“Can you imagine actually LIVING here?” I mean REALLY, truly- this stone room camouflaged into the side of this hill… calling it your HOME??
We’re withing a couple of months of being able to call North Africa our home for four years now and yet I’m so thankful that I can still say without a shadow of doubt that there is at very minimum, at least one new thing that I learn every day about this land, its culture and its people. It is a privilege, a gift, to reside abroad, to allow our lives to be infiltrated and influenced by other ideas and ways of life. I think it’s wonderful that my children know how to greet with a kiss, shake hands with their right only (the left hand is considered ‘unclean’), click their tongues when saying no, drink strong tea, ride camels and eat spicy harissa-laden food. They too are constantly learning!
Now even though I may be exposed to something new everyday, it’s becoming less frequent that a situation truly surprises me. I laughed this morning as my friend at the digital photo developing shop informed me that come December she would be quitting her job and beginning the process of ‘fattening up’ (I kid you not!) for her wedding next August. This slim, attractive young lady and I had a good chuckle together and I walked away smiling at the diversity of cultures and concepts of beauty, and the joy of being able to share in that… but I still wasn’t surprised!
So, this past weekend when we drove to the little town of Chenini, I was so thankful to be truly captured afresh by not only the altogether incredible sights and adventure Southern Tunisia has to offer, but to have the gift of a moment to reflect on what life must be like for these folks who still call this barren hill their home. The anticipation in arriving to the town is great! We’re all peering out of the dusty windows trying to see who can be first to spot the ‘city on a hill’… It’s difficult to make out the forms of individual dwelling places as since time immemorial they have used the same sunburned rock to create their village as exists for miles around them. Arriving at the bottom and looking up is a bit daunting… can you imagine your house being that one waaayyy at the top?! We begin the trek and higher and higher we climb, sometimes along neat pathways and other times hand over hand atop what could have once been ancient graineries or barns or maybe a bedroom window…?
A donkey’s coal-coloured coat gives away the entrance way to the home of a family who is sitting around a fire cooking tea. The woman’s face looks as weathered as her rugged abode and her traditional garb stands in crimson contrast to the world of beige… and she invites us in for a drink. We have to pass on the gracious offer as our older kids are already struggling to bridle their excitement and stay within our sights as they race along ahead… but just peeking into her courtyard I am reminded that for many people in the world, life is still mostly a journey of survival.
We continue to scale the settlement of which the majority is vacant with pockets of life scattered throughout… an electric wire carrying with it modernity disappears into one of the gaps in the stone which seems to indicate that someone has laid claim to that particular cave… a camel, a boy with hair as orange as fire runs downhill, laundry hangs waiting for a mountain breeze to render it dry… two men sit and stare up at us Canadians. I address them in the local dialect and ask them, “Do you live here?” An affirmative nod is given. I’m intrigued. “WHERE?!” I query further… as to my knowledge the last several hundred meters was mostly rubble. “Up there,” the big one motions with his telltale blue Amazigh eyes. I have a dozen more questions but know that my femaleness makes it not-highly-appropriate to ask them now. Maybe next time we can stop for tea with the lady and ask what it is really like to live here…