“JOIN THE ARMY, SEE THE WORLD”.
Becky is the poster child for this army slogan! While a cadet at West Point, she was able to spend a few weeks during her summer break living with a host family in Tunisia. Its been over 20 years since the trip, but she recently rediscovered her Tunisian photo album and journal and figured it was time to scan/share. Tunisia was a wonderful country to visit at an impressionable age (and a fantastic place to study Arabic), and the memories from this amazing journey served as inspiration for return trips to North Africa and the Middle East.
5 June 1995 (Day 1): We arrived in Tunisia finally! After all this time preparing to learn the language and packing my belongings, I was finally here. What a place. There were 5 of us on this adventure together. Me, Sean Kilcawley, Ryan Thomas, Padraic Lilly, and Ken Bolin…all of us majoring in Arabic. I was the only class of ’97 cadet; the guys were all class of ’96. We had a short delay with Sean and his ticket (he left it in the seatback pocket of the plane). But we were met at the airport and skipped the long lines and were escorted to the awaiting van. A guy started loading our bags and suckered Ken into giving him a $10 tip or so. We all laughed, and now joke about it. We went to the Embassy, met Sgt Becky something and the Colonel there. We also got Tunisian currency and drove around in the jeep. We saw a carnival or fair and have vowed to visit it. Eventually, we ended up at a local deli store for sandwiches. Everyone was extremely friendly, laughing at our feeble attempts to speak Arabic! One boy said he was half Japanese and half something else, but I think he was putting us on. We all drank coke, a popular soft drink in Tunisia. They even spell it in Arabic. We also stopped by a government regulated store to look at local Tunisian crafts. It was interesting – the outfits, the ceramics, and pottery. Very pretty stuff. Finally, we returned to the Embassy. We talked to the Colonel, who was friendly. He gave his insight to what to expect and we headed downstairs for another briefing by a guy who painted a bleak and morbid picture (Tunisia and how it combats terrorism). I did notice how many security guards are on every street corner practically! We were then driven to our respective host families. Sean and I in one house, Pad and Ryan in another, and Ken went solo. Sean and I saw smoke emanating from the jeep’s hood, and the radiator was apparently leaking. The driver of the car following us was extremely agitated and upset. He was not nice at all. Finally, we reached our host’s home. Sean and I were led to our rooms and had to fend for ourselves. I went downstairs and met Noora, who I thought was the professor’s wife. But she ended up being their ‘amah’ or housemaid. We met Anayah and Ameera (11 years old and 14 years old, respectively). Sean and I felt awkward trying to speak ANY Arabic with them. I told them my Arabic name was Zahra (flower), but they had no clue what we were saying. And Noora just sat and smiled at us. Eventually, 10-year-old Achmad showed up and his bright smile livened things up a lot! We started laughing and relaxing more. Then Dr Foouzia came home. She was the host’s wife. Very friendly! We then started nonstop conversation in Arabic. My brain was swarming with all the new words. Finally, at about 8:30 or so, we ate dinner. It was chillied pasta and spinach and an egg dish. It was good, but very spicy. Sean was dying!!! I laughed until it got to me too. Then I stopped laughing. It wasn’t so funny anymore. It was hot! We were then subjected to another grueling couple of hours trying to answer their questions. I thought I would never understand or get to sleep. Fortunately, all good things come to an end, and finally, at about 10:50 pm, we were allowed to rest and go to bed. We indicated we wanted to run, so they recommended waking up at 5:30 am to run. So I sat down, wrote a letter to Pat (actually a postcard from Frankfurt) and thought about him at Air Assault. Then I read a few chapters of Congo, written by Michael Crichton. Then I was off to sleep…at last.
6 June: I awoke to knocking at my door and Sean saying “Are you ready?” Well of course I was still in bed, so I climbed out and put in my contacts and stretched. We ran down the road, it was nice out. But I was wearing gym-A’s and I felt out of place. Everyone stared, which was a surprising number considering it was 5:30 in the morning! We ran quite a ways and turned back, and headed back up the hill. I made it after some huffing and puffing, and we saw Ameera jogging around the house, so I went in, showered, and got ready for the day, while hooah Sean ran some more. We settled down for a light breakfast of bread, sweet milk and boiled eggs. It was a nice and simple meal. Taking a shower was a bit disconcerting – the window was a door to let anyone and everyone see my naked body shower! I have never taken such a quick shower. I guess Americans have a fixation against nudity (which reminds me of Achmad and his mom. He had no qualms about putting his hand up her shirt! And she had no qualms letting him!!!) What a loving and open family. They are awesome! We drove to Arabic class. What an experience. Crazy drivers, and our host was one of them (kamikaze style driving). We finally arrived to CITRAF (our language training center), and went to the 3rd floor of the building. There, we met up with Ryan and Pad. Boy were we happy to see each other! We started class, and Dr Foouzia was intimidating – absolutely NO English and we couldn’t make heads or tails of what was being said. It got better, and we caught on quickly. We took a break, drank some sweet coffee, and then headed back in for another 2 hours. I found myself unable to concentrate for 4 hours straight and started daydreaming. It was finally over. Great class session. MAJ Keith picked us up for lunch and shopping at the souq (a free for all market), but not before Ken was hit on by a beautiful girl. We *all* gave him grief about that one! J We ate at a restaurant, which was good. We ate fried egg and potatoes wrapped in a dough cover, and spaghetti of all things. I had sausage links and fries, topped off with desert of strawberries and sugar. Very cheap lunch. The toilets here have NO toilet paper. Unbelievable! Only a hose to wipe off with! Anyway, at the shopping spree, the guys (Pad, Sean & Ryan) went crazy and spent $$ galore, while Ken and I decided to wait. I saw a sword I want for Pat, and a few gifts here and there. Wish I had brought more $$! We ended up driving back to our host’s home (arrived too late at the college to catch a ride). I needed notebook paper, so we ended up buying TP instead. As we reached our house, we found a store and I spoke Arabic and got 4 books. At home, Sean and I did our homework – it was nice having Ameera help. We then had dinner, a huge meal of fish (fried), potatoes (fried), Tunisian salad, fried egg, spinach, potatoes (like a spring roll), and bread. I was absolutely stuffed. Our host’s brother visited us, so Ameera and I went to my room to study. I showed her my shampoo, perfume and scented lotion. I need to send some over here. They will love it! Ameera helped me do my homework. Such a sweetie! We talked until her mom made her go to sleep. Then it was my turn to rack…
Highlights of today:
-Pad being pestered by EVERYONE for his baseball cap
-Sean and I talked a lot about our respective significant others – we are getting to be better friends – he is a great guy
-Sean’s face after eating a jalapeño pepper. I died laughing – he started tearing up and became uncommunicative. Funny!
7 June: What a day! It’s been a long one. I awoke to my alarm at 5:26 am, and Ameera and I went running. Poor girl – she was not in shape to run. She died after about 5 minutes. I tried to get her to stay with me, but she kept walking. We ended up in a garden of trees arranged in an orchard. There seemed to be a tent up ahead, and since I didn’t know anyone and no one knew me, I decided to head back (I didn’t want any trouble with the military!). Returned to do sit-ups and pushups – Ameera had a hard time. Then we showered quickly, and ate breakfast. It was terrible. We had this Arabic homemade yogurt. I thought I would throw up, but social tact required me to eat at least ¾ of it before I didn’t really care and refused to eat anymore. We then drove to school. We had a long class, but overall it was much more productive than the previous day. MAJ Keith picked us up after class, and we ate in a European “buffet style” serve yourself restaurant for lunch. It was OK. Then off to sightsee. We first stopped by MAJ Keith’s house. It was HUGE! Nice place for an overseas house. I liked it a lot, especially the toilets that faced each other, ha. Then we went to the North Africa American cemetery in Tunis. It was surprisingly well kept. We were escorted around by a most charming guide (enlisted 31+ years). After taking some photos, we headed for the Carthage Ruins. We got into the ruins grounds, and walked around. There were arches, tombs, temples, baby sacrifice pit, and a magnificent view of Carthage and the sea. Funny thing was you couldn’t take a picture of the King’s Palace – or they’d take away your camera! So we just took cheese-ball photos and left for the mosque on a hill. It looked like a castle, and we paid more money to get in, but it was pretty and probably worth it. We dropped off Ken and drove back and dropped off Ryan and Pad. Then MAJ Keith wanted to fix the tires/brakes of the jeep. It sounded TERRIBLE. We ended up at the American Embassy and got a different car to use. Then we came back home and talked to Mohammed for a bit. Then Ameera and I did homework until dinner was served. We ate curry beans, Tunisian salad, and the egg with spinach leftovers. It was a nice meal. They sure like lamb meat! Then we worked on homework a bit more. I am so tired. Soon I am off to dream land.
Highlights of the day:
-Mohammed is the political leader of his area. No wonder Ameera can become a female pilot (her dream). He is a very important man!
-Ken turning red when his hairy chest was pointed out by Dr Foouzia and when he turns red from getting embarrassed by us because of his “woman”
8 June: I awoke to my alarm ringing at 5:26 am, and dreaded running with Sean. But I dragged myself out of bed, and peed forever. When we were running, two very disconcerting things happened. I realized EVERYONE was staring at us as if we were crazy running in the rain, and I had to poop…badly. But I told Sean and we kept running until I knew I could either go in my shorts or hide in the bushes. I chose to hobble painfully home and relieved myself of yesterday’s disgusting yogurt meal. Class was long, but good. Foouzia is a teacher who is excited about teaching. We were then picked up by MAJ Keith and began our long trek to Dougga (ancient Roman ruins…absolutely amazing!) We drove forever. We ended up in some small town for lunch. We ate chicken and fries. As we sat in the café, a shelf containing all the spices crashed unceremoniously to the floor. We took it as an omen. The weather was about 104 degree and in the sweltering heat, I felt sick. But a rapidly moving rainstorm came in and brought a torrential downpour. We could see it approaching as we headed to Dougga. The change in temperature made everything a lot more comfortable. We each paid 3 Dinar to get in to see the ruins. However, as we were in the amphitheater, the guard asked us for 4 more Dinars. Essentially, he had given us 2 tickets extra, and because we didn’t notice this we lost out and had to pay for his mistake! Also, our car was sabotaged, and a flat tire awaited us. So we refused any of the locals help and fixed it ourselves, refusing to buy into their elaborate scam. We left there and began the trek home, which surprisingly was quick. We settled on dinner at a hotel. Although it was expensive, the food was absolutely TERRIBLE! I paid 70 Dinar for bread and water. Horrible place. We came back to our host’s house and now I am going to read the end of the Congo.
9 June: A relaxing day today…what a relief! Today I awoke at about 6:20 am, and obviously Sean slept in too, as we didn’t go running. I got ready for school, dreading the yogurt to come. Fortunately, we had bread with butter and salami instead. It was good. A 100x improvement. Sean and I arrived at school and found we had a lecture that morning. Inshallah! Praise God! We listened to a speech about Tunisia and its history. It was very interesting. Then we sat around and waited for MAJ Keith to return and take us to Hammamet, the tourist resort. We finally left about 11:40 am, to cross the road for lunch. It was OK, but I am beginning to see the difference in Noora’s food and everyone else’s. Sean had diarrhea. We all laughed but MAJ Keith bought him some Imodium tablets…taking care of his troops! We drove out to Hammamet. I listened to my Walkman the whole way and took a snooze. I awoke as we arrived in a hotel resort area. The women were topless! Of course all the guys pointed that out to me. They told me I had to blend in, therefore I needed to take my top off! So I told them fat chance – this was going to be one gal that stood out. Anyway, as we approached the beach, there was a whole yard full of camels. I knew it was a scam from minute one but wanted a picture no matter what. So we all changed and went swimming. It was cold. The Mediterranean is pretty though. I got out and was sunbathing for a while. The guys were staring at everyone. Finally, I convinced Sean and Pad to come “look” at the camels with me. Of course I rode it while Pad took photos and despite their adamant claims that *they* would not get suckered, all 3 of us clambered up onto the camel’s back and went for a ride. It was fun…but what a rip off. 17.5 bucks! Oh well, once in a lifetime deal, ha. Anyway, we swam some more and I went for a walk. I was soon stopped by an over-eager Arab who wanted to take me to the disco. He pointed to my 5 male companions and asked if they were my boyfriends? I told him no, but showed my ring finger and said “Ana muta zouwij” (I am married). That took care of business. We stayed till 5 pm and drove home. An hour later, I ran into the house and took a refreshing hot water bath. It sure felt great. Then we ate dinner. After dinner, we looked at photo albums and I learned more about Mohammad and Foouzia’s family. Overall it was a very nice day.
10 June: What a long day! I am so tired right now. It was the most tedious and yet the most fulfilling day too. We started our weekend trek down south. It is absolutely incredible here. We awoke at 5 am to get ready to pick Pad and Ryan up at 5:30 am. We drove south from Tunis towards the city of Kairouan. First stop was at the Prophet Mohammad’s barber’s burial place, Sidi Sahab. We learned that Sidi Sahab saved 2 of Mohammad’s beard hairs, which he carried with him everywhere he went. There were also two large 9th century cisterns holding pools of water (Aghlabid basins). After that, we visited the nearby Great Mosque of Kairouan. It was neat. I’ve never had the chance to see one before, so it was all new to me. I had to wear a white robe as my shorts didn’t cover my knees. As non-Muslims, we weren’t allowed to enter the mosque’s prayer hall, but we were able to take photos from the outside looking in. Afterwards, we went to the Mosque of the Barber (also called the Zaouia of Sidi Sahab), which had incredible ceramic and tile work. It was magnificent! Foouzia bought me a necklace there. We then hopped back into the land rovers and traveled an hour to Sbeitla (the best preserved Forum Temples in all of Tunisia). After some time to explore, it was back in the vehicles where of course I fell asleep. When I awoke, we had arrived to a town where we took a break for lunch. The Tunisian drivers here are crazy! Good thing I was sleeping. I guess our driver almost had a head on collision with another driver! Anyway, lunch was OK – nothing spectacular. The Tunisians love to eat lamb – I’ve never eaten so much lamb before. We then continued onward, arriving at a series of Oases. I had never seen an oasis before but it was magical to see vegetation in the middle of a desert! It is something dreams are made of. The view is simply indescribable. We drove past tons of sand. Good thing they are hardy and reliable cars. We simply flew! We saw a spectacular view of Mides Canyon cut away by years of water. Absolutely amazing! Then we started the magical part of the journey. We stopped to see the old abandoned city of Tamerza (abandoned after the floods of 1969). We were right on the Algerian border where religious fanatics recently killed 7 or 9 young men. Anyway, after more pictures, we traveled up this winding road with more coils than a snake, twisting and winding our way up to the mountain. I guess the military has men that extend the road out width wise. There was a small delay while we waited for a nervous farmer to move his tractor and broken down trailer out of the road. In the meantime, about 5 land rovers accumulated, honking their horns with impatience at the delay. We finally got moving again and flew up and down, in and out of the winding road. The feeling is absolutely indescribable – you see palm trees that exist only in movies. It all seems so unreal! We drove toward a remote oasis village, listening to techno music the entire way. It was great. The village was small, and Bedouin folk refused to have their pictures taken. I took some gorgeous shots of the scenery though. It was so beautiful. I saw a gorgeous Bedouin girl with red hair, green eyes, and the tannest skin. What a combination! She smiled beautifully when she saw me staring at her unbelievable eyes. We all bought “dough” necklaces from the Bedouin girls atop the mountain. It was a day to remember! Afterwards, we drove towards the oasis village of Tozeur where our hotel was and showered real quick. Afterwards, we ate a nice meal and I played cards with Sean for a while. The boys went out, so I decided to sleep and get up early for a swim in the morning. Today was an absolutely wonderful day!!!
11 June: Although it is surprisingly the driving that wears me out, I wish the days here were endless. Another great day! We awoke at 5:30 am, swam at 6 and I admired the mosque’s dome as the sun beat down on Ameera and me. We dressed, got ready for the day and at a buffet style breakfast in Tozeur. It was surprisingly good. I finally had a chance to mail off my letters. We then drove right down the street and went into a restored mansion that has been converted into a museum (Dar Cherait). All of us paid for the 1001 Arabian Nights experience which was pretty cool. There were lots of wax figurines dressed in traditional Tunisian outfits. Needless to say, I took a ton of photos. My favorite was one of me next to the guards and this 8+ foot tall giant! After Dar Cherait, we all piled into the land rover again. Foouzia has promised me a 1st class robe from Morocco. I can’t wait. There are so many gifts I want to give. From spices to rugs to swords and lamps to scarves…everything! We picked up the driver’s brother, and then drove onward forever. We went through a desert and ended up in a town with a hotel. We ate buffet style at the restaurant, and met about 20 to 30 Americans there! They were all in the Navy (Seabees, construction workers). It felt weird, not being the only Americans. We then rode camels, which was awesome! We paid 5 Dinar for 30 to 45 minutes and it was worth it. I had a blast. The camels were kinda ugly, but beautiful at the same time. I rode on a white camel, which was the only one. Then we drove forever. For hours it seemed like. We were on a crazy road, which ended abruptly. Then we went cross-country, forging new roads! We ended up at a city called Matmata, with houses built into the earth. I was dressed up in traditional garb. It was fun. When we ended up reaching our hotel for the night, it was amazing!!! A cave like city, the rooms are simple but it is soooo quaint. I love it here. For dinner we ate a traditional meal of couscous followed by watermelon for dessert. We stayed up late talking for a while and met an American. He speaks Arabic really well…I was impressed! We had the CD player blasting some American music and eventually called it a night. What a day.
12 June: We awoke to insistent knocking at our door around 5 am. Ameera and I proceeded to sleep until 5:30 am before we finally got up and got ready for the day. Breakfast was a simple meal of bread, date jam and coffee & milk. The drivers slept in, so we had some time to kill while they awoke and got ready. We climbed on top of the hotel to look down to see our bedrooms. After a few minutes, we hiked back down to the land rovers. I ended up buying a small bottle of colored sand with a camel scene…my souvenir from Matmata! I slept heavily as we drove forever. We stopped to see yet another oasis, and then went to a beach. The water did not seem too bad, so I went swimming. It was cool but nice. Too much seaweed though. We then climbed back into the cars and drove onward to another town. There, we walked around the town for about an hour, visiting the meat market where hooves, bladders, jawbones with teeth still intact were on display. Then it was off to the fish market where very familiar smells came back to me. Smells of Singapore and the “fish market” smell there. I saw a ray that must have been 4 feet long – it was absolutely enormous! We then walked back into town. I felt like I was the meat market and that I was on display. Because the guys would stare heavily for a long time, or would follow me. I was with Ameera, holding her hand, so no one said anything. But I felt angry and uncomfortable nevertheless. We went to see a Children’s Exhibition Show – it was nice. There were photos of Tunisian children ranging from blondes with blue eyes to the blackest there could be. It was fascinating. I met a girl named Nura who had studied English for only 2 years. She was shy but very friendly. We became friends and she gave me her address, making me promise to write soon. We then went to a fancy restaurant for lunch. It was rabbit. I almost puked. Not that I am a fussy eater, just that I didn’t know what I was eating and I hate that! We then drove for a while. I started feeling queasy. Finally, we ended up stopping at El Djem, a fabulously preserved (and massive) Roman Coliseum, where Christians were thrown to the lions. It was absolutely incredible. I couldn’t believe how much was intact. We climbed to the top and saw the incredible view from there. Mohammed took our picture. Then we climbed over to where the lions and the Christians were kept. You could close your eyes and imagine how desperate they must have felt! I walked into a room and wondered how many people were crammed into it. You could even smell the lions/people pee over the years (but most likely it was just from inconsiderate tourists…) There was even a tunnel that lead from under the coliseum towards the sea (20 KM) that the lions ran down to get into the stadium (it has since been bricked off). We left and went to a resort/beach area nearby where the Mohammed family owns an apartment for the summer months. It was fancy…lots of tourists and rich Europeans. We finally left and drove back home. I was feeling full, and didn’t want anything else to eat. I immediately took a shower once we got back to the house. It felt incredible to have touchable hair again! Then Ameera pretended to be a hairstylist, playing with my hair. It came out great! She straightened it out with a blow dryer and oiled it down. Then arranged it to look all dolled up. I was really impressed…Ameera knows how to do so much! We ate dinner. It was the lining of a cow’s stomach stuffed with all the insides and sewn together by hand. All that plus couscous. I wasn’t hungry but ate. It was kinda gross. Well, at least it didn’t appeal to me. I went to bed shortly thereafter and spent a restless night tossing and turning.
13 June: I did not go running this morning. I wanted to, but didn’t feel very good. I woke at 6:40 am (really late for me), and ate a slice of bread and some hot milk. I didn’t feel good at all. It must have been that sheep’s stomach lining or something! We went to school and it was a LONG 4 hours. Even Foouzia was sick. She had to take a break to throw up, and then came back to teach. After class was finally over, it was my turn to throw up. I felt somewhat better, but still not 100%. We went to the restaurant across the street but it was jammed pack full of people. So we went to Mc Doly’s, a Tunisian version of Mc Donald’s. I had ice cream and sprite. The guys had burgers, which sucked. We then dropped off a bunch of postcards in Sidi Bou Said, and went to MAJ Keith’s house to do laundry. We used his washing machine and it was great to get laundry done! I read Clive Cussler’s Dragon before sleeping the afternoon away. I had made several trips to the bathroom throughout the day, all of which resulted in diarrhea. I was definitely sick as a dog! I awoke to Pad yelling my Arabic name “Zahra” really loud. He was drunk. I guess the boys shopped at the US Embassy’s shopping center where they got American food and beer to pass the day. The boys were pretty buzzed and I was insanely jealous, with my insides still churning. Eventually, it got ugly between Sean and Pad, and then with Ryan. Pad was claiming he wasn’t drunk but he was. MAJ Keith talked to him briefly before driving us all home at around 7 pm. We reached our host home by 8:20 pm and apologized for returning so late. Sean and I had dinner and I took some medicine, which I hope cures my diarrhea. I hate having it and not feeling well. Overall it was a very relaxing day. We needed it to recover from the road trip and wash our stinky clothes.
14 June: I woke with surprisingly no pain. I guess the anti-diarrhea medicine Sean gave me worked! I actually feel great! Breakfast was a quick hardboiled egg and some milk combo and then we were immediately off for our 20-minute ride to CITRAF. We got there first and Pad and Ryan arrived soon after. Pad was still pretty pissed off at everyone and he avoided the rest of us like the plague. Class was excruciating today. Ryan was dead asleep, I was super tired, and Pad was sullen. Poor Foouzia! We finally ended at noon, and went to a nearby deli for lunch. I had a cheese/salami sandwich while the boys had pizza (Tunisian style). We then went to the Bardo Museum. It was a nice museum, with the main attraction their fabulous mosaics. They were really great! I walked around and stared at all the sights. It was neat – what smart people our ancestors were. They had gorgeous depictions of the great cats (sadly, many were partially destroyed). We finished taking photos there and went to the Tunisian Army Museum. Unfortunately, it was closed until July, so we headed on out to the nearby Tunisia Park, a fun filled festival of rides. We rode the Ferris wheel, roller coaster, gravitron and paid an extra $5 for the racing cars. It was awesome, being able to go super fast for so long! We also did bumper cars in water, and then stopped for ice cream. After that, MAJ Keith and I went on the Octopus. It was the worst ride ever invented. I of course sat on the outside and got squished like a bug. And my neck felt like it would snap off not to mention my stomach kept churning. Finally the nightmare ended, and I thanked God. Overall it was a fun day and I really enjoyed the park. We arrived home by taking the metro, which was a fun experience. On the way home, Sean and I stopped to buy a watermelon. It was nice seeing the locals. I felt like we were part of Tunisian society, which felt nice and welcoming. At home, we played dominoes with the kids until suppertime. For dinner, we had a great meal of macaroni and lamb, with the watermelon we bought served for dessert. We also enjoyed a good and funny talk over dinner with Mohammed and Foouzia. Overall a great day!
15 June: I awoke to Sean telling me to run at 5 am. I ran at 6 am on my own with my walkman and gym A uniform. What a weird feeling – to have everyone stare! But it did feel good when I greeted someone with “Sabah Alkhyr” and he responded in kind. After running, I hopped in for a quick shower and prepared for the day. We ate quickly and were 30 minutes early for class. Pad still wasn’t very happy with any of us. So we began class, which was another long one. Ryan needs to sleep more. He looked so miserable. Finally it was over. The guys and I split up…I went with Foouzia and they left for an afternoon at the beach. Foouzia and I ate a quick lunch at CITRAF where I was given a salami sandwich. And a glass of milk that tasted sour to me. It was terrible! But I gulped it down and shut up. Then I waited for Foouzia for about a half an hour until she fetched my photos. I ended up paying $125 for them, which is very, very expensive, but worth it too. After all, memories last a lifetime. So Foouzia and I went to a bank and I got $260 worth of Travelers Checks into Dinar (about 230), and I gave it all to Foouzia. Finally we went shopping. She knows what I want. And I felt happy with everything but the sword. Its absolutely insane shopping at the souq here! We shopped for what felt like forever, and then I ended up going to the public library with Foouzia. Boy she loves to talk to everyone! We left and I fell in love with a gorgeous sapphire and diamond ring $80. But it was a little big and Foouzia refused to pay anything more than $50 for it, so in the end I didn’t buy it. But we know what to look for. Then we went to a mosque. I pretended to be Muslim, just to experience what its all about. It was an interesting experience. Afterwards, we went to Foouzia’s other houses, where she told me Mohammed had grown up in. The family sure is rich! We caught a taxi home and had a quick dinner of sheep’s stomach and tomatoes. Then we stared at my pictures some more. Overall a good but exhausting day.
My trip to the Mosque (in detail): We walked into an area similar to the one in Kairouan with the fountain in the middle of the room. But for some reason, it was under construction and half of it was taped off. So Foouzia and I entered a dark room that was lit by candles. There were several old women lying down, and one sitting right outside the mosque’s entrance to the shrine. We walked in and Foouzia pushed me (motioning for me to remove my shoes), so I quickly removed my sandals and followed her. The inside of the mosque was very pretty. There was a large dome built entirely out of gorgeous tile work. The Koran’s scriptures began at a 180 degree direction of the shrine itself, and green was the predominate color. A woman sat inside the shrine’s gate and as she approached us, Foouzia hit me and made me chant the chants she was muttering. The woman finally left and we sat on these thin straw mats that were spread out on the floor. I mimicked every movement of Foouzia to the T. I felt like a monkey, playing copycat or follow the leader. But we finally got done with the prayer and stood up. Foouzia took me to a tomb that was inside the mosque and it was surrounded by a wooden fence. We peeked inside and saw some memorabilia. Then we walked back to the shrine and I gave the woman that overseeing everything a Dinar for an “offering”. Finally, we bowed and left. Right outside sat a bowl of water which we both took sips from. It was all such an interesting experience.
16 June: Well, another long day…finally over! What a day. The days are long but the weeks fly by. We started the day with me waking up late and rushing to get ready for class. After a quick breakfast, I hurried to the car and we arrived early. I told MAJ Keith all about my excursion with Foouzia. He wanted to know more about the mosque, so I promised to write it up in detail. Class wasn’t too bad today. We listened to the news and then had to tell Foouzia what we heard. After class, Foouzia told me she would shop a bit for me today. For lunch, we all went to a small restaurant where I ordered spaghetti (OK). I love the custard desserts here though. We then went on our afternoon trip to Northwestern Tunisia. I drove! Ha ha, what an experience! It was a long ride, but the scenery is really beautiful. I saw a lot – gorgeous picture postcard perfect scenes. We arrived at Bulla Regia, a former Roman city at about 4:30 pm or so. There was a bit of time for us to walk around, so we checked out the baths and the underground homes. The mosaics were absolutely incredible. It was a smaller Roman town, but very nice and worthwhile nevertheless. Afterwards, we stopped for ice cream and soda. Then Ken drove back. Like a maniac of course! I borrowed Ryan’s CD player and listened to the Cranberries and Journey. We arrived home at about 8:20 pm and beat Foouzia by a few minutes when she got home by taxi. She bought so much stuff; most of it was for me! We ate dinner and then Foouzia brought out Sean’s photos. I love my Tunisian birdcage. Its awesome. And the carpets, leather bag and pillow seats are great too. She really got good deals for me – I am sure happy. But, Sean isn’t! He didn’t like the fact that Foouzia took two of his photos (sneakily). She upset him a lot. Plus I think he’s ready to leave. I hope its not because of all the attention that I am getting from Foouzia. That would make me feel really bad. I don’t know why Ryan is calling me “Princess” now, but they kept saying I’m spoilt. Yeah right! Well, Buenos noches!
17 June: I never thought I’d be sick of the car and yet after today, I refuse to ride either hump or take the back seat in the jeep again. I have such a sore butt! I awoke to Sean telling me to get up to go running. It was about 6 am. So I got ready but instead of running, I put on a fashion show for Foouzia. I tried on all the dresses, and they are all beautiful, except I probably won’t have the chance to wear any of them in the near future. But I appeased her and tried each one on. By the time I was done, I could only run for a little bit so I did, but again, it feels really uncomfortable running here because every single person stares. Its really rude. So I ran back and showered. Breakfast was a real quick one of date and buttered bread, which was tasty. Then we walked downstairs and lo and behold, first class service! The jeep was waiting outside for us. So we all piled in and poor Sean was stuck in the back. We headed north, with everyone falling asleep before too long. We reached a city that was like our Yorktown. The French were fending off a series of guerilla attacks from Tunisian nationalists in 1952, and this was the turning point where France finally decided it needed to get out of Tunisia and grant them their independence. We walked to the fish market where I saw the biggest lobster ever. Enormous! Then we went to the meat market. It was all fresh, with heads of goats and cows (presumably for a tasty soup?). It was kinda gross to see it all there, but that’s what the locals eat here. After our short break, we all piled back into the car and I got stuck in the rear as we traveled onward to Tabarqa. I fell asleep and awoke to rainy weather. The northern section of Tunisia is so green. It was really pretty. And the houses…they were all so European looking. I honestly wouldn’t know which country I was in just looking at the architecture alone! We stopped at a fancy hotel (which was gorgeous) to have lunch. I had a pizza, which was really good. After lunch, we went to check out the Genoese fort in Tabarqa. We took a few photos before driving further up north near the border with Algeria. Our destination was a place called Bourguiba’s Hammam – which sounded like a resort or spa. So we drove up mountains and battled our way though the throngs of young boys trying to make a Dinar by selling jasmine, dates or wooden carved objects. We finally arrived and had to go through a police inquisition – who we were, why were we here – before finally being granted access. The “hammam” ended up being a sanatorium or a hospital for throat or nasal problems! Boy was it a terrible mistake, but a humorous one!! We traveled back the same way we had come from, and I could smell the brakes burning. They smelt terrible. Everyone settled in for the long car ride back to Tunis. After spending so many hours in the car, we were all ready to get out. In Tunis, we drove past the zoo and saw bouncing deer. We were on the way to talk to the marines who seemed like real winners. Afterwards, we had dinner at an Italian restaurant. I ordered spaghetti, which was fantastic. Pad found a pubic hair in his meal, and I quickly lost my appetite. Sean ended up paying for my dinner and we all piled into MAJ Keith’s mansion. Each of us quickly snagged a room. I listened to South America Indian music for a while and then switched to reading the adventures of Dirk Pitt. Needless to say, I slept very well.
18 June: Today was the first day we slept in late. It felt great! Then we dressed and went to church. It had moved from one location to another so we drove back towards MAJ Keith’s while I avidly read more Dragon. Eventually, we ended up at a church that had a ton of people there. Sean and Pad didn’t take communion. Sean because of his beliefs. He feels so strongly about religion that I almost hate talking to him about it since we tend to disagree a lot. After church we returned home and Foouzia had bought my lantern. It is beautiful! But I haven’t got a clue how on earth I will take it back home. At about 3 pm, we went out again, stopping in a graveyard to check out the tombs. Then we went to Mohammed and Foouzia’s new house. Absolutely gorgeous and massive. Foouzia was so excited about it, and she really enjoyed showing off each room. I don’t blame her…it’s a gorgeous house. When we were finally done with the tour, we met Foouzia’s brother, who seemed friendly enough. Eventually, we drove out to Sidi Bou Said, a beautiful coastal city about 20 KM away from Tunis. I will always remember the classical blue and white colors of Sidi Bou Said. It is a gorgeous town. We walked down the mountain and into the resort like boating community. And then back up the many, many stairs. It was exhausting, but a fun and interesting afternoon excursion. We finally headed back home at 8 pm and had a nice dinner of couscous. Afterwards, I showered and Ameera played with my hair for a little while. It felt great to be pampered like this. Well, there are 5 more days remaining in Tunisia. I think they will pass by quickly.
19 June: What a long day! Today we got the complete tour of Bizerte (northern Tunisia, the oldest city in Tunisia). We woke up and a breakfast of yogurt was awaiting. I diplomatically refused my portion. After loading into the Puegot, we took a detour to a book copier store. Sadly it was closed, so Mohammed cursed the entire way to CITRAF. Class was held as usual, and then we took off for a quick bite at McDolys. I had a sundae and drink only – I hate burgers! We then rushed back to CITRAF and met MAJ Keith and his 3 daughters. It felt like we rode forever. Sean and MAJ Keith got into a huge debate on abortion. I was asleep but woke up to a heavy discussion. I wonder about Sean sometimes. He feels so strongly about so many subjects and yet is so young and idealistic. We arrived at a café where we drank strawberry juice. It was great! I really enjoyed it. Then on to drop off MAJ Keith’s daughters before going to the Spanish Fort in Bizerte, where we spent a lot of time looking at the city. There were nice views of the Kasbah, and we saw a 6 sided mosque in addition to the normal 4 sided mosque. We walked around Bizerte for a while before stopping by a roadside café for some drinks. After that, we visited Foouzia’s brother’s house and met him (he was in the Tunisian Navy). Finally, it was back home, which was a long ride. I listened to Enya. We stopped to pick up Ryan (who had been riding in Foouzia’s car) and smooth Sean set up a date for Dahdah Land. Ha ha, I think its hilarious. Sometime I feel like I am back in high school on this trip. Anyway, we ended up home super late and had dinner. I went straight to bed while Sean stayed up late talking to Foouzia.
20 June: Today I woke up later than usual at 6:20 am and I was still tired. We had breakfast of bread, fig jam and cocoa and headed for CITRAF. Once we arrived, I had everyone’s bill laid out. The boys received their jebbas, bedaias, shoes, and hats all for the price of 86 Dinars each. Class was cold. Sean was pissed off at Foouzia. He thinks she ripped him off. I doubt it – she doesn’t seem like she would. And she’s been fair if somewhat overzealous with me. Once class was over, we ate tuna sandwiches for lunch. Ryan refused it for some reason. After lunch, the boys asked Awwatif and her friends to Medina Dahdah or dancing at Foouzia’s house. Awwatif readily agreed. Then we were off to the zoo, which was nice. I haven’t been to one in a long, long time. So we ended up taking photos galore. Then we sat at a café and had some drinks. Awwatif came by and we all sat down laughing and drinking. We lost track of time because all of a sudden, Sean and I had to rush back on the metro. I wore a sundress with a white scarf (for modesty) to the DIA Colonel’s house. The party was a fun affair, and we met two girls (the boys went goo goo of course!). I talked to the Colonel’s wife a lot and learned a ton about adoption (she is the pro). I also chatted the Colonel’s ear off…he was a great guy to talk to with tons of advice about reading books on Vietnam to better understand the psyche of officers during that era. I could tell it was a touchy subject for him. It was a late night by the time we finally headed home. Foouzia bought me 2 birds in a cage. Oh man, what will I do???
21 June: Today I awoke and began to discover just how many of my belongings mysteriously disappeared. I want to go home. I hate it when people either take my trust for granted and misuse it, or try to be sneaky. I feel as if I am back home and Frances is stealing my stuff, except its now Ameera and Foouzia knows all about it but won’t stop her! That makes me mad because they would probably say “you have so much and we have so little”. Which is true, but all they have to do is ask, and I’d be more than generous. But I don’t like waking up and discovering all my Victoria’s Secret bras are gone or were worn and are now ripped to shreds because it was worn by someone who didn’t fit it! I am so frustrated, because I could say something and get Ameera in trouble or embarrass Foouzia. I just want my stuff back and not in someone else’s house. Especially my freaking underwear! That is utterly disgusting because they don’t wear deodorant here. I want to get out of here…quick! I woke up tired and scrambled to get ready. Foouzia didn’t sleep at all last night. She was busy correcting papers all night. She really does work hard. Mohammed’s car broke down so we rode to CITRAF in a taxi. It came out to 2.5 Dinar. We only had a 3-hour class this morning (which was fine by me!). It was our very last one. Tomorrow we are going to a natural hot spring instead of class. After class, we all went to the bank to change money. Pad gave me $75 for the 80 US I loaned him. Then we went to a barber, and Ryan (Hussein), Sean (Wahid), and Ken (Husan) got their haircut. Sean’s came out the worst. He went from Tom Cruise in Top Gun to Kevin Costner in Dances with Wolves. After that we ate lunch at a restaurant, and I rushed back to CITRAF where Ameera and I caught the bus to the hammam. What a neat experience! We stripped down to our underwear, then went inside and steaming water rose up. There was a cold water bath and a hot water one. I got a full body scrubbing and it was great…I couldn’t believe how much dead skin was removed from my body!!! Then I got my hair washed. The entire experience was really neat. The Tunisian women laughed because I didn’t wax. All the women wax and they must have thought I was a hairy beast! I wish we had hammams in the US that were as reasonably priced (it only cost me a whopping 2 Dinar). At the very end, the women convinced me to wax my legs. And it was done by a family friend. Except I had shaved a few days before so it was really hard for her. Afterwards, Ameera and I went home and I packed my stuff up. My lantern surprisingly fit inside one of my bags…phew! One huge worry alleviated. While my hammam experience was going on, the guys were at Dahdah Land. They said they had a good old time but I think I had more fun at the hammam!! Dinner was prepared for the whole group at Foouzia’s house. The boys arrived late. Mohammed and Foouzia were upset everyone was late but the evening ended up being very nice. Dinner was stomach and spaghetti. It wasn’t that bad! Maybe I am getting used to the food here, ha. I ate almost all of it. It was better the 2nd time around, that’s for sure. After dinner, my two parakeets (Shukran and Jeezela) were brought out. They are beautiful and I love them but there is no way in hell I am getting them back to the States! Everyone sat around and talked and I had a little show and tell moment, showing the guys everything that I had bought in Tunisia. It was a late evening as they stayed till midnight before going back to their homes.
22 June: We woke and got ready for a day at the springs, hammam and stone beach. After a quick breakfast, I packed my gear for the day (towel and bikini). The guys all arrived at 7:30 am and we took off towards the “two horned mountain” – Mohammed told us it was named that for its shape (). Anyway, we reached the top of the mountain and we didn’t end up going because Mohammed detoured to another place. Anayah, Ameera and I were dropped off at the hot springs and the guys all proceeded to the hammam together. I thought the local guys at the hot springs were leering at me way to much so I refused to change into my bikini and just sat there watching Anayah and Ameera having fun. The guys were soon back…little did they realize that the hammam was only for women! With safety in numbers, I finally felt comfortable changing into my bikini, which I did as inconspicuously as I could in the car. Swimming here was neat. The beach (covered by smooth and slick stones) had cold Mediterranean water, but the natural hot spring, which fed into it, had fantastic hot water. Swimming here was a very pleasant experience, which I enjoyed tremendously. Afterwards, we went to another place, which required a hike up the mountain over a scraggly rock path. An old man and his donkey set the pace, impeding our progress. He tried to beat his donkey repeatedly with a stick to hasten it, but the donkey would not be rushed. We ended up at a village with a bay that looked exactly like Hanauma Bay in Oahu, except there were no coral reefs here! It was beautiful though, with a beach made up of the smoothest stones. Anayah, Ameera and I went to the local bath here. The women were rubbing this black goo (mud?) all over their bodies. I was told it was to prevent diseases and to get rid of acne. We didn’t go in to the local baths, needless to say! None of us were keen on rubbing black goo all over ourselves! Instead, we swam at the beach and had a lovely time. MAJ Keith decided to go for a walk and after some time had passed, Pad and Sean decided to go find him when all of a sudden, Pad got sick. He threw up that morning’s breakfast of eggs. Poor thing! We decided to head back home, but first had to hike back up the mountain to reach the car. I felt super dehydrated by the time we reached our ride, but thankfully there was plenty of water waiting for us. When we reached our house, Sean and I ate a late lunch and I took a nap until 6:30 pm, waking up to eat again. Foouzia bought another egg sandwich for me, and we stayed up late talking about the overall trip and our impressions with Foouzia and Mohammed. At midnight, I finally went to bed again, completely tuckered out.
23 June: Today was our last day at CITRAF so we dressed up a little bit for the occasion. Sean wore his suit, and I wore a loose, flowing outfit. Our last class was an Arabic lecture about the role of Tunisian women. It was very long but interesting. We then had a little celebratory party where we took a bunch of photos with everyone. Afterwards, we went to the US Embassy for a meeting with a Colonel about FAOs (Foreign Area Officers). I was not impressed. He was an old geyser from the dinosaur era. His silly advice was to always make your men look good…not yourself. We then met Col Madsh, the DIA guy, and told him how we felt the entire trip was. Then it was off to lunch. We walked around town until we came to the Pizza Phone shop, which was actually a neat place. The owner was a Tunisian who had been educated in the US, so he knew what Americans liked to eat. After lunch, we went back to the Embassy’s reading room, where I found out that I couldn’t bring my birds back with me. It was simply too expensive to consider. We waited to talk to Ambassador Mary Ann Casey, who was really impressive! She had memorized all our names, and was calmly spouting off tons of information. What a great ambassador for our nation! After our visit to the Embassy, we headed back home to pack. Mohammed was keen on showing us his other houses, so we tagged along for a quick tour. Today, all the kids found out about their baccalaureates. Only 25% of them passed, so it was a sad day. After dinner, the family couldn’t bear to let us go so we stayed up late again and chatted the night away. I got harissa (a Tunisian staple consisting of red hot chili paste) for mom, which I think she will like. I went to bed all excited at the thought of going home…this had been quite the adventure but I missed my friends and family and was ready to head back to the US.
24 June: I just wanna get home! There’s nothing like home sweet home…Amen! I woke at about 7 or so (late for me!) and packed a bit more. I had written 7 letters and 2 postcards, which I mailed this morning with Ameera. The day I leave is the day I find out that there is a post office literally 2 minutes away from their house! Go figure. We all shared last minute stories and I took a quick shower. Then I taped my recollections and thoughts with Sean on the mini cassette tape that I gave them as a goodbye gift. It is sad to leave them…I will miss the family atmosphere they project and Tunisia itself. But I will be glad to get home! I got that black dress from Foouzia, which is absolutely gorgeous. I’m very happy! We said all our goodbyes so we were ready to leave when our ride arrived at 9:45 am. We lugged all our stuff into the trunk of the car, and squeezed in. By the time we checked in our luggage, Sean had been separated from the group (he was flying Alitalia). The rest of us were flying Lufthansa. At a duty free shop, one of the attendants rubbed jasmine oil all over our arms…our last reminder of Tunisia! We chatted in Arabic for the last time in Tunisia and finally left this beautiful country. Since our flight had been delayed slightly, we arrived in Germany at 5 pm. MAJ Keith’s luggage didn’t make it so he had to file a claim. While he was doing that, we took a taxi on our own and found our apartment for the night. It was massive and very nice! We hung around the apartment for a long while. I was starving and ended up eating all my dates before we decided to go get some real food. We ended up at a Pizza Hut of all places where we blew another 70 bucks on dinner! Germany is freaking expensive. After dinner, we walked around in search of beer (at least the guys did, I just accompanied them), and it was 9:30 nearing 10 pm. Surprisingly, everything was closed! We did find a corner store and Pad bought a bottle of Jack Daniels. He truly got gouged (price wise). The bottle was $40, as opposed to costing $16 at the Embassy in Tunisia!!! Back at the apartment, we watched Jean-Claude Van Damme movies. I was totally exhausted and crashed hard, sleeping quite well.
25 June: Today was a long day and the last trek of my incredibly long journey back home. What a trip though. I am utterly ecstatic and satisfied with journeying across the world and doing things you only dream of! We awoke at about 8 am. MAJ Keith and Ryan were out for a free breakfast, leaving me and Pad to fend for ourselves. We watched a dance competition on TV and then I took a shower and repacked my stuff. Pad and I ended up going to the Community Center for a late breakfast, which was really good (free with breakfast coupon, score!). We then loaded everything into MAJ Keith’s car and paid for the room. At the airport, we said goodbye to MAJ Keith for perhaps the last time. He left us and we walked into the airport and immediately faced an inquisition. We were asked countless questions about our bags and had to answer lots of bizarre questions. Finally, we were allowed to check in. But we immediately ran into a problem. Since we had flown Singapore Air before, Delta cancelled our return ticket for some reason. So we had a delay before that got all worked out, and we were finally able to check in. Pad tried to buy German beer for his brother, but all they had a duty free was American liquor. At last, it was time to board our Delta bound flight from Frankfurt to JFK. What a long ass flight (8+ hours!). Due to the time zone difference between Germany and the US, I calculated that it would be an extra long day for me today. My seat companion was an utter dweeb. I was not impressed at all, and we didn’t end up talking to each other once. And since I had no books to read, I must have listened to Delta’s limited and unselective music at least five times. Finally, on air entertainment kicked on and Delta was showing “Legends of the Fall”. Wow, Brad Pitt is a total stud! I was really impressed by his acting, and must have bawled my eyes out at least 4 or 5 times. After the movie, Delta served another snack and we finally touched down at Kennedy Airport at 3 pm. I had to pay for a cart (to help me lug my stuff through the airport), and Pad and I got all our bags and went through customs. When the custom agents heard we went to West Point and were returning from Tunisia, they were quite impressed and we had zero issues. I got to meet Pad’s folks who had met him at the airport. I still had another leg of my journey to tackle, so I made my way from international arrivals to domestic departures and went straight to the ticketing department. I bought a one-way flight from New York to Boston for $150, which was super expensive!!! I guess that’s what credit cards are good for though. We packed my Tunisian lantern with as much padding as possible. I honestly don’t know why I did that after the way the Tunisian baggage handlers manhandled my bags. Anyway, I finally boarded my last flight and am now anxiously waiting going home! What an incredible experience. I will forever remember Tunisia and my journey there.