Friday, March 04, 2005

Pictures From Tunisia!

Hi folks!

So they're up now, our pictures. You've just got a sampling here. I'm still trying to figure out how to get them to post as a bunch. It could take some figuring out. For now, you've got some general shots and we'll be sure to put more up on Monday.

Remember to check out Loren's post too. Wouldn't want you to miss it for the images!

Love to everybody,


The staff at ENDA pose for a shot after my birthday celebration! Aren't we a lovely bunch? Posted by Hello

The view from our window! Posted by Hello

Where we buy our newspapers and our building in the background! Posted by Hello

The City Scape Posted by Hello

Streets of Tunisia! Posted by Hello

First Night in Tunisia at the Maison D'Oree Posted by Hello


Yesterday, as I was lugging fifty kilos of concrete from the quincaillerie (hardware store) the half-kilometre to our house, I had an interesting thought. At least, I thought it was interesting - and still d0 :-)

Tiara and I have been in Tunis now for around six weeks. That's not very long at all. And in that time, we have settled-ish into our respective employs, we have set up our extracurriculars (art, writing, weights, craft and violin), we have a house, we are making it *our* house, we are setting up a daily routine... Pretty quick for a country where we barely speak the less common language and for a culture into which we are almost but not quite getting comfortable.

And then there is the Arabic Learning that's going on. We can now veeerrrryyy sllloooowwwly sound out arabic words and not totally botch it. We have a sense for some of the more common words in the Tunisian dialect. Within a few months we'll be flying.

And then the fifty kilos of cement brought me back to the present. That's the smallest bag that they sell, apparently. Did I mention it was fifty kilos. That's really heavy. A lot heavier than fifty pounds. About 2.2 times heavier. so around 110 pounds. And no handles or wheels. (For Jodes - our bags were around 32 kilos...)

Anyhow, I dragged it, uphill and up three flights of stairs to my appartment. Gah.

My back is still a little wonky from it, but now I'm building the foundation for a table top which I'll be tyling this weekend :-) Tiara thinks I'm totally off my rocker...

More thoughts a little later - bye for now.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

A Tour of Solidarity Town

Finally, today, we got our housing contract signed by the owner. We were given three copies with official looking stamps on them and were told that we would have to sign and get them approved with the minister of the interior. Very official.

My name is the one on the contract, and a fellow from work offered to get me to and from the place. I almost forgot. Then at 17:30 Khaled showed up to offer me a ride. He's a neat fellow. He has a limp on his right leg where the knee doesn't bend anymore. He injured it several years back when he was playing for the national soccer team. Now he works for ENDA, teaches soccer and plays in a local band. He's dynamic but quiet.

I grabbed my documents and got ready to go, but he hesitated.

"Is it okay? All I have is a moto." Oh, a small Yamaha motorcycle. Normaly that's sort of frowned on for girls, especially if they are not dating or family of the driver. Plus people here don't wear helmets. But there really wasn't any other way. "It's fine."

It was a fabulous ride. Everything happens slowly on a motorbike here. You dodge cracks, piles of bricks, dirt, manhole covers, potholes, children, balls. You move slowly and there is nothing between you and the world.

It's the poor district, Ettadhamen, like a ghetto in the US without the racism or colour divide. Ettadhamen means solidarity and it is the largest poor district in Africa, the Mexico city shanty town of the continent. Poverty is everywhere. You whistle by on the small motor's hum and you see old men on chairs in the street, grandmothers carying newborns, burnt tree stumps, crumbling buildings, pairs of green-uniformed national guardsmen, small vendors, children with patched up soccer balls, refuse and debris in the roads, beat up tin drums, vans with no doors and gutted interiors rusting along the roadside.

Most shocking is the number of young people. Young people in the streets, in the cafes, perched on second story balconies. Young people without jobs, not in school. Young people with children they can't afford to fully clothe. Look around you in the western world, the young people are not in the streets. It's disquieting. That troubled me most.

A few signatures and a few stamps later I have everything I need to ask for a residency card for Loren and I. A whirlwind ride back to ENDA and upstairs to write this note to you.

Missing you all and remembering how good we all have it.

Harvey and a lesson learned

I just learned a valuable lesson - save everything before you post... sigh. so this post will be a little short and a little less inspired than it was going to be. Time constraints.

In a nutshell - we finally captured Harvey our Wonder-Bug in the bathroom.

The critter is truly sensational. Speedy Gonzales meets Spiderman. The stikiness of a gekko (how *did* he manage to climb effortlessly upside down, sideways and such on glass. And how audatious of him to resist all my efforts to shake him loose... all the while whipping around his glass cage like a demon possessed. Incredible) and the speed of an angry djinn.

In the end, I had to throw a paper he was affixed to off the edge along with him.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Tell Me About the Strategy

So today you all get to learn about my work. I know it's not Tunis-centric, but it's interesting, and I have a small beef, so you're all going to read about it. Priviledge of being the author. Ha!

There are two things actually. The first is that I live at work. Unlike lucky Loren who has effectively doubled my wage with about one third of the working hours, I might as well pitch a tent here and save on rent and transportation. We start at 8:30 and go until 18:00 but the co-directors (who don't show until 10:00) often hand down a "crisis" at about 17:30 so we don't leave until whenever it's over. Also if there's a "crisis" we come in on Saturdays. I live here.

The second thing is the work they have me doing. Warning: Story Attached!

Anyone who has worked with me knows I love organizational analysis, management, leadership, strategic planning, and time-managment. It's the organizational-personal efficiency thing that gets me. I love it. Well the folks at ENDA figured this out and said, "Great! Our donors are waiting on the strategic plan for 2005. Write it."

I would like to remind all readers that I am the newest member of the organization. I asked for previous strategic plans. They don't have any, at least not annual ones, and the last one was a five year plan drafted in 2000. No reference material. No experience. Problem?

I asked my employers if maybe someone with more history should tackle this.

"Nobody's done it before. We used to hire consultants." This one is really mine.

So I asked for an Org chart, departmental projections, grant proposals, leaflets, fliers, current financial information, names of all the department heads and an outline of what they want the final result to look like.

No problem except for the outline. I'm not sure they know what they want, to be honest. I was given examples of other institutions strategic plans that range from a two page summary to a thirty page document with ratios I don't understand.

Let me refresh. I'm supposed to be writing the strategic plan. Strategy folks. What's the figging stragegy? It's not written anywhere. No one knows.

So I did the only thing I could think of. I went to every department and asked what major activities would they be undertaking in the next year? What did they expect to accomplish? What did management expect in terms of results? And other related questions. I took all that information (plus the annual goals for the credit department, thank god!) and resorted it into umbrella categories with headings, general objectives and related actions. It's everything that they are doing and plan to do for the year in a very tidy package. Voila! Strategy!

They didn't like it.

Loren suggested that maybe they don't specify what they want so that they have the option of not liking it when it's done. I don't know.

Being the boss here means you're always right (I'm actually not kidding or being cynical). So they are right, and I obviously didn't understand what they wanted (which could be true, but not because I didn't ask). So I'm doing it again, with a list of suggested alterations. Keep the headings and the objectives, and the actions, and generally the order and the content, but it needs more flesh and more dialogue, and maybe pictures and surely tables and, and, and...

I'll fix it.

And I think I'll stamp DRAFT all over it before I hand it in.

bugs and tables and stuff...

To start off today's blog, I need to tell you that Harvey our resident Wonder Bug is back.

This critter is incredible. When we spied him in the bathroom two days ago, he was moving at your typical sluggish bug speed. Then Tiara leaned in with a glass/prison to finally nab the little fella and he kicked it into hyperdrive. Seriously. I've seen remote control cars that move significantly slower. This guy's like the Ferrari of the bug world, with a Porshe's impecable turn radius. Zippo! and Zing! under the safety of the porcelain sink.

Then there's our porch bug, who's much slower, whom we've named Benedic. Benny to me - Benny and Junebug! Tiara gleefully prodded. She beat me to a horrid pun. Incredible. But the name stuck. This guy or gal is a dusty green colour, about an inch long (They're all big) with an enlongated and peaked (triangular tent style) back and a nifty downward-slanting proboscus. Kinda nice to have him around.

Then there's the other project on the porch, Loren is trying to make a coffee table and two bedside tables... With concrete and teenie tiles and such... wish me luck!

And that's about all the adieu I want to give that story - the photo stuff is still forthcoming. Be patient and have an awesome day!

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Good Tempo

Finally the trappings of a real life are starting to emerge here in Tunisia. Now we have ordered furniture custom built by a local carpenter, Loren has produced three canvases and is working on tiled mosaic coffee table, I have a lap-top that can be used at home and at work, we take Arabic classes on Tuesday evenings, we workout every morning with the Ambassador from Oman, and I will be starting violin lessons with a locally celebrated musician at no cost because his wife works with me.

Ah, routine! Nothing like it really. We have coffee first thing, and then trek 20 minutes to the gym "Energym". We workout listening to Arabic chanting or (today, for example) english interpretations of the koran (for our benefit). Breakfast consists of yogurt, fresh oranges and milk, and if we have time a cappuccino. Then it's off to work on strategic plans, annual reports and international funders and microfinance networks. Lunch is always something Tunisian and spicy with bottled water and oranges for dessert. After work it's simple dinners, cleaning, artwork, writing and books; unless we have arabic or violin lessons.

Sometimes it feels a little packed, and buying groceries and doing laundry never took so much time before. Days are full now, but there's a tempo to them. And now we have enough friends to go for coffee a couple of times each week with different people.

We're darned close to settled. Now if only we had a real bathtub.

Monday, February 28, 2005

Dougga and back on track...

Hey there all, just thought I'd follow up that last rather pessimistic email with a little happier note.

This weekend Tiara and I headed out with Wifak, Slim and a special guest of ENDA (the place where Tiara's working) Jean-Puis. I hope I got the spelling right, in any case he works for the MixMarket - - a big microfinance deal. We were headed for the old Roman Ruins of Dougga, apparently once the grainery of the Roman Empire. It was two hours out of Tunis - almost all the way across the country, I don't think I'll ever get used to that - and up in the mountains/hills. Actually, the whole area was gorgeous and reminded Tiara and me of the Fraser Valley back home in BC.

We got there, paid a nominal fee to enter the heritage site and take photos, and were basically let loose on it. Coming from Canada with it's "look, at a distance, and don't touch" culture around heritage, it was a little odd to go wandering around these ruins at our leasure, with no controls. Ruins that are from around 200 BC, if I remember right. Maybe it was 200 AD - whatever the case it was lots older than Canada, and than the English language, and than the Christian Bible...

We took a smattering of photos and will be uploading those shortly.

Did you catch that? We'll be uploading them SHORTLY!!! Yay! We have a computer we can use to download and upload our photos. It's exciting and fantastic.

It may take until Wednesday before we get a few pictures up, but not much longer.

Anyhow, I'm outta here as I have to eat or I'm going to waste away. Fresh bread, fresh fruit, milk, fresh cheese and fresh olives...