Friday, April 08, 2005

Sweet Ettadhamen

Let me tell you about Hay Ettadhamen today.

Today the smog is so thick in the air you cannot see the sun. It's not a cloud, or a fog, but a hazy screen like a thousant layers of fine silk floating against each other and filtering the sun until it is a soft yellow ball in the sky.

It's Friday, so the streets a busy. There are girls in tight pants and hoop earrings shouldering bags and clicking in their heels. There are mother and grandmothers with toddlers everywhere, helping them step up and down the broken curbs and catching them when they trip over debris and crumbled bricks. The cars in various states of disrepare keep cruising past in an endless streem of noise, some moving toward the edge of Ettadhamen, some moving deeper into it's crumbling centre.

People are moving in and out of the shops. They buy water and candies, hot nuts and pastries, shoes and handbags, second hand clothes and canned goods. It's Friday afternoon commerce and the street is alive with people laughing and debating. The streets are dirty, the air smells of smog. I am totally out of place and feel suddenly at home.

Normally I'm not out in the street at four in the afternoon, but I ate early and I'm hungry again. I'm headed the two city blocks to my favourite vendor of hot nuts and candy. He sells the best roasted chick-peas on the street and I get a fix of them at least three or four times a week. Now I'm familiar enough that he'll tease in his broken French about how I'll turn into hummous, or he laughs and winks when I can't find the 10 Dinars I put on the counter a minute ago, the one he whisked away while I wasn't looking.

With hot "hums" in a small brown bag I head back to work, stepping around children and old pop bottles, dodging old men with canes and brown puddles of sludge next to the curb.

Today I'm not as worried about the looks that I get. I'm young and curvy and very white compared to most people here. I'm in such a good mood I don't even feel that nervous feeling that is universal, I think, and irrelevant of location. The feeling you get when you know someone's looking. When I reach the corner where I turn to go to enda, a beat up black car pulls up behind me and coast along. I can see the gate to enda's entrance and I think of how to get around the car to the door.

The car pulls ahead and the driver calls out. He's young and dark skinned and I can't make out what he says because it's in arabic. The the passenger leans out too, and realizing that I can't understand them he makes the universal sign of appreciation, pressing his pinched fingers to his mouth, kissing them and releasing his hand with an upward gesture.

He is so young, and so sincere that I actually burst out laughing, and he grins a huge grin. I disappear into the courtyard at enda and up the stairs back to my desk, feeling quite pleased, and finally quite at home.

Please, sir, may I stay?

First we should perhaps appologise to all our fabulous readers for not having been more consistent this past week. We have lots of reasons - Jodie visiting, the internet in Nasr on the fritz, a crisis at work, a personal work crisis, etc, etc. Anyhow, excuses are a lousey replacement for content. So I promise to redouble my efforts and get one message out there everyday, Monday to Friday!

Now how about today's blog.

Today was interesting. Loren and I collected all our documentation, our identification, our marriage certificate and our contracts. We booted it to the local shopping complex (one of only a few in Tunis), the Manar 6 Centre Commercial and found our way to a one hour photo booth, where we paid 5 Dinars each for 8 passport size photos (I don't like mine, just one tooth is poking out of my smile!) . It took an hour for the photos to develop so we managed to grab a coffee, and then it was away to the Ariana Distric Police Station to apply for our Cartes de Sejour (Residence Permits).

The police station is an old converted villa. It is enormous for a house, but pretty tiny for a police station. To get to the department of Foreign Services you have to follow the porch to the left and enter what I think was originally the kitchen or service entrance, go up a twisted staircase of marble slabs and into the tiny and cramped upper floor. The halls are too small, there is no place to sit, no place to fill out forms and a whole lot of noise. People come in and go out, greet each other in loud voices and holler down the hall for information instead of using the telephones.

I don't know how the officers can handle working there. They have no computers, chipped desks, broken filing cabinets, one telephone for three workers, and recipe cards for a filing system. Officers here are 1 for every 100 citizens. They get paid 250 Dinars per month. I get paid about double that, and I can't imagine how they live off what they make, when we couldn't make it with the double. Needless to say, our fellow was grumpy. It took about 15 minute of smiling at him and trying to make his job easier by being organized ourselves before he started using full sentances at us.

This is not the first time we have made an application. The first time we showed up with all the documentation that is listed in their laws. We were sent away because nothing was certified or registered. Funny how the laws don't mention that part. We also needed photographs, enda's list of statutes, their official recognition by the Government, and a pile of other stuff that has nothing to do with us.

We colected it all. I had this huge fat blue folder just stuffed with documents. Not only did we need original printouts and certified printouts, we needed photocopies of everything too. Once we arrived and they found all our documents in order we had to fill out some forms. Six of them. When we handed them in, the officer handed one back. He told us we needed to make a copy of that form. When asked he told us there was no way we could make a copy at the station. We then asked if we could just write out another form, to which he replied no. There was nothing for it. We packed up the entire dossier and blue file and stuffed it back into our bag and left the police station.

It took us all of about three minutes to find a shop that does copies. How handy that the shop was so close to the station. In fact the shop had just about everything you could need including a fax machine, a one hour photo developing operation, AC adaptors, Duracel batteries, and more. It was obviously equiped to deal with anything that the Police station couldn't. I wondered how multilingual the shop owner was too.

So with our coppies in hand we returned to the station where they reorganized the documents into piles, stapled them together, stapled our photos to them in strategic spots (though I couldn't for the life of me figure out what the logic behind them was), and told us to come back on Wednesday.

Well, I guess that's how it works in Tunisia. Sort of like the Wizard of Oz. "Come back later!"

I'll let you know if the'll keep us on Wendnesday.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Cheering for the Home Team

Maybe it’s because Canada has a culture that is so similar to that of the dominant cultural exporter, the USA. I don’t remember people being quite so proud of their religion at home.

I do remember that there were some very devout Christians and Catholics that I knew. Sometimes you would find them very cheerfully promoting their religion. More often I think I remember them defending it to skeptics who were a bit reluctant to admit that they didn’t believe in anything. But talk of Islam here mostly reminds me of Canadians talking about their favorite hockey team.

Imagine people sitting at their tables and passionately backing up the strength of their religion, the beauty of it, the magic of how it all came together. They talk about the prophet and the heroes of Islam like we do about Wayne Gretzky and Rocket Richard. They acknowledge that other faiths have something to them, but they’re not as deep, or they’re outdated, or they’re incomplete somehow. No, by all accounts, Islam is their favorite team, and they were blessed to be born BORN Moslem.

And do they practice? Well, no. But that’s hardly the point.

I guess you don’t have to play hockey to have a favorite team either.