Friday, July 17, 2009

On the homefront...

The homestay continues to be a challenge. There’s no getting around it: my family is just weird and unpleasant, but at least my interactions and conversations with other Tunisians have helped me realize that it’s just a personal thing and not a “Tunisian” or cultural disconnect. My roommate Kate and I played the “trying to look on the bright side” game last night and came up with this:

1) Food at our house is amazing. Our mom is a great cook, and takes a lot of pride in her “hospitality” of making a variety of authentic Tunisian meals for us, (although her begrudging and bitter attitude spoils my appetite a little). Our meals are much better than the harissa-and-tuna diet that a few of the other students seem to be on at their houses.
2) I can’t remember if I’ve said this before, but our host parents are obsessed with mosquitoes. This means that they blame us keeping windows open or lights on every time they find one, and killing one becomes an intense affair that puts a frighteningly murderous gleam in Mustafa’s eyes and often ends in a marital argument if he fails. The upshot: we wake up with far fewer mosquito bites than a lot of our classmates, who bug spray-up before bed to little avail.
3) Our bathroom is nice. It’s clean, we have toilet paper (even if we can’t flush it), and even though our shower is still the kneel-and-hold-the-shower-head sort, it’s spacious, clean, and has decent water pressure. Kate and I also have our own bathroom (the rest of the family uses it for bathing, but they have their own toilet/sink). After visiting other homestays with questionable bathrooms, I have grown to appreciate ours (especially in a climate that makes showering a daily necessity and with a diet that plays games with your stomach at times).

On the negative side…it is unbearably hot, stuffy and muggy in the house—ALWAYS…even when it’s nice outside! It’s particularly terrible now that the daytime temperature is up above 100; I’m pondering secretly migrating to the couch tonight because it’s much cooler in the living room and I kept waking up last night drenched in sweat. Also: Lubna ranks up there with the most passive aggressive people I’ve ever known. We had pretty crappy towels from the beginning relative to theirs, and as we continued to shower daily our towels began to disappear. For a while, we had to tromp down to the laundry line outside to retrieve them in the morning if we wanted to shower. At some point last week, they disappeared altogether. I finally got into a cupboard and stole a new towel for myself—a bigger one, this time. I’m also in a constant fight over territory in my own room, which is full of Lina’s stuff. I’ll often come home to find my books/belongings shoved into a pile to make way for stuffed animals or toys, or one day their was body glitter all over my bed and I was sparkly for three days afterwards. The most recent manifestation of this has been the epic Closet Wars. The wardrobe in my room started out half Lina’s clothes (why any 5-yr old has so many I can’t understand…they’re almost all pink, and she wears the SAME skirt everyday anyway…) and half space for me. As the summer has progressed, one new pair of little girl shoes and one new pink puffy winter coat per week (again—why so many near-identical coats? Does it even get that cold here?) have been illegally immigrating into my half of the closet. Before this past weekend’s trip, the coats were taking up about half of the space. When I came back, there was a coat that broke the Becca’s back: a girl version of the suit in Where the Wild Things Are, fuzzy, pink and long complete with ears, mittens and a tail. Irked, I took all of the coats out of the closet and hung them up on the little coat rack. I returned from school the next day to find them back in the closet. I moved them again last night. We’ll see what happens when I get home…if she has put them back I’m going to start dressing the unwelcome stuffed animals in puffy shades of pink.

Fortunately, when I step back from the situation I find it all kind of hilarious. Kate’s not quite as adept at detaching herself, but we help each other find the humor, and we generally stay away when we don’t have to be home. We had a great time last night, though, which is what inspired me to write this post…our host parents decided to go out to a café (for once!) and left us home alone. I immediately took the opportunity to soak my tevas in hot soapy dishwater in the kitchen (it really bothers me how stanky my feet are), and my underwear/bras in the bathroom (Lubna won’t wash our underwear, so we have to sort of secretly do it in the sink at night and let it dry in the window) while Kate sat in the corner of the house to mooch off of the neighbor’s wireless to Skype her parents. Then we dug out the bottle of wine Kate had stowed away and took to the balcony to drink it in the cool night air with some Simon and Garfunkel, laughing at how jumpy we were every time a car-that-might-be-them pulled onto the street.

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