I just got back from Tunisia for the first time since I was 5-6, and wanted to capture some of my thoughts in a standard travel blog post. Here’s a highlight from ~ each day.
As soon as I put my bags down, I was handed some of the best lemonade I’ve ever had. Erin and Amber have been making lemonade at home, but we’ve never heard of blending the whole lemon and then straining it. The result is a liquid that’s less sweet, but richer and thicker. It was an emblematic start to a week filled with new culinary experiences.
09/12: Laundry Day
Not exactly a deeply artistic photo. But one of the small things Asma told me that stuck with me was, “They’re not for insta! I’m just taking the photos for the memories!” which she said after I was giving her some grief for taking what I considered to be too many photos at some point. In general, I tend to only take photos if I think they’d be worth showing to other people. So when I was doing laundry and thought to myself that this scene was something I wanted to remember, I decided to snap a pic.
09/14: Tunis Centre
And on the other end of the spectrum is this wildly artistic image. I snapped this while walking down the market streets near Tunis Centre that were just as crowded and complex as this particular shop.
09/16: Off to the Barber
I also got the best haircut of my life as a present from Aisam, who is standing behind me in the photo. We went to the local barber, who paid such attention to detail that if felt like he was trimming the individual hairs of my beard. Come to think of it, maybe he was at one point. Because the haircut was a gift, I don’t know how much it cost, but my estimate is that the experience would cost me north of $100 in the US. A lot of the idle discussion throughout the week was about how expensive the US is. This haircut was a revealing showcase.
For me, it’s similar to the difference between living in San Francisco and living in Tucson. Part of the reason things are more expensive is because, overall, there’s a better quality-of-life in the more expensive location. For example, when you go to a restaurant, you’re paying for the fact that the restaurant has to pass health inspections. There are more entertainment options. The population is usually better educated. But there’s a balance to be struck. Legal and regulatory complexity can become a significant burden, and that burden gets passed on to the consumer. Just because there’s a lot to do doesn’t mean that you’re personally going to take advantage of those options. Highly educated people tend to form cultural bubbles. Personally, I think there’s a richness to be gained by living in a variety of cost-of-living locations.
09/16: Party Time
I didn’t learn as much as I wanted to about Tunisian politics, but going out to Yuka, a club area, showed off how things have changed since the revolution in 2012. It doesn’t take much effort to see the tentacles of western culture permeating through the more traditional Arab culture, particularly in the younger generation. I’d estimate that 40% of the songs that were played at the club were American. But that’s a shallow example. How people view things like religion, romantic relationships, alcohol, and purpose in life, are all clearly a mix of modern and traditional cultures. Sometime that mix is homogenous; just a smooth blend of thought. Other times, the mix is heterogeneous; the two viewpoints are juxtaposed and fighting for mind-share of the populous.
Speaking of life purpose, visiting the ruins of Carthage had me all philosophical. It was a stark reminder that you can build the greatest empire in the world, but given time, your empire will end up a pile of semi-orderly rocks. And that’s the absolute best case scenario, as far as ambition goes. So what’s the point in all that?
But the second thing I notice, even though it’s not featured in this picture, is that there was art everywhere. Art isn’t something that meant much to me, growing up. I struggle to see the point. I’m more of an empire builder type. But maybe it’s the artists who see things more clearly than the emperors. Why do leaders go through all of the troubles of war and conquest? You end up with answers like, “Because it’s God’s will” or “For the greatness of the empire”, or “To protect our legacy”. They attempt to project an objective purpose. Why do artists create their sculptures and murals and songs? Because they enjoy it. They find subjective purpose in their work. It’s meaningful because someone woke up one day and said, “I wanna sculpt some shit.”
I’ve always looked for objective purpose. I want to be right, and provably so. But I’m starting to suspect that there’s another way…
Why are you doing this?
Because I want to.
09/18: Fancy Dinner
Asma has two younger brothers. And one of the first things that struck me was how different they all are from each other. And similarly, Jilani as two sisters, and the three of them are equally as different from each other as the younger generation. Both groups of three siblings almost seem more different than similar, given what I know. The quietest and most reserved of the six individuals is my aunt Sara, who seems to prefer to sit back and watch events from a distance. She doesn’t strike me as shy, but as an intentional observer. While I got to spend some time with her, instead of coming out with us one night, she treated Asma and I to a delicious dinner at a hotel who’s chef is a friend of hers. It was a lovely evening of wonderful conversation. The dinner did, however, leave me wanting to know more about our financier.
Our one excursion outside of the city was to a small town called Korbous. I have no deep thoughts from this experience, it was a simple joy. The waterfall you see is from a natural hot spring running at 60C/140F, which means you could pick your water temperature by the distance you moved away into the sea. I could have stayed there for many, many hours.
09/20: The Markets
Zena (aka Zenuba, as nicknamed by Asma), has a lot to be proud of. She’s a powerful woman; I wish I knew more of her tales and her jokes. She’s raised three children, and those children’s children now know each other, and are enriched by their knowledge of each other.