Maghreb Voices – Tunisian Days 1

Nabeul is a seaside tourist town in Northern Tunisia, between the capital, Tunis, and the more high-end tourist zone of Hammamet. We’ve rented a ground-floor flat. A striped woven curtain hangs outside the door so passersby can’t see inside when the door is opened. Because privacy is so valued the windows are closed, making the room dark, cozy, and intimate; the high ceilings keep it cool and prevent it from feeling claustrophobic.

The electrical system is a going concern. The power adapter on my laptop gets fried in spite of my use of a through transformer (which also gets zapped). The next few hours are spent in a frantic search for solutions until I finally settle on going to a cybercafé sans all the notes and tabs that had heretofore made meeting deadlines possible. We head off looking for one offering a subscription.

At the first cyber I once again encounter the baffling, combative manner typical of many Arab business people; the surly proprietor gripes that subscriptions are only for students and that foreigners must pay one dinar (roughly 70 cents Canadian) per hour.

We soon find a more congenial cybercafé with a good subscription deal. I resign myself to spending every morning here trying to finish my work on a Latin-Arabic (non-QWERTY) keyboard. It could be worse.

The afternoon is taken up with cooking, eating, and sleeping. Cooks here are meticulous artists; I watch, mesmerized, as garlic is crushed in a small bag with the spices and added to the sizzling olive oil. Water is trickled in to smooth out the aija (a Tunisian sauce made with egg and tomato sauce). The special care really does affect the taste.

Our evening stroll brings us to a friend from my husband’s home village, Zanouch. He offers to drive us to the beach. The sky is dark and heavily overcast. Lightning flashes along the horizon while the Mediterranean Sea pulses gloriously with cresting waves. The wharf is edged with fishing tourists.
Along the edge of the street a charcoal fire burns in a steel drum, tended by a woman and her daughter. The woman wears a hijab and a lovely long mauve dress embroidered in white. She’s roasting cobs of corn on the fire. My companions buy me a cooked one but the woman won’t accept our money until she has heated it for me. I thank her. Her smile is kind and lovely.

We walk along the beach and I remove my sandals. The sand is like brown sugar as I wade in the warm water. After living in the Maritimes all my life I’ve developed an attachment to oceans that hasn’t been indulged much since I left Nova Scotia three years ago. Still, all I can do is remark on how different this is from the stony beaches and the bone-chilling water of the Bay of Fundy.

We stop at a gorgeous, sprawling cafe and recline on couches. I drink mint tea, my husband indulges in a cafe Arabe, and our friend smokes a chicha.

People come and go. Two pretty young girls in short skirts and high heels arrive with two older men. The girls are obviously delighted to be in such a glamorous place and engage in constant preening, like sparrows in the rain, as they walk across the room chattering to each other and clutching each other’s arms.

(To be continued)