Jun 19, 2007 – Tabarka

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When we chose Tunisia as the place we would end the international part of our trip, we really didn’t know where we would end up. Torin did a significant amount of research into the best places to be. After our Sousse experience, we were really looking for somewhere a little more low-key. Somewhere that Torin could finish off his school work and we could still be close to a beach. Tabarka was Mary’s choice – it was a small town (16000) on the northern coast of Tunisia, not too touristy and with a jazz festival scheduled for early July. So off we went – by rail to Tunis, tram to the bus station and then bus to Tabarka. The day we picked to travel, Torin was sick with a cold so it was pretty tough on him, especially the transfer through Tunis. But we made it to Tabarka, stuck him in a coffee shop and Mary and I went looking for a place to stay. Within an hour we had found a flat and within 2 hours we were settled in.

And so, here in Tabarka we settled into a bit of a routine for the next 3 weeks. Most of the days went by in the following fashion:

I would go for an early morning walk, sometimes with Mary, sometimes without, picking up breakfast ingredients on the way back. We would have a liesurely breakfast on the balcony and watch life in Tabarka drift past. After breakfast, Torin and I would tuck into the math workbook while Mary cleaned up and went to the internet cafe. After math, Torin and I would join Mary for 30 – 60 minutes and then the 3 of us would wander over to the Andalous cafe for a cappaccino (and maybe a fresh pastry). After coffee, during the hottest part of the day, we wuold hibernate in our air-con living room, watch tv or take a nap. Then we would hit the beach for several hours, playing volleyball, swimming and just basking in the sun. Around 7:30 we would head in, clean up, pick up some ingredients for supper. We would enjoy supper with a bottle of good Tunisian wine, watch a movie and retire for the night after an exhausting day ;-).

And so the days slipped past. Torin finished his Math, wrote a lengthy essay on his travels in Egypt (just posted) and worked through a french novel. He also developed his culinary skills by preparing several breakfasts and suppers for us, getting his motivation from Fatafeat (ask him about it sometime).

Our time in Tabarka was perfect for Torin finishing off his school work and also served the purpose of providing us time to debrief ourselves. W spent hours every day talking about where we’ve been in the last 12 months, the experiences we had and the people we met. Of course there were also several conversations on where we want to go next and when!

Unfortunately, Tunisia isn’t a place where one can easily meet the locals and immerse oneself in the culture. There are very few local women around and the ones that are do not interact with forigners. As for the men, well I think you may have a good picture of the situation from the Sousse entry. Personally, I believe that 99.25% of Tunisian men are born with a defective gene that allows them to develop as far as puberty and then prohibits any growth in the area of sexual maturity beyond that point. In other words, in terms of sexual maturity and interacting with the opposite sex, they hit puberty and stick there – most of them for the rest of their lives! The result is that they are simply do not have the cognitive development to be able to control their behaviour around women. Curiously, I suspect it must be this same defective gene that causes numerous males to hold their crotch while strolling the streets and beaches, as that habit is quite common. And finally, I don’t know if it’s related or perhaps it’s another defective gene that causes such an incredible number of men to smoke. My asthma has flared up here because I think I’m smoking 1/2 pack a day in second hand smoke. It is indeed a rare site to see a Tunisian male without a cigarette in hand.

All in all it’s a rather sad state of affairs and one that will influence us to avoid this country for the remainder of our travel years. Now that may all sound very strong to you and you may think that it can’t be that bad, but you have no idea of extent of all this strange behavour and how it comes to grind on one’s nerves. At this point, I have very little respect for the Tunisian male.

That said, there are three individuals that fall into that 3/4 of a percent and weren’t affected by the defective genes or they figured out a way to overcome it. The first is our favourite waiter in our favourite coffee shop that always greets us warmly and sincerely, shakes our hands every day and is a genuinely pleasant fellow. The second is the guy running the little fruit and vegetable stand where we buy most of our produce. He too appeared genuine and was very pleasant to deal with. And the third was a young man Mary met in the Tourist office – a Tunisian currently living in the UK and was back briefly to look for property to purchase. We spent an afternoon with him and had one of the most intelligent conversations that we’ve had in several months.

Looking back, we’ve had several interactions that have left us shaking our heads in disbelief. One of those was when we mayor. That’s right – the mayor of Tabarka. We were wanting to help out with the Jazz festival thinking that it might be similar to our Roots and Blues festival in Salmon Arm. After asking around a lot, Mary finally found someone who would take to see “the man”. Not only was this guy the organiwer of the festival, he was also the doctor ni town, the mayor and a real estate developer. We caught up with him in the waiting room of his private clinic where he immediately wisked us into the back of his mercedes to go for a coffee. Now this town isn’t very big – you can walk from one end to the other in about 10 minutes. When we inquired as to where we were going, he told us that we were going for coffeee at his son’s hotel – a brand new, very posh establishment about 2 blocks away and we were going there because he doesn’t have to pay for coffee there. Of course, we also had to have a tour of the hotel, which occured immediately following the arrival of the coffee. From the balcony of one of the suites, he pointed out the monstronsity of a hotel that he was building with his son – right downtown Tabarka on the waterfront. He gave us another 5 minutes of his time before ending the conversation saying that if we could figure out he we could help him, we could come back thet following week and let him know. We walked away thinking about how arrogant he was, how organiwed we tend to be in Canada and how disorganized they seem to be here.

On that same note (pardon the pun), the whole organization of the festival had us wondering how they even pull it off. The tourism office couldn’t tell us anything about the festival, the mayor wouldn’t tell us because the posters weren’t up yet (I guess he thought we would leak it to the press). When the posters came up and the brochures available, they had different schedules and the website had a third version of the event. Then we saw a banner go up with yet a 4th version. The kicker was that the one night, none of the 4 schedules had it right and there was a completely different performer on stage! As well, no one coutell us when the concerts started or how much it would cost until about 5 hours before the first performance. Good thing we had a flexible schedule! But I’m getting ahead of myself – more on the concerts later.

On a more positive note, we were having coffee at the Andalous when a Tunisian family walked in. Now this may be a common occurance in Canada but it is a rare site in Tabarka. They had 3 kids somewhere around Torin’s age and it wasn’t long before the 4 of them were playing some sort of table game with spinning coins. At the same time, an Aussie couple that we had seen earlier at the internet cafe stopped by, started chatting and eventually joined us. We had a great conversation and found out that Robyn had just given a presentation at a women’s health conference at UBC. We joined them later that night at their hotel to continue our conversation over drinks and dinner. It was a great evening on the patio watching the full moon rising over the hills.

And the days just kind of blended together. We interupted our routine once for a venture to the “mountain” town of Ain Draham where we hiked to the top of the highest mountain around – a breathtaking 900 m above sea level!

We did make it to 3 concerts and they were quite enjoyable. The venue was the Basilique – a concrete ampitheatre right in Tabarka. The performers were entertaining but the crowds were unfortunately thin. Perhaps some people weren’t as tenacious as us in finding out the basic information – where, when and how much. Torin joined us the third night and it was definately the highlight – an Italian band playing old blues songs. Although they didn’t have any of their own material, they had great stage presence and put on a memorable show.

As I write this now, it is the evening of our final day here. It’s surprising how time slips by. Looking back we’ve had some interesting times here and all in all, I don’t know if we could have picked a better spot to hang out, do school work and reminiss about the past 12 months.

We’re off to Tunis tomorrow for a few days and then its back to Canada on the 13th.