Friday, February 25, 2005

Into the breach

Well, I suppose it had to happen eventually. I had the rather absurd realization, about a week after Tiara went through it, that we are well and truly here. I'm not really sure if that's a positive thing, but it's a thing, and it's sure... I'm into that whole mixed feelings faze of culture shock, I suppose - and best to get it over - not that I really have a choice. Mixed emotions, mixed up writing...

Suck it up and keep on going, eh? gah.

Anyhow, on the good news front, our house is starting to become our house - which is a good thing. We are heading out to get a bunch of furniture custom made for us on the cheap tomorrow (cheap is a nice thing about Tunisian stuff). And my art is going well! Although it did kind of stall today. Blast the fickle art demons...

I think I should stop for now, and I'll blog a little happier note tomorrow - filled with awe and beautiful stuff.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Like It, Hate It

Today makes five and a half weeks in Tunisia. I'm starting to wonder at what point I should consider myself settled. Our house is still incomplete and we haven't got a bank account here or our residence permits. We're not registered with the local Social Security and Loren's contracts are still not signed. A feeling of impermanence hangs over the whole motion and mechanic of our existence here. And yet... Now we can get anywere in a cab without much difficulty, we know how to shop in the markets and what's a fair price. We can understand enough arabic to know what the general topic was (mostly by association and gestures, mind) and the little appartment in Nasr 1 is the only place we think of as home.

But still, there's this war of like it, hate it. These opposing sensations flick through my mind like buildings outside the taxi window in the moring. How long am I supposed to be here before I don't think of it in likes and dislikes? Does that ever happen? Will I ever really get to a point where it's all just "the way things are"?

There's enough stress from cultural surprises, structural differences and local managerial practices here for me to question if I shouldn't just have stayed in Edmonton and kept my mouth shut. On the other hand, stressful as it is, I work in microfinance in a developing nation and that kind of experience goes a long way. On the difficult days I only am able to think of lasting a year. On the good days, time doesn't matter. I wonder for any of you who have lived abroad if you felt the same things as I am now. Is all this introspection and waffling a result of some deeply imprinted human behavioural characteristic? That, at least, would be good to know.

And today?

Today is a medium day, as I wrestle with a cold and an intimidating project at work (newly responsible for drafting the organization's strategic plan for 2005, imagine!). I wish for slightly warmer weather and happy co-directors, whose moods forever mirror each other because they are married. At lunch today, after his first lesson of the day, Loren will read to me from The Time Traveler's Wife in the courtyard. That's often the very best part of the day.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

New Appreciation

I would love to think it's not an immigration sickness thing. I can't really say for sure. Whatever the problem is, it's sitting in my digestive tract somewhere, mucking things up when I eat. That's the bad news. The good news is that having to stick to simple foods isn't really so bad. For the past few days I've been living mostly off of fresh oranges and plain yogurt. You wouldn't believe how tasty that is. When things are going really well, I indulge in some bran bread (salt-free) and yesterday I found a packet of Knorr chicken and rice soup. It's not like home, but it's close.

I would love to say that the food has made it all worth it, but it's actually the food that makes me fell hard-done by. Today I had to pass up a meal made by Habiba, ENDA's housekeeper/cook, that almost made me cry. It was fresh, spiced chicken and olive soup with a platter of sliced, fresh vegetables for salad. She even had left-overs.


But the up side is that I will have found a whole new appreciation for tunisian cuisine, and cuisine in general, after this required hiatus from real food. And having survived thus far on oranges, I would like to make a note of something that all canadians should probably hear. In general I wasn't fond of oranges, the kind you buy in the store or in Japanese mountain-decorated boxes. Real oranges grow on trees!

Monday, February 21, 2005

Gourmandise and Felicitations

Happy February 21 everybody!

Do you know why it's a special day? It's my birthday. I think this is the first birthday that I've had that was so far away from my people (all of you). Even when I moved to Edmonton for University, I had made a bunch of friends by February. Tonight Loren has a class at AMIDEast and he won't be home until 21:30 and we usually fall into be exhausted before 22:00 so we won't have much time to do any celebrating. All the same, I didn't want to not celebrate, so I decided I had to take matters into my own hands.

Yesterday, after coaching our friend Slim in preparation for his International Business English Placement Exam, he offered to drive us home. [Just a side note here: Slim would love to work in Canada, he's an professional auditor who specializes in the Sarbanes-Oxley legislation applications to multinationals (something like that); so if you know of someone who's looking for an auditor with that background, let me know!] I asked him to take us to a place that does cake so I could share some goodies with the Head Office Staff. He took me to this neat little place called Gourmandise and I realized, to my horror, that I couldn't afford to buy a cake that would be enough for everybody. Very expensive. I settled instead for little mini-cakes, like cookies but softer, and got about sixty for less than twenty Dinars.

Today I called a meeting for everyone and we had mini-cakes, coffee and tea. Everybody offered happy birthday "felicitation!" and ate with me in the sunshine in the back courtyard. We even took a group picture.

As for gifties I was given a neat little collar and earring set by the enda staff (on the co-director's initiative, I suspect) and Loren has promised to buy me a beautiful silver bracelet that we saw in the Medina. We were going to buy it on Saturday, but I have been feeling a bit under the weather and couldn't muster the courage to spend an hour facing the merchants and the narrow dark streets. Maybe we'll go on Tuesday, after our Arab lesson.

Missing you all! Please get yourself a small something (candy, ring, shirt, meal, anything) and wish me a happy birthday. I like to know people are celebrating with me even if I can't see them.

P.S. A big thanks to Hailey and Mom who woke me up with morning good wishes on my little orange Nokia phone! Really nice you two! And if anyone has the impulse to call I'm in time zone +1 (9 hours later than BC time) and my phone number is: +216 21 613 799. The connection has a delay, so it's a bit odd, but it's fun anyway. :)


Welcome to another installment of our wacky Tunisian life. Sometimes wackier than your average Tunisian life. Such as this weekend when we met Harvey the Wonder Bug...

For those of you who missed Tiara's introduction to our delight(ish)fully quaint little bathroom replete with happy-faced shower curtain and tiered mini-tub, though how you could have missed that is beyond my tunis-centric vision, look for the post of 2/4/2005 titled "Bienvenue Chez Nous!" In any case, it had a visitation.

The visitor was about an inch and a half long, with as long antannae, a squat and thick body and a set of pincers out it's back end reminiscent of an earwig. But it wasn't an earwig. And it was hiding under Tiara's towel such then when she needed it after a calming bath, she became a little less calm and promptly called in the resident bug taker outer. But that taker outer was not prepared for the gravity-defying and slippery glass impervious antics of our new friend.

First attempt with a glass and slip of cardboard a la canadian spider resulted in the as of yet unnamed critter crawling up the inside of the glass, down the outside of the glass, onto the door and under the support for the towel rack. Hmm. Tiara sweetly informed me that bugs don't do that... Next, after some jostling of the towel rack to try and dislodge the creature I again knocked it into the glass, and once again it proved impervious to my furious shaking of the glass and before I could blink or get the cardboard in place was crawling round the outside and in the direction of my furiously cup-twisting digits. It then jumped into the sink, crawled up the porcelain with the greatest of ease and lightning speed and ducked into the overflow runoff hole.

I had a few choice words for it.

More than a few.

Then, we decided it needed a name, because we were certainly no match for its acrobatics, grippiness, or intelligence. Harvey winked out at us just a couple of time from his new abode, teasing us with those twitching antannae and disappearing.

We haven't seen Harvey since.

All of which shouldn't give you the impression that Tunisia is crawling with bugs, because that is exactly the third that we've seen in the month since we arrived, only the second indoors and the first in our abode. But you know, for a couple of canuks used to the tiny northern critters...

Ein, at least we ain't got blackflies!