Friday, May 13, 2005

Look What's Following Me!

I was in the gym today with Loren working on arms and shoulders. I didn't feel like working out, but after a while I started to get into the rythym of exercise and I slipped into that "workout mind-space" where you don't notice that you don't want to. It's sort of like being on automatic pilot, except you're working really hard.

I reached for a set of dumbells for the next set of shoulder exercises and a movement caught my eye. Something very small and green, like the floor, jumped.

It was a frog.

What's with all the frogs? I can't say.

And who has ever heard of a frog in a gym?

Loren and I were the only two people in the gym and I pulled him over so he could watch it hop behind the weight rack, under the rows of weights and out into the open. We couldn't just let it hop around in the gym, and now that I am an experienced frog catcher, the job was up to me.

I think it realized that we were going to try to grab it, because the frequency of its hopping increased and its accuracy and grace decreased. It hopped so hard that it consistently landed on its face. Loren nearly came undone in a fit of giggles. When I caught up to it, it stopped moving long enough for me to get my hands around it.

Catching frogs is harder out of water.

In the water, you are able to get your hands further around them and if they leap they fall back into the water. I barely managed to get a hold of it and stand up before it found a hole in my fingers and shoved its way through, leaping high into the air. I leapt after it and managed to catch it in mid air, safely back in my hands. We repeated this once more, before I was able to catch it with my fingers tightly together. Then I happily marched it out of the gym, and following Loren's instructions I released it near the bushes at the edge of the lawn. It took a moment to adjust and then high-tailed it into the plant life and away from us.

Then I washed my hands.

After all, frogs are sticky critters.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Brown Green Monsters

I thought I would relate a moment from the trip that Loren and I took last weekend. We traveled out of the city toward the west of the northern tip of Tunisia, into the foothills and "mountains" that stretch from the centre to the border with Algeria. It was a fabulous trip, and the world became greener and greener as we climbed in altitude.

We saw some amazing things. Forests of olive trees, overhangs and caves where wild cows birth their calves, foot-long green striped lizards scurrying over the red earth and red-purple rocks, two royal eagles, turns, swallows, skinny white water snakes, wild rosemary growing EVERYWHERE (we picked a small shub's worth for cooking), a Muslim Saint's final resting place, natural springs and newly dug earth irigation ditches, and more.

It was a hot four hour hike up the mountain and we had a marvelous time (and I got a little burnt too!). But the real highlight was at the end. When an unplanned meeting began, in Arabic with a visiting Palestinan Microfinance consultant, Loren and I and a few others walked down to a small river, formed from the culmination of small irigation culverts running together. It had a flat bottom made of concrete in a park-like setting and there were children playing and men praying and picknicks here and there.

We heard frogs singing, and Clair, a French volunteer, said first person to catch a frog wins! I've never tried to catch a frog. I wasn't really sure how to go about it. They move very quickly, and they are slipery, right? So I figured I would find one and then circle my hands around it slowly. One had been singing near a family sitting on the edge of the river on the wall that stands about four feet high. I saw it's froggy eyes poking out of the muck so I reached down and slowly circled my hands about it. When it moved it was too late. It managed to get its head out between two fingers and one foot out too. I lifted it up triumphantly and the woman sitting on the ledge, who had been following my activities with her two little boys, let out a scream and lept back onto the grass. Her husband burst out laughing. I guess she hadn't thought the frog would look so much like a little brown-green monster!

I caught two that day, though no body else did. But I was sure to catch them well away from the family on the wall. That, I think was the highlight of the trip!

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

This is Spring?

Today it is hot.

Apparently this is still Spring weather. Apparently this is not hot.

Indoors with the shade and with the fans turned on us, I am still sweating. It must be close to 30 degrees in my work space. Outside in the sun, you don't last for more than two minutes before you need the shade of a tree or a building. The difference in temperature is significant.

I asked the director if we would be able to turn on the air conditioner. The answer?

Absolutely not!

If they can find one that is in working order, they may lend me a fan for near my desk.

A couple of Tunisian coworkers, walking around in sweaters made fun of my intolerance. But I was relieved to see others, in the same room as me, faning themselves with bits of paper.

This summer will be a hot one, they said. I'm afraid to even imagine.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Arrival at the park for our camel trip. See the desert in the background? Ready for an adventure? Posted by Hello

Here's the start point and a great view of Touzeur Posted by Hello

Jason the Touareg! The black cover and blue eyes were fabulous. Posted by Hello

Our Bedouin guide. He is about 30 years old and he's a camel racer. This man is made of steel, or at least harder stuff than us. He did 110 km over two days through the sahara in plastic flip-flops! Posted by Hello

Loren the bedouin! Posted by Hello

We stopped for lunch in a palm grove where they grow Nour Delgat Dates, the best in Tunisia. We had to find someone that the host knew to be offered some shady spot where we could eat our lunch. Here is the porch where we rested. It is a one room shack in a well ordered grove. With improvised tables, a bent hub cap for a cook stove, and removed car seats on the ground.. You'll see a better shot of the whole shack in a moment.  Posted by Hello

Here is the shack that our host lives in. It's not much, but it has shade and a bed. Posted by Hello

Here is a shot of the camel I was riding. It's name is Saber though the meaning is not the same in Arabic. He is a three year old camel and white, which is a less common colour. Every time he was asked to kneel he hollered and bared his teeth. Apparently he dosen't like that part much. Posted by Hello

A close up shot. Isn't he fabulous? Posted by Hello

funny little motorbikes

I just realised that we haven't really spoken about this particular issue yet. So here goes.

In the capital, Tunis, and actually everywhere that we've been, there appear to be three primary forms of transportation - public/walking, which most people apparently hate; cars, which are mostly the pint-sized euro-ecomomical variety; and funny little motorbikes and scooters. The scooters aren't such a new or impressive thing, and indeed you all know what I'm talking about in that case, but the motorbikes are another story.

Largely made by the French automaker, Peugeot, these little puppies are relatively cheap to buy (cars are psychotically expensive here), cheap on gas (which is about on par with north american prices - and expensive relative to the average wage here) and don't require a license (under 110 ccs). They are popular and they are bizarre. But a description is in order.

Imagine the general trappings of a motorbike made smaller and kind of stupid. There's a wheel in the back and a wheel in the front, for starters. The engine and gas tank are both under the seat (which strikes me as a touch stupid) and the buggers spit out their poorly-burned fuel out of an exhaust pipe near their rear wheel. Then there's the weirder bit. They have pedals which serve a dual purpose. The pedals help you to initially turn over the engine (no starters) and they provide a little extra oomph for going up steep (read: poorly thought out - and there are many) roads if the 'vehicle' is in less than optimum condition. There are very few in optimum condition.

I think they're hilarious. What's even better/scarier is the way that people ride them. Even though they have no power, the aggressive owners persist in weaving in and around mostly faster traffic - without helmets, with their wife or buddy clinging on behind them, sitting side-saddle and ignoring the traffic lights. Of course, not all of the drivers do this, since some have ambitions in life that don't include being roadkill, but then the many stupid ones are particularly noticeable.

It's like taking an old Citroen out to the F1 circuit for a spin. Sure it might be exhilerating for a moment, and maybe you can kind of forget that your car's not formula one, but not for very long.