a while Mike wandered in and checked to see if we needed a spot with any exercises. We didn't, but we started chatting between sets. He asked us if we minded the chanting on the overhead speakers. It is the Koran, several tracks of recitations that he plays every morning. We, in fact, enjoy working out to the sound of the foreign prayers. It is peaceful and imparts a certain focus to the hard work that techno and pop do not. He was glad for that, and started asking about our religion.

So far most people have assumed we must be catholic. There are really only two religions in Tunisia: Islam and Judaism. When we tell people that we are not catholic, nor even Christian, really, they are always surprised. It reminds me of Ian who told me they don't mind what religion you are providing you believe in God-Almighty, or as they say here the Good God. When he asked if we had no belief Loren tried to tell him about our affinity with Buddhism. At first he though we meant Hindu, and we all had a bit of a laugh as we set that straight. It was interesting to talk about the similarity between the two beliefs as we each saw them.

I get the impression that Islam is much like Buddhism in the search for self mastery, the respect of the body, and the valuation of all life. The messages, I'm sure, can be found in all religions, but somehow, where I felt they were buried beneath the fear of sin and guilt in the Christian doctrine, I feel they are closer to the surface in Islam. Mike was pleased to tell us that we were more like good Moslems than many Tunisians who owned the title by birthright, as we are helpful, compassionate, and good to our bodies the way many Moslems are not. We smiled and thought it kind but humorous that we should be taken for good Moslems.

Mike's belief is not complex, he told us. It is profound and deep with faith. He would like to share his passion, it comes across so clearly, but he doesn't think of himself as a master of the faith. He has asked if he may give us a copy of the Koran in English, so that we can read it and see if it inspires us. He looked like a child who asked if he could share his Halloween candy with someone who has never had sweets. We graciously accepted. It would be good to understand the foundations of the culture's sense of spirit, at the very least, and it's good to have someone to bounce questions off of. He was delighted.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Valentine Violation

So I am aware that when moving to a nation with a democratic front for a dictatorship that I should expect some alterations on what I previously considered my right to privacy. For example, phone calls will be monitored, email might be traced, and people might even keep an eye on your spending habbits via your bank card. I never imagined that there would be anything more than that. In fact, I assumed that most surveilance would be small things or unnoticeable. Apparently that's not entirely correct.

I just received a letter from my mother (thanks mom). It was sent by purolator with a whole bunch of goodies in it, letters from other family members, cards and sparkles as well as teaching certificates and other things we need. By the time it got to me, every envelope had been cut open. All of them. This was the kind of behaviour I expected from police monitoring crazy tunisian activists, people who really make noise agains the current administration. I was so steamed that I couldn't help mentioning it to a couple of canadians we met at a canadian embassy function in Gammarth. They shook their head sadly and told us it was common practice. Apparently I should expect everything to be opened for the next six month, and then if they decide I'm not a spy or informant, they may leave me alone. Apparently this goes for outgoing and incomming mail. So if you're sending me something, be sure you're okay with others reading it. If you want to send something make sure it's not too valuable. Also, some of my letters might not make it out. So if you're waiting on one... well, keep your fingers crossed.

Getting to Us

Hey there all, Tiara and I thought it would be a good idea to let you all know our address, now that we have it. Be sure, however, if you send anything to address it in all capital letters. Also be sure to omit valuables as the one item that we've received so far has been completely opened and rifled through. Apparently that will happen for at least the first few months.

So, our addy:

And our phone numbers:
Tiara - +216.21.613.799
Loren - +216.21.613.801

Hope to hear from you all soon! And as a teeny little addendum, if you post a message to this blog we will attempt to send you an email ASAP.