Monday, July 13, 2009

A lit nerd in any language

The first stop on this past weekend’s trip to the Northwest was to Dougga, a roman town with what are probably Tunisia’s most impressive set of ruins (discounting the Colosseum we saw in El Jem, at least). The massive stone against the rolling country backdrop was impressive but HOT. Alhamdulillah I put on my 70spf sunscreen before we left the bus; I was one of the only non-lobsters by the time we left. We ended our time at Dougga with a talent show in the old roman amphitheater. I preformed a slow, chock-full of gestures poem that I wrote in Arabic entitled “Harissa, Ye Harissa” that ended up winning me first prize (Akira won 2nd for his Arabic rendition of “I’m a little teapot”). Here’s the English translation of what I wrote (it rhymed in Arabic…FYI: Harissa is a spicy chilli paste/garnish that they put in EVERYTHING here. It’s delicious, but it wreaks havoc on the bowels at times)

Harissa, O! Harissa:
I love you in the morning.
I want TWO sandwhiches
Because you’re so delicious.
I eat you every day
In this hot hot weather.

Harissa, O! Harissa:
I hate you in the evening
Too much spiciness in my stomach
I stay close to the bathroom.
Do I want more? No thank you!
Well…maybe tomorrow.

The poem isn't great, but I feel like it represents a milestone of sorts in my Arabic--an ability to play with the language, to make it my create! It was playing little games like this in French--translating songs to myself, making little linguistic jokes--that kept me interested and progressing in the language all these years, so hopefully that means that Arabic will soon become a little more natural and fun.

After Tabarka we proceeded to drive through the mountains to the coast. This was a gorgeous stretch of road that really gave me an appreciation for the diverse topography of Tunisia—the lush pine and cork forests that carpeted the hills and the cool mountain air was such a contrast from the hot, dry heat in the arid south and the central plains that it was hard to believe we were still in the same country. West coast people commented that it reminded them a lot of California—if that’s the case, I’m putting CA on my “places I want to live someday” list. We stopped in a little town called Ain-Draham to appreciate the sunset over the trees and goat-dotted hills and browse the locally produced handicrafts. I bought several items carved from olivewood, and Sonia bought me a cork souvenir as the prize for my poem. I can’t get over how light the cork is—I’ve seen corks a thousand times, of course, but it’s weird making the connection between the material and a tree. Tunisia’s one of the world’s top cork producers (although the credit for their cork, which is processed in Portugal, is often claimed by the Portuguese…Tunisia also produces a lot of olive oil that is processed through Italy and Libya, so to all my Rachel Ray obsessed friends: you never know when your EVO might be Tunisian!)

We spent the night in a beachside town called Tabarka, in a five star hotel that had hallways as confusing and long as Hogwarts, but huge, luxurious rooms a fantastic buffet, a huge pool with an island, belly-dancing lessons (yes, I did), and a beach with actual waves! They weren’t huge waves, of course, but enough to body surf on and produce a descent rip tide (I saw a flailing burkini-ed woman get rescued by about 10 Tunisian men…those things may be a stylish solution to beach modesty but they’re not real practical for swimming.

On the way back we stopped at some interesting coastal rock formations called the “Needles” and then had dinner in another coastal town called Bizerte/Banzart known as “The Venice of the Maghreb” for its picturesque cafes along its central canal. Somewhere along the way I bought a handmade bowl from one of many old woman on the side of the road in the middle of the road who make and fire pottery in their homes to sell along the road to earn a living. For the first time, I witnessed traditional Tunisian female dress—a coarse red robe gathered together with a moon-shaped pin over many other draping layers of orange and black. It looked beautiful, but hot. As always, I felt grateful to be from a culture where women are free to be unveiled (and men to be un-gelled!).

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