“It’s gonna be a ‘mergency!!” declared five year old M as our airplane seemed to drop hundreds of feet at a time on our final descent into the Tunis airport. She wasn’t the only one who felt a tad nervous as our craft jostled and jumped its way to a halt on the burning hot tarmac. Our three year old however, was shrieking with delight as his stomach flipped and turned as if on an amusement park ride. We were with several hundred others making the voyage from Casablanca to Tunis… not sure the reasons for others’ travel that day but our little family was on the brink of beginning a new chapter of our living adventure in North Africa. We had just said our final tearful goodbyes to many of those who had become so dear to us, had our 17 pieces of luggage packed and weighed and repacked and reweighed and now we were all poised and ready with senses alert and waiting for what we would discover in this new land that somehow would again become our home.
Z buying a fresh fruit snack on the beach… not the country’s cleanest beach but nice enough
It’s unavoidable to play the comparison game and M was the first to whisper, “Here they say _______ instead of _______ like we do in Morocco!” Languages are different as each North African country has its own dialect of Arabic. It’s hard to go back to not being able to understand or be understood again but the challenge of learning a new language is always worth it for the fact that we get to meet and know so many more people this way…We DID feel right at home when our driver who was taking us to the beach hotel appreciated our attempts at communication but declared with typical North African passion that HIS country’s dialect was, of course, superior to those spoken in the surrounding nations!
Driving was also an experience in itself as the relative lack of authoritative presence on the road seemed to give him permission to blaze along at 150kms per hour past those gorgeous hills surrounding Tunis and Cap Bonne.. I have been pleasantly surprised to note though that of those police people who ARE out and about, a significant percentage of them seem to be women. I did have to laugh as I was walking alone with my 3 month old son early one morning in Sousse… I met a very persistent man trying to sell me some local honey from his backpack who unbeknownst to him taught me that here they say “gdesh” instead of “bshhal” for “how much”… I finally had to alter my route slightly as his persistence was bordering on making me uncomfortable. I really didn’t have a Dinar on me and couldn’t have purchased the sweet substance even if I had wanted to. I headed back towards the hotel and met some officers, one of which was checking his pistol by pointing it directly into his face… trust it wasn’t loaded!Of course Kevin couldn’t resist a visit to the Sousse museum which he said was a GREAT stop with excellent exhibits, including this well-preserved baptistry
The Orient Palace Hotel was a great choice for our family who just needed to collapse and spend a few days together before we begin the process of finding an office space and house to live in in Djerba Island in the south. I think the hotel is advertised as a 5 star accommodation but as a family we met from England pointed out, I don’t think it could honestly be much more than a 3 star lodging. We loved our experience there but we’re more accustomed to rubbish floating up on the beach (it makes for great sand-castle decorations!) and other things not working as they maybe would have a decade or two ago.
The “Orient Palace” pool… just barely visible on the left hand side in the middle is a woman in a “burqini”… freedom and modesty in one!
One thing I personally enjoyed was that the “Palace” was about a 60/40 ratio of foreign tourists like ourselves and local Tunisians enjoying their own country. Here we could begin making our earliest cultural observations … probably my favourite thing was seeing my first “Burqini” I don’t know that that’s a technical name but it’s a bathing suit that is especially designed for Muslim women who want to continue adhering to their modest dress requirements while enjoying time in the water with their families. They come in all colours and patterns and are complete with these cute little swim cap-like head covering things that hide hair while decreasing resistance in the water… It was wonderful! Some may be surprised by my endorsement of such a product but I think it actually gives Muslim women MORE freedom. Most of my conservative Moroccan friends won’t swim at all as they believe it is inappropriate for them all together. I myself have become quite proficient in swimming fully clothed out of respect for their beliefs but this could be one of my first “presents” I ship back to some of my friends from Tunisia! I personally enjoyed my modest but clearly western bathing suit these past few days… but what a sight to watch the string bikini’s and fully-covered swimmers enjoy the same beach and pool side! The beauty of diversity…Beginning a very different chapter of life in North Africa… from the crowded ancient medina of Fes to sandy island trails- wow.