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Entries in Tunisia (7)


Spectacular Tunisia

Lydia is a huge fan of "Spectacular Spectaculars", and found us one in Tunisia. The two-hour dinner show involved bad belly-dancers, worse food and a large man balancing fanta bottles on his head. All accompanied by the wailing scretch of a musical instrument made out of an inflated pig skin and played like the bag pipes.

It could have been worse (it could have gone longer).


The sights of Tunis

The beautiful blue and white seaside village of Sidi Bou Said.

The ruins of Carthage, once a mighty city able to send fear (and war elephants) into the heart of the Roman Empire, has now been buried for more than 2000 years.

The Medina Gates, the commercial hub of Tunis.

Sadly I couldn't photograph the forbidden sight of Tunis nearby - the French embassy. One poor man next to us had the misfortune to take out his phone while walking past, and was dragged off the street by the French guards and interrogated by the Tunisian police in front of us. Some paranoia is to be expected I guess, following the revolution, but the arrogance of big embassies in prime positions irritates me. If you think it is a problem, being on a major pedestrian thoroughfair, then move your damn embassy rather than create an eye-sore and traffic issue with concrete barriers and barbed wire.

On the subject of the revolution, the people we spoke to were rather positive about both the revolution and the future of their country. There was pride in the quick and peaceful transition, and sadness on the loss of life that occured in other Arab Spring countries. Of the new Islamist government that has replaced the dictator Ben Ali, the general feeling we were given was one of benevolent incompetence, "their leaders spent the last 20 years in jail, now they can't use a computer or mobile phone, let alone run a country", and hope that the secularists would win the next election and modernise the country. Of course, the demographic that interacts with tourists - younger, richer, more educated - is not the majority demographic of the country, so it will be interesting to see what happens in next year's election. Really, though, the intersection of religion with politics does not seem too far removed from the American or European contexts - it is the older generation and people living in small villages who want religion in politics, while the young and those living in the large cities basically ignore religion on a day-to-day basis, and just want a government that works for the people.


The Colosseum, Tunisian-style

The small Tunisian town of El Djem hosts a Roman amphitheatre second only to the Colosseum of Rome (the theatre of Capua was once larger too, but is now destroyed). 1800 years ago, the city of Thysdrus was one of the richest and most important Roman cities in North Africa, which justified a theatre housing 35,000 spectators. Now, it is largely forgotten apart from when film crews show up (Gladiator was filmed here, and more impressively, so was The Life of Brian). 



Mausoleum of Sidi Sahab. Known as the Mosque of the Barber, as it contains the tomb of Abu Zama' al-Balaui, a companion of Muhammad who collected three hairs from Muhammad's beard.


Medina of Kairouan
Great Mosque of Sidi-Uqba. One of the holiest and oldest mosques in Islam, seven pilgrimages here is considered the equivalent of one pilgrimage to Mecca (I love it when religions go quantitative). The columns that make up the mosque were taken from the ruins of Carthage, and it was forbidden to count them on pain of blinding (there are 414).

Sousse, Tunisia



A Swiss Ice-cream resort in Tunisia

Typically, when we travel with little Hayden it is a bit of a novelty, with tourists and locals alike noting how rare it is to travel off the beaten track with a baby. Yet here we are, staying in a resort operated by the Swiss ice-cream chain Mövenpick on the coast of Tunisia and there are babies everywhere. Why, you may ask? Well, I guess in the age of Google Lydia wasn't the only one to find that this resort is one of only a handful in the world to offer all day kids programs for infants. Oh, the pleasures of free daycare (9am to 10pm) for children aged 0-16. Normally, intrepid parents are dispersed across the globe, but we gather together at these rare sancturies where we can put our toddlers into daycare and go to the spa/bar. In fact, halfway though this post I was interupted by a woman and children from Kenya who just arrived at Mövenpick and wanted someone to show them where the daycare was. 

Yesterday when I picked up Hayden from daycare he was sitting at the table playing cards (Uno) by himself while the older children next to him played Monopoly. Unfortunately he was losing, given his proclivity for holding as many cards as possible, but his day brightened up over dinner when our kind waiter brought Hayden a bowl of whipped cream with chocolate sauce for desert. He was a big fan. Still, Hayden doesn't have the most discerning taste, eating mouthful after mouthful of fine Tunisian sand with evident enjoyment.


White-face Santa

Sitting in a pub drinking a beer, my bartender asks where I am from, and after I reply he says, "Today is a special day for you!". In honest mystification I ask why and he says, "It is Christmas Day. I am a good Muslim man, but I like to wish everyone a happy day on their special days". When I reply that all days are special and I hope he is happy on each of them he gives me an awkward high-five (as all high-fives invariably are), and I go back to my beer.

Actually, while I'd forgotten it was Christmas and the rest of Tunisia doesn't care, our hotel made a bit of an effort. In Belgium, the tradition of people dressing up in black-face to mimick Black Pete mystifies me with their cluelessness. In Tunisia, Hayden sat on the knee of the inverse of black-face Pete - white-face Santa:

While Hayden hates sitting on Santa's lap whether it is in Belgium or Tunisia, he'll do just about anything for gingerbread. I guess that is the way you convince children to like Christmas, since their first exposure seems to invariably be fear.