Saturday, August 22, 2009

Maghrebian showdown: Morocco vs. Tunisia

Hello friends! Due to a sad lack of WiFi, I wasn't able to blog about Morocco while actually in Morocco. I've been home for about a week now, battling lingering intestinal problems (dr's verdict: not a parasite! yay) and intellectual, post-travel burnout, but I'm about ready to get back up on that blogging horse. Overall, Morocco was a blast, especially because I got to share it with my Mom (who also conveniently footed the bill). I was really surprised at how different from Tunisia it was, though...both in its Arabic and its culture. It felt much more "foreign" than Tunisia, much less Western, and also much less-developed. Its people were equally as welcoming, though, and its culture almost richer. I'll be posting pictures and descriptions over the next few days, but because I'm a total nerd, here's a basic comparison chart to tide you over....

I pretty much just wrote things as they came to my mind, and as you'll see, some are more significant than others. The bolded column indicates my favorite when I had a preference.



Fresh squeezed orange juice

Fruit smoothie “cocktails”

Ceremonial, yellowish mint tea, poured from a silver teapot at a high height into ornate glasses

Often oversteeped, brownish mint tea, usually kept in an industrial-style water boiler…but it often comes with pinenuts

Shisha illegal at cafés


Comparative sampling of dialect: Jooj, bzehf, bshal? (two, a lot, how much?)

Zooz, barsha, bu qaddesh? (two, a lot, how much?)

Coffee with cinnamon

Coffee Arabiya with too much sugar

Tajine= a sort of rich stew, made with onions and either a meat (beef and prunes, or chicken and almonds) or vegetables

Tajine= a sort of quiche-type thing, made with egg, potato and spinach. This is a hard call for preference, but I’m gonna go with Tunisia, simply b/c Moroccan tajine is too dang heavy of a meal to eat during the summer.


Bigger cous-cous grains (easier to eat AND less messy)

Smaller cous-cous grains (drier and more delicious)

Breakfast: yogurt, berber pancakes (baghreer and Msemin) and corncakes

Breakfast: French pasteries, bread with fig or apricot preserves

Spanish and hilariously red-faced, overheated British tourists

French tourists

Locals don’t use silverware; scoop their food with taboona flat bread

Locals don’t use silverware; scoop their food with French baguette

Toilet paper! And flushable.

Toilet hoses and BYO TP, non-flushable

Street food: kebabs, or really disgusting sandwhiches with processed meat, rice, and….ketchup?

Street food: delicious sandwiches with fresh vegetables and fries, harissa or salata mushwiya for a dressing, and your choice of tuna, chicken, schwarma, kefta, tajine, omlette, merguez….all for dirt cheap!

Better carpets—variety, color and quality

Better jewelry souks—quality, craftsmanship, prices

More elaborate mosaics and fountains

Cooler painted doors and cast iron gates/windows

Better ceramic tiles

Better ceramic bowls/platters

“Salad”—rice with peas, carrots and peppers

Salad Moroccaine—tomato, onion and hard boiled egg

Salad Mshwiya—“burned” peppers and tomatoes, puréed with harissa OR

Salad Tunsiya—onions, tomato, cucumber and parsley in a lemon vinagrette

Seemingly efficient and well-loved King, with a castle in every major city. I would need more time to scope out the situation fully, but YouTube and Gmail both function without any problems.

Seemingly resented and corrupt “President,” with a well-guarded house in every major city. YouTube and many other sites are blocked, internet is screened, and freedom of speech/press in general is questionable.

French spoken by pretty much all people, although it still correlated with education. English and Spanish also widely spoken.

French spoken by most people, but a definite trend of more educated = better French. Italian and German also fairly widely spoken.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Bisalaama Tunis!

My last few days in Tunis were a blur. On Friday, Akira, David and I made a solemn pilgrimage to our favorite sandwich shop for the Last Supper of our regular orders—for me, a tuna taboona (with a lot of harissa, of course) and a fruit smoothie “cocktail.” I absolutely rocked my Arabic oral a few hours later, and (much to the apparent surprise of the program director) scored an unbelievable “Advanced” level on the ACTFL scale. Considering my pretty basic level of competence, I’m sure that isn’t accurate and won’t be replicated in my coming phone interview (yuck) but it is flattering nonetheless. I think the key was just comprehension and circumlocution—my first impressive moment was when the testers asked me how long I had been studying Arabic before I came to Tunisia (an odd question considering they knew we were all beginners, and asked quickly and with a weird tense). When I answered right away, the tester turned to his colleague and quickly said something along the lines of “wow, she’s the first one to get that question—she understood,” to which I responded “of course!” After that, it was actually a lot of fun. I fulfilled my worst fear when I accidentally slid into French, and had to literally clap my hand over my mouth, but I was able to explain in Arabic “when you ask me about French literature, I want to talk in French. Can I have the next question?” without any problem. I even talked about DC and Obama, and when asked for my opinion of Michelle I was able to compensate for not knowing “intelligent” by saying “Michelle graduated from the same university as Obama but their teacher said that she was a better student than him.”

After the oral I headed immediately for celebratory gelato with the girls, a quick final hour of beach with Akira and Tyler, and then home to change for the banquet. Kate and I split a bottle of wine and chatted like true “ochette” (sisters) as we got ready; I wore her necklace, she wore my dress, and we made promises to visit each other fi Mustokbol (in the future). We arrived to the banquet on Tunisian time (read: an hour late) and sat at a table with one of our feminist lecturers, who had amusingly disgusted responses to Mustafa’s run-of-the mill misogynist comments. During dessert they showed a little retrospective video that included the performance of my harissa poem from Dougga and my bus acceptance speech, which got a great reception from all of the Tunisian tutors and parents that knew me who hadn’t seen it live. My own parents were shocked to hear that I could actually speak some Arabic (I never really tried at home, because they just made fun of us) and found my class nickname “fil-fil” (Pepper) to be equally hilarious.

I caught a taxi to Marsa Plage Saturday morning and browsed the little shops and open-air book market before getting the train into Tunis for some last-minute souk action. Over the course of 4 hours or so, I managed to speak French, Arabic and English and even Spanish, and by the time I left, my brain was so muddled with code switching that I could hardly communicate at all. It was gratifying how much Arabic I was able to understand, though, especially compared to my previous, jetlagged experience in the souks on the day of our arrival. My best adventure was a shopkeeper who, after trying to help me find Akira in the impossible maze of shops, lead me on a little tour through the shoe-maker’s souk before brining me back to his own perfume store, where he served me mint tea, gave me a perfume-making and testing demonstration, and insisted that I sample almost all of them before settling on a little vial of jasmine oil. That night, Kate and I had our final dinner with the family, which was appropriately delicious and even more awkward, then caught a cab out to the snazzy “Lac de Tunis” area for smoothies and shisha with some students and my teachers. I got home around 2:30am—just enough time to get two hours of sleep before we left for our flight. Sam’s host brother Eshem came to see us off and gave me a Tunisian soccer t-shirt as a parting gift, which was a much-appreciated gesture in light of my own family’s suckage.

Paris a few hours later was pretty chill—literally. After Tunisian heat, the 70-degree days felt almost like winter, and I spent the two days I was there wrapped up in jeans, tennis shoes and a jacket. With the flurry of finals during my last few days in Tunis I wasn’t successful in setting up appointments to see apartments, so I just relaxed and enjoyed the all-is-well-with-the-world feeling of being in France once again. I got a cheap hotel room with another boy from the program, Anthony, who is waiting to meet up with his sister for a backpacking Eurotrip. (Ah, the good ol’ days…). He doesn’t speak any French, and might have the worst sense of direction of anyone I’ve travelled with, so I felt very useful (Inch’allah his sister has a better internal compass than he does). He didn’t have to wait long to speak a language he knows, though—we were on the RER from the airport to the city when we had our first Arabic conversation, thanks to the t-shirt from Eshem that had a little Arabic on it. Our hotel was in an Arab part of Bastille, too, so we spent our evening browsing Arab butchers and bakeries, looking for telltale Tunisian foods as an invitation to try our “Asalaama. Le bess?” on for size.

We spent a good chunk of yesterday in the Centre Pompidou, Paris’ relatively new modern art museum, housed in a controversially odd building that has exposed, color-coded pipes on one side (blue for air, red for elevators, green for water, yellow for electricity) and six floors of inclining hamster tubes of escalators on the other. Somehow I had managed to never visit this particular museum, but after this trip it will always make my list. The hamster’s-eye view as you go to the top is a great panorama of Paris, and the two special exhibits were completely my style. The first was a Kandinsky collection, arranged by time and space to track the influences of his time spent in Germany, Paris and Russia on his work. Rufus Wainwright provided a great soundtrack as I freed my eyes to move along the dark lines between splotches of color—such happy paintings! I’m totally going to make a habit of music-and-painting visits when I’m living there…it’s like do-it-yourself Fantasia. The second exhibit was called “elles”—a Guerilla Girls-inspired exhibit that “might be taken as a manifesto: women artists are now numerous, and in their radical, complex and cross-disciplinary work they are writing a new history of art to challenge the old, tackling head-on the great issues of the day. Yet the new hang is neither female nor feminist in point of view, being primarily intended to show and to pay tribute to their work.” Bottom line? Super cool WGSXy heaven, organized into sections that celebrated/challenged the body, domestic space, domestic arts (sewing, cooking, interior design), etc. complimented by great feminist literary quotes on the walls. Highly recommended if you find yourself in Paris anytime soon (and if you’re reading this blog, you’ll have an excuse to come to Paris starting Sept. 7th. My couch calls…)