Tunisia

I was a teenager when I put my first steps in Africa. Or at least in the Maghreb. I was in a teens camp in Hammamet, located in the North of the country, one hour drive from Tunis, the capital.

When not to go ?

I went there in February, and despite it’s Africa and the south coast of the Mediterranean sea, it’s not warm in the winter season, so don’t choose that period. For me, except for one day, the weather remained cloudy and fresh the whole week.

Oriental culture: writting and driving

I never met the oriental world before these holidays, despite the fact, my grandfather came from the neighboring country, Algeria. When I arrived at the airport, the policeman at the customs read my family name on my ID and directly asked if my father was Tunisian, because he recognized my Arabian origin. Everything was so different for me, starting with the writing: how do they distinguish the letters? A word seemed to be only a long horizontal line interspersed with a few vertical lines of different lengths. Later I learned Arabic for 2 years at University, and honestly, when you know the letters, it’s easy to recognize it, but for my teen eyes, it remained a mystery.

As Tunis was close, we went to visit the capital. Before reaching it, I have to admit I was quite skeptical about the way people were driving, regarding how the cars were dented. The main rule seemed to be: the one who honks the strongest goes first. In the city, we went to the souk, for shopping. I never found it so hard to buy something. At home, prices are written on the product and I knew how much I was going to pay. There I discovered negotiation. I never knew how much I was going to spend on something I wanted. The only information I was given was that the trader was going to sell it more expensive than its real value, so the game was to make the price get as lower as possible. Some of my friends really enjoyed playing it, but for me, it was quite intimidating.

Oriental delights: hammam & pastries

One of the things I really enjoyed there was the hammam, which is something you can really enjoy in winter. It’s a wet warm, a little bit like the ancient Roman bath, and mostly known as a Turkish bath. Its main purpose is to make you sweat, in order to eliminate your impurities.
As you sweat, your dead skin goes off, almost just like this, passing a blow of washcloth. I didn’t know it was possible to lose so much dead skin. Women, and men, separately, used it for centuries to get clean. And I really felt clean and relax after that.

Traditional hammam

If you love sugar, believe me, you’ll love Tunisian pastries. Of course, Tunisian food is more than that, you can find the traditional couscous, with lamb and merguez (remember no pork in this country). But oriental pastries are a real delight. They are made with bursts of almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachios, pine nuts, rose water, orange blossom, honey. Just try the Cornes from Gazelle, the most famous.

Oriental pastries

The typical things to do

In fact, there is no camel in Africa, only in Asia. In the Maghreb, there are only dromedaries, with one hump. A tip to remember the difference: camel has two syllables, like Asia, so it has two humps. Easy. Honestly, riding a dromedary is not exactly the most comfortable thing to do, my posterior didn’t really enjoy it. But it remains very funny. I did it along the beach, and the best moment is when, just after climbing on the animal while he was sitting, he suddenly gets up, starting by leaning forward, which makes you think you fall over his head.

Dromedary

I almost forget to say, that, yes I tried the shisha. Just to describe my personal experience, I am not a smoker, and it was the first time I smoked something. I coughed for 5 min because I didn’t know how to deal with it, then laughed for 20min, and finally got sick for 2 weeks. It didn’t make me want to try again.

Shisha

I truly believe I was not old enough to face a different culture and to be able to understand it. I visited other oriental countries since I am an adult and really enjoyed it much better, especially the souk atmosphere.

February 2003 – Teens camp – 1 week

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