Tunisia, November 2005
For two years Ive been anticipating WSIS and a Tunisian vacation. I read guide books, searched on the web, investigated hotels, got no answers to my emails, found circuits busy when I tried to call (later I was told that was because the government controls communication, somewhat censors phone lines and email), didnt know where the WSIS meeting was in relation to hotels, couldnt get schedules for the internal airlines, found tours but not knowledgeable travel agents, .... However, in anticipation, I booked my air tickets in January 2005, and was able to cash in miles for the Frankfurt Tunis portion to save $400. I got a senior discount at a Tunis hotel, sent faxes and a registered letter to the other two, got one confirmation back by email and have my fingers crossed about the other. Then I tried to book the internal Tunisia flights. My French isnt good enough to call direct and I couldnt get lines to Tunisia anyhow so I started to call Tunis Air in London. Six months out, four months out, two months out ... the tickets arent in the computer system yet. After lots of anxiety I just decided the worst that can happen is I will have eight days and have to take a tour or make arrangements when I am there.
Since I would be gone a month I refilled four prescriptions early. Costco filled only 30 instead of the 100 Id needed, but that didnt matter because my doctor had written the wrong number of milligrams. The Canadian Drugstore autovoice called four times but no human was there when I called back. Turns out I had to agree with their shipping from the Philippines and New Zealand, and then that my credit card wouldnt clear (I havent been able to figure that error out.) So a week lost in getting that moving. But all that began to seem trivial after the next things that happened.
Lufthansa cancelled the flights on which I had award tickets. Alternatives were 15 hour layovers each way in Frankfurt. So I cancelled the award, got my miles and the taxes back, and, since I now had a relationship with Tunis Air (a staff person also named Sylvia), booked on Tunis Air, changed a layover hotel award from Frankfurt to Tunis, mentally traded the money Id just spent for a paid ticket with getting an award for another trip where I had been planning to purchase the ticket (and thus gain United frequent flyer status for 06 - and ticketing that too has been error-prone, a seat I had on hold was in AAs computer for this October instead of next July), found UK Tunis Air wouldnt accept credit cards from non UK banks, went to the travel agent I used before the web, and paid an extra $35 for them to issue the ticket.
The rest of my ticket was in combination with a meeting prior in Pittsburgh, and then next the APHA meeting in New Orleans! California, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Tunisia, California. Along came Katrina, APHA moved the meeting, but also changed the dates, so I had to try to reticket. I called United and the reservation agent said, "Ive worked here 22 years - I dont know how to do this!" She did figure it out, with convenient flights and good seats, except for San Francisco Frankfurt, at a cost of another $400. This vacation was getting out of hand. I kept wondering if this, now the fourth change, and all the problems with hotels, and the internal air not yet even booked, if maybe somewhere along the line I should have just cancelled everything!
Im embarrassed to write that my phone card history just for July and August shows 23 international calls ($9.22 through a prepaid plan at www.onesuite.com ).
But, persistently, I called Tunis Air in London again and yes indeed the return leg of the pair of flights Ive been waiting for is in the system and has an open seat, and the pair of legs Ive already booked is still in the system, but wait, wait, ... theres no outbound leg. On any day. Except by going through Paris.
After some hours of angst I regrouped, omitted one stop, rebooked hotels, resigned myself to seeing less of the area, relaxed, and the next morning checked one more time. The "under construction" website was up, at least in French, and, voila, you can get there from here. It was after closing in Tunis and London, my local travel agent wasnt going to be in til tomorrow, when I am scheduled to be out of town (thank goodness for cell phones), I am worrying so much that the flight which just appeared will be sold out overnight, ... And I decided to leave those hotel bookings in place as backup and cancel once Im there,
A friend with an amazing outlook emailed back "I can't imagine that the trip will be any more of an adventure than planning it!."
So, a few more calls, the flights arent in US travel agent computers, Tunis Air relented and accepted a US based credit card, and will hold the tickets at the airport for me (for an extra 25 pounds) and Ive just received a faxed itinerary.
Departing and Arriving
The day of departure my flight is not til 2 and I am ready very early. I tried to phone the intermediate hotel one last time, a person answered who was willing to listen to my high school French, confirmed my reservation (the hotel is full which surprised me since it is off season now) and so I used the internet to cancel my back-up plans.
I was surprised that it took 80 minutes to get checked-in on United and through San Francisco security; when the purser listed the languages available onboard, one was ASL; the flight to Frankfurt arrived 30 minutes early but no gate was ready; a cup of tea at the Frankfurt airport cost $5, the transfer to my Tunis Air connection was easy, no one has yet weighed my suitcase or my carry-on, despite all the care I took to comply with the rules - one 44 pound checked bag, one 22 pound carry-on . I realized while on board that I might have trouble checking my suitcase all the way home since I was traveling partly on an eticket, so in Frankfurt, the Lufthansa transfer desk kindly printed me a receipt and itinerary which they assured me would be enough of an authorization. On the next flight I dozed some and woke to what I thought was singing - my seatmate was reading from his prayer book.
At the Tunis airport there were WSIS welcome signs and repeated announcements, entrance was slow but uneventful, I picked up my ongoing tickets for the vacation portion that had been so hard to acquire, was bussed to the WSIS badging area, chatted in line with a friendly man who lives here and gave me his card, in case I need anything, and then, once enough of a group formed, was bussed to my hotel, a longer ride than I expected and a chance to chat with a woman from Sacramento in charge here of the Intel display.
Fortunately my hotel was the first stop, since by then I was quite frayed. It had taken 3 hours from airport - tickets, bus, badge, bus - and I had been traveling altogether for 23 hours. (The badge becomes an accessory at a conference and I was pleased to see that the orange badge theme color will match the clothes I had so carefully chosen to bring.) Ive been through metal detectors a number of times, at the airport, at the badging site, at the hotel. When I checked, now that my other plans were in place, I asked if I could change the departure to one day earlier, was told no problem, but I later that night found it has caused the computer to bump up the rate $40 a night which I let worry me a lot overnight but was able to resolve in the morning), and the package of paperbacks and protein bars that I had mailed three weeks ago from the US had not arrived (and my guess now is will never - I used USPS global priority mail). Theres a lot of security in the corridors, at the interior entrances, put in place because of WSIS and, no, Im told, not increased after last weeks Amman bombings.
My hotel, a Renaissance, is one of a handful of hotels along the Gulf of Tunis and near nothing but each other. It is three floors, has some wheelchair ramps and an accessible bathroom near the restaurant, and sprawls around a garden and pool and has a path to the Gulf beach. The hotel provided a welcome of a tray of fruits, a tray of sweets, and a liter bottle of mineral water, and three small bottles - quinine, ginger ale, coca cola. The room is ground level, has a patio with a table and two straight chairs, and a sliding door with no screens (an occasional fly). The floor is 1' square sea green tiles set in a diamond pattern and there is an area rug at the foot of the two twin beds and another beside the table and two barrel chairs. The TV remote controls are in Arabic; Im guessing. Theres an open safe with instructions for setting a combination; I made a mistake, locked it closed with the default combination unknown to me, guessed at 0000, and felt most impressed with myself when it opened! Theres a small refrigerator, no ironing board or iron, a hair dryer which requires continual pressure on the switch to operate, a built in pot to boil water (the base and its cord are set into a tray and the cord goes down from the base through the shelf, behind the refrigerator, to the outlet), Nescafe and mint tea and almonds and pistachios. (Later when I was shelling the pistachios I decided they must be a net zero calorie food, that the energy expanded to open one must be equal to or more than the energy gained by eating one.) Theres a terry robe, terry slippers, thin absorbent towels including a huge bath towel, no face cloth (I guessed to pack one of my own), the tub is molded plastic, deep and narrow, fills quickly, has useful built in metal hand grips, and widens for arm rests if one lies down, and a shower head which can also be hand-held, but a daily challenge to make the water go from tub to shower - the trick is to turn it on a little, press in, add more water pressure. The whole bathroom, including the separated toilet area, is tiled and on the tub wall is a tiled mural, five palm trees and two sailboats. Beside the toilet is a faucet and hand-held personal hygiene spigot. Theres a extractable clothesline built into the shower wall but no place opposing to anchor the cord. And theres a desk, a mirror above it, and two 220 outlets at chest level where I have plugged in my laptop to write this. The walls are paper thin and the couple in the room next door speak to each other continually and loudly (the womans suitcase didnt arrive - shes stressed, hes offering solutions).
I slept and unpacked and by 11 AM had hired a taxi to visit Sidi Bou Said and take a look at the exterior of the Carthage ruins just by car. Sidi Bou Said is a traditional village, white stucco, blue paint and blue metal trim, rising steeply from the Gulf of Tunis, cobbled streets, a favorite tourist destination with stalls and wares lining the entry street.
While I waited in the lobby a woman kept setting off the metal detector, was frustrated while her whole purse was emptied since all she wanted to do was leave a message at the front desk.
In the afternoon I napped, then walked for a while along the beach, soft waves, blue and light green water, camel colored sand, beach umbrellas like broomstick skirts of reeds clustered at each hotels portion though mostly the chairs are stored for the winter, and just as I got back to the hotel grounds a light rain began. Today had been clear, in the 70's, a bit muggy, but the forecast has been for rain, rain and more rain.
So far, the male service staff are friendly and welcoming, the women do their job, dont extend themselves. The men seem also very friendly with each other, lots of handshaking, multi-tasking, what seems to me confusion. It took lots and lots of yelling yesterday for the bus shuttle drivers to organize themselves and the passengers. My sense of the process and culture here is that its non-linear. Though arranged taxis are punctual to the second (that may only be for foreigners), generally the clock does not rule.
I think there are some intersections between the poetic Arabic nature and language, the curving high ceilinged architecture (which traps the heat high), mirages, and the non-linearity, the sense of InShallah, if God wills.
There is security everywhere, two men at each hotels entrances, including the path from the beach, two men, waiting, smoking, waiting.
I took with me to try out a foil pack of "camping" food that I had purchased from the internet, had leftover rice and beans in the refrigerator, wondered whether to try it cold, instead created a hot pot by adding an inch of boiling water to the plastic lined ice bucket and sitting the food container inside and covering for 15 minutes. The contents were warm throughout and I enjoyed a feeling of ingenuity and efficacy.
I realized that part of how I manage travel is to ground myself with hotel room organizing and housekeeping. It helps me to keep this journal, to make lists, and plans that work, and to check things off. I like "cooking" in hotel rooms, making tea and instant soups, going to the market for salad veggies and cheese.
I like studying maps and finding my way by foot. Here I cannot do this, sites are far apart and I am advised that I should not go alone to the Medina, the old, large, covered market for spices, silver, jewels, ... So yesterday was a hard day as I groped for how to take care of myself as well as dealing with the 9 hour time difference. By this morning (Sunday) I was better able to figure out the rest of the week and am planning before returning to my hotel by taxi to ask the driver to take me to the supermarket for cheese and nuts and maybe vegetables, though Ive been advised to eat nothing unpeeled or uncooked.
I made the mistake of checking my email at the hotel, had to use a French keyboard with letters in unfamiliar places but that didnt matter in the end because the service wouldnt send. I had turned off as much as I could, had 75 messages, 65 of them spam!, and one that I let irritate me too much, questioning my expense reimbursement form from the Open Minds conference which I can do nothing about til I get home. (This is from the person who wrote that she didnt realize I wanted to be scheduled to do the presentation they had invited me to do; shes asking for meal receipts but the estimate I gave included per diem and my understanding is that was agreed on.) I was planning on that check being in the mail when I got home <shrug> and Im guessing she wont send any until she has approved all.
The supermarket expedition had highlights - the market is in the middle of a large and modern mall, which I didnt explore, and is itself huge. One inserts a one dinar coin ($.80) to release a cart, the coin is returned when the cart is returned. I was obviously needing help and people in the store pointed to me where things were. I bought a 1.5 liter bottle of water, $.20; .3 kg (a bit less than half a pound) of cheese, $2.00; 3 pears, $.75; 4 bananas, $1.00; and over half a pound of olives and pickles, $1.10. The taxi driver put the bags in the car, asked if I wanted to go to a nut shop (I had forgotten to look for them), and drove to a tiny stand where I bought a bag of cashews. Until now, I had been traveling on wide fast thruways. These roads wound through the streets where people lived, did errands, worked, went to school and I felt that I had finally had a glimpse of authentic Tunis, narrow streets, buildings close together, ugly, flat. Including the taxi and the nuts, the trip cost $5 more than the prior days buffet and I now have enough supplies for this leg of the trip. As well, when I returned to the hotel, I had a hotel envelope waiting for me at the front desk. "Me?" I was quizzical, wondered if there was a mistake, the clerk opened it, a message from the post office, my package had arrived (22 days by priority mail), and I was required to go to the post office and show my passport in order to collect it. Since I had just been driving by there this felt a bit of a cosmic joke, but I was able to arrange for the hotel car to take me there tomorrow morning at 8 and then to come back to the conference Ive been attending.
I put away my groceries walked along the beach, collected some pretty shells, peachy pink colors, sat on the sand and for a while listened to the sounds of the water, was surprised to see the beach path security guards with rifles on their knees, returned to my room to wash the shells, eat supper (pickles, rice and beans, cheese, a pastry) and type these notes. Today was the kind of day I had anticipated, the kind of travel day that satisfies me.
Im surprised how well my French is working and notice that sometimes I am speaking and understanding directly without mental translation. Its a good thing, because outside of some hotel staff, there isnt a lot of English spoken.
On the way to the post office the car was stopped several times for extra security as we passed the Presidents palace where he will be in residence for the next several days. Each window at the post office is specialized. We started at one, was told to wait at two but there was no clerk, then those at three and four together helped us while another got the receipts book. They quickly found the paperwork, I signed in several places, paid $.50, and went on the conference Id been attending. The driver took the package back to the hotel and agreed to cut it open since I had nothing sharp. It turns out that was unnecessary; when I did return security had insisted on opening the box, tearing the tape enough so that they could bend a flap and look inside, but not enough that I could easily open the whole package.
Mid-morning I shared a taxi with a woman who it turned out had been born in Tunis, was also Jewish, and worked in Nice, Frances silicon valley, doing something that sounded pretty exciting but which I couldnt really translate.
I had to have my key recharged twice before I could open my hotel room door, walked on the beach, today was more lovely weather, and am now winding down from the WSIS pre-day (see that report for content details).
At the conference there is speculation about the future of the internet and a realization that " we dont know." I find thinking about those unknown possibilities very exciting. I am looking forward to being surprised.
On the bus back today I got acquainted with a businessman from Seattle interested in policy. He told me about his travel logistics, 22 hours, what he thought might be next, I said a bit about civil society and human rights, he told me how he understood the meeting results and next steps, and then told me how much hed enjoyed talking with me. Hmm, I thought, talking at, not interactive. <shrug>
I finished the last of the plate of pastries the hotel left me. I have been amazed that I ate only one a day.
Then I went for a walk on the beach and on the way back chatted with the security guard who assured me that Tunisia is not part of the Middle East unrest, that the terrorists are "malade" (sick). I said that was too simple, that to stop them we must understand their minds, why they have so much fear of change. He said Tunis is not a rich country, no natural resources, only agriculture and tourism, he would like a house but doesnt earn enough to save, and that here in Tunis life is simple -- one works, one sleeps.
One must insert ones key in a wall switch to turn on the room electricity. But the chambermaid just wedged the switch on with the cardboard cover from the complimentary emery board.
Since I was here, I had been asked to represent WNUSP on the IDA panel presentation at the Disability Forum. I carefully prepared a few words about People Who and the internet, isolation, e communities, and how accommodations for others help us too. I was so focused on myself as a netizen, a person hooked on the technology, that not only did I not prepare anything explaining WNUSPs history (of course the name speaks for itself and I do know the story) and I didnt even think to include my usual sentence about my consumer credential (six hospitals, ...) until Kohe, from Japan, asked if I were a user. So, another lesson, about context, and who is the audience, and what is the message.
I took the conference bus back to the hotel where Ive been staying and am typing in the lobby, waiting to leave at 7 for the airport for a 9:45 PM flight southwest to Tozeur.
It really did take 30 minutes in the hotel van from hotel to airport. I expected crowds since the Summit had ended but it was not at all busy. I decided to ask for a vegetarian meal on my exit flight to Frankfurt, the reservation agent puzzled and puzzled, said there would be a fee, I realized she had misunderstood and thought I wanted to change my ticket! She asked a colleague for the meal code and that was then easily accomplished. The ATM worked just fine though I wont know what exchange rate Im getting to I look at my statement. Interior flights were downstairs and around the corner, the 8 PM check-in started earlier, the 9:45 flight, originally 11:45, is now 9:30 and has one stop, my suitcase was exactly at the 20KG limit, hand baggage wasnt weighed, though was limited to one piece. The clerk noticed wetness on the side of my suitcase, wanted to know if I had liquids inside, would I open the suitcase, allowed me to feel the dampness, and was satisfied when I explained I thought is was from the car, not from inside the suitcase. Security opened around 8:40, metal detector plus wanding, then all waited for the bus to the nearby plane. My claim ticket and passport fell out of their wallet as I boarded the bus and a woman noticed immediately and told me. I recovered them from the steps and my heart was pounding with what could have been so difficult and was so unexpected and I said this as I thanked her. (This is the first trip Ive used this system; it worked very well the first two flights but was full of more papers and tickets.) The woman said "Now it will never happen again." The flight is totally full. I was given a window seat in a 3 3 configuration (the web had said these planes were 2 2) sat beside a couple also going to Tozeur, he as university president, to a conference. She invited me to visit her office in the medina - she is in charge of a modern art vision in Tunis. The flight stopped first in Djerba were about a third of the passengers got off and a new crew boarded, and landed on time in Tozeur at 11:45 PM, bags were delivered promptly, a woman with a child tried to make a deal with a taxi driver for us to share but the drivers became very upset, one client per car is the rule. So they put my two pieces of luggage on the back seat and then invited me into the car. I wasnt sure where to sit, the drivers colleague took my small bag and sat with it in his lap on the front seat. And then they treated me to the "touristique" route through narrow dark alleys. I knew the trip was very short and took deep calming breaths until we arrived. Im sure the $8 price was exorbitant, but I was too eager for bed for that to matter. I walked into the reception area, two long counters, two seating areas, one with a desk, and was stunned with the decor, huge expanses of space and ceilings I think 16' high, tile floors. In front of me was the actual hotel sitting room, 45' x 50'. My reservation was indeed in order, the woman who noticed I had dropped my passport, one of a couple with two little children was there, already settled, and I wondered how others had arrived so quickly, whether Id missed the hotel car, didnt want to wait for the porter to return from helping someone else so started to wheel my suitcase towards my room which caused the reception clerk to leave the desk and help. We walked thorough tiled corridors, another large sitting area perhaps 70' long with seven conversation areas of sofas, benches, chairs around a table, a patio with a fountain and flower petals in the water, off which were 7 rooms and two corridors each with a few rooms, all hugely welcoming, and unlocked my door. The first impression of the room was bleak, stark, in contrast to what Id just seen, and fresh smelling, but in bed the smell of soap, like Ivory, on the sheets is very strong, unpleasant (but I am not getting a headache, not feeling ill, Im just aware, and my mouth is coated with the smell.). The mattress is just fine for sleeping, and for sitting now and typing or reading it feels very lumpy. In the morning I realized the negative first impression was because of the dim lighting, but that sensation stays. So, I put some things away, fell asleep, and woke up at 7:30.
From the interior court my room door opens into a 13' corridor, closet on the left, bathroom on the right. Inside the closet is a candle (I unpacked my flashlight first and installed the computer battery even though I have it plugged in) but no matches and a sewing kit and the kind of hangers where the hook stays on the rod, made of molded plastic, tacky. The bathroom has two sinks, a one temperature hair dryer that starts when I remove the handpiece from the wall, a stool (these are in all the bathrooms; I think they might be intended for foot washing and drying), a narrow tub long enough for me to lie down and necessary to step up into and out of, awkward for me despite the built in grips, a shower curtain hanging from the very high ceiling, rings for holding hand towels, and hard to reach one towel bar set into the wall in a corner over the tub - clearly drip drying isnt encouraged here! I think the room itself is a cube, 16' x 16' x 16' - it certainly is large. The walls are stucco, off white, the floor white tile with a rug between the two twin beds, rose pink spreads with a green stipe, one very flat pillow under the spread, a bump, a long narrow pink and darker green rug between the beds and a 7' long dresser, soft green, gold trim, filigree work and mirrored draws and doors. Very soft, congruent, soothing. A refrigerator sits behind one of the doors, a TV on top with no English channel. Theres a desk chair, a sitting chair and table, two glasses and an ashtray, a night stand, a painting and an etching, a phone, and dim lighting. There are no pens, no paper, no TV guides or magazines. I am at ground level entering; one wall has a window that opens to the gardens and a door to a patio which is one floor up.
For the included breakfast, there were omelettes prepared to order and a buffet of sweet and plain breads, fruit, juice, cereals, salads, cheddar cheese, liverwurst, yogurt.
Reception gave me a walking map and I started out in the wrong direction, got another map at the tourist office, found them both not at all to scale or accurate. All morning I asked to be shown where I was on the map and to be pointed towards the market. I think I never found the actual bazaar. A man with no legs uses a wheelchair powered by handles like a bicycle, wants an electric one (and I started to think of all the trouble people have with repairing those and wondered if it would even be feasible here). There are some flies, especially where there is food being sold, but no other insects that I"ve seen. The side walks are both blocked and shaded by large palm trees. Though the air is cool and comfortable the sun is very very hot and I want not my head but my face shaded, Here, the women pull their head scarves forward, but I choose a large brimmed straw hat made for one with a head way larger than mine. It works for shade, I have to hold it against the wind, and it bites at the top of my head uncomfortably. I realized there are loose ends of the material in the crown not tucked in and back at my hotel I covered them with the tape I have for repairing luggage and am pleased with that small problem solving. Since tourism is a major industry, even though they arent used here, Im surprised there are not more hats in the market. I stopped at a travel agency and found there were somewhat less expensive ways to see the sights but only with a private car and driver. This is my least favorite way, lonely and removed from local people, but the distances are far and I did not decide.
I went back to the hotel, explored the grounds, found the hamman, visited the museum next door - a donor had gifted his art collection and the museum and there are dioramas of life here and history and a gift shop. Several bridal costumes showed how a woman was envelop and veiled so it was impossible to see even the shape of her body, or even her height since the shoes had platforms from 1 - 6 inches.
Later when I changed the angle of the TV it stops working, and even though it is hard to see, I am able to both find and even replace the cord that has disconnected. This feels like a small and significant success. As I walked towards the market, vendors assaulted me with welcomes and invitations to their shops and offers of rides in horse drawn carts. I became rude, unable to explain that I wished to walk and look and am overloaded by the demands for my attention (and money, I guess).
The room has been made up, the spread now covers half the bed, arranged in a fan fold.
It would be difficult here without knowing some French, but I was better understood in Tunis than here, and those who know even some English immediately choose their English over my French.
I set the alarm to wake early, have breakfast and take a taxi to the bus station, a bus to Metaloui, walk to the train, at take the two hour Red Lizard train trip, and then the bus back to the hotel. Yesterday I asked how best to do this at the tourist office, found the bus station (different schedules from the tourist office), the times to go and to return and was expecting this to be my major adventure. At 7:30 I was in the lobby and there was Aline and her children, asking if I had had a nice day, and when I said I was going on the train, invited me to go with them. I am so pleased, and also now have this extra hour to finish my notes while they have breakfast. They are based in London, her husband was at the Summit also, I expect we will talk more in the car.
There are 8 in the car, Eckard and Aline and their daughter and son, Melissa, who works with him (media consulting, at WSIS for Microsoft), the driver and the guide. It is an hour to the train and we arrive early and are talking waiting when a man comes over, says he hears an American accent, he is from southern California and travels usually 3 months a year, Lonely Planet style and we have a lot in common about what we like to do. He has already hired a car for tomorrow and invites me to split it with him and I decide, even though it means missing the desert trip which is why I chose Tozeur, that I will go, that I would prefer company to a four hour trip with a chauffeur. I feel very appreciative, being in the right place at the right time.
The train itself was interesting, the vistas exciting, theres phosphor mining (supplies will be fully depleted in 10 years), the product shipped to the English. When we boarded we had it mostly to ourselves but just at the (punctual) departure time several groups from tour busses boarded, and since today is Sunday there are also some local families. The trip goes an hour one way, the engine is moved from one end to the other, and then the train goes back to where it started. But the people I was with had arranged to only go one way, we debarked, walked maybe 10 minutes to the road, then drove to several vistas, stopped to get lunch to go (I ordered briq, a good sized triangle of a few sheets of filo pastry filled with tuna and egg, quite greasy and delicious, served with french fries, also greasy and delicious), went to the Grand Cascade, a small rush of water over rocks where a river sourced from a 100 meter mountain narrows and strengthens. There is always water, I am told, and rain has nothing to do with the flow. We are driving along the border to Algeria and there are at least two security checkpoint stops each way and an inspection of the IDs of the driver and the guide. We, the passengers are stared at, the stroller in the back seat and the gear for the children stared at, and we are waved on. Each of the stops we make expects tourists, has wares displayed, but there seems to me less aggressiveness. There is an interesting crystal formation being sold in many places, called sand flowers, the color of sponge (or sand) and I have taken home a piece about the size of a golf ball. They said if I wet it every day it would continue to grow. Shards of mirror are available if one wants to try on jewelry and I bought a necklace, large pumpkin colored beads. At one place a vendor insisted on teaching us to bargain, kept saying it was a game, his price was a joke, we must counter, etc etc. (and the sale is usually for about half the original asking price). So I asked his price for a necklace, he said the more one bought the better the price, so I asked the price for a necklace, a small box, and the sand flower, he said an amount that even half of, even a quarter of, was more than I valued the necklace, I just said no, he was offended, said I didnt know how to play, asked my bottom walk-away price, and was hugely insulted when I said 10 dinar (he had started at 70). I really dont know how to shop at all without a price tag, some idea of the range of what something might cost. I think one has to have an idea of value before beginning to look, and for tourist kinds of things thats hard, part of the looking is filing items by their (local) cost or worth, before I start to think of value to me.
The drive back is an hour and except for the driver, everyone in the car is asleep.
There are vast expanses of nothing, dotted now and again with a couple of half-finished houses, looking abandoned.
The hotel has no stamps, I am sent to the museum gift shop next door, then need twice to be shown where the mailbox is, here they are yellow, and this one is not very obvious.
When preparing for a trip, I develop a daily schedule, flights, hotels, appointments, and a separate page of things to see, eat, buy. I didnt print that separate page, do remember, also didnt print hotel information for the next stop, only the name and email address, ... And I thought I had been so well organized!
The patio outside my room is lit by natural light through a large skylight and when I woke before sunrise I had to guess my way to the dining room and fumble with my key when I returned. Early breakfast is sparsely attended, the water for tea not yet boiling, the omelette maker not at his station, though all the cold foods and breads are available, even for those on the morning flight.
The daily flight leaves at 5:45. I heard no departure noise in the hotel and have heard very few sounds of other guests.
I am running out of paper for notes and to do lists and am writing now on scraps, the backs of pages I have already read, very small and running on, no space to format. Then I unpack all that at the end of the day to the laptop.
We left at 8 promptly for the hill towns. In 1969 there had been 22 days of heavy rain which dissolved the sand/stucco construction of the villages. The ruins remain, primitive, sited near streams and small cascades. A new town is nearby, white stucco gleaming in the bright sun. Then on to the Sahara, the Arabic word for desert, in a four wheel Toyota, popular and dependable, but best is the Hummer, because as well it can help others, tow. There are four kinds of desert - sand, salt, dunes, rocks. There is a salt road which has been packed solid by daily processions of tourist cars from the several local travel agencies, 55 today the driver says. A prince from Qatar camps here every year for a month to hunt birds with falcons, and gazelles (which come out at night). Camp is several large tents, large, and we see a truck driving up with another carpet for the floor. The English Patient was filmed here, there is some of the site left, decaying, bits of it in the sand to take for souvenirs. The driver deliberately goes up steep dunes and down, a bit of roller coaster, and we stop at the crest of one and look ahead to the next and see the dune laced with a design of vehicle tracks crossing each other, spaced a bit apart, so many, and over the next crest, the set from a 1997 filming of Star Wars, 4.5 months to build the set and film, 12 minutes of final material. Herded cattle, managed by one driver, some hobbled, some penned together, for meat. In the early morning we saw one tour group, mid-morning the cascade parking lot was full of white 4 wheelers, the only way to reach most of the sites, but since we went on into the desert in the middle of the day (the organized trips go at 8 or at 3), off hour, we had the place all to ourselves. It was altogether a nice day, at one point dark threatening clouds, but mostly sunny and clear, so perhaps the clouds too were a mirage like the several others we say. This has been an interesting place to be. Im envious of the stories Robert is telling of the other parts of the country he has already seen, traveling for a longer time with only basic reservations and the Lonely Planet book for guidance.
I decided to stay in the mellow mood Ive been in and not check email, am organizing for early rising to catch the morning flight.
There is no interior security lock on my room door, and no do-not-disturb sign and staff do knock twice but then just enter, not waiting for a reply or to see if anyone is there. Since it is early afternoon, and I am wanting to lay out my things and get organized, I am waiting for the last check of the mini-bar, the pillow slip that is still being laundered so the bed can be finished, waiting.
I flew back from Tozeur to Tunis and on to Djerba in the southeast. I had thought about hiring a car and driver but it was suggested to me that wasnt safe for a woman alone. I decided that riding all day in a shared taxi with spontaneous departure and arrival times was also more than I wanted to try.
I got up at 2:30, there really was a cold buffet available in the dining room, the reception offered coffee, the taxi was 10 minutes late, the flight was half full, made one stop, we were in the air for a long low sunrise, and, it turned out, went on to Djerba. I had been told this connection was impossible to make, the ticketing people not realizing Tunis was a stop on the same flight! Then it turned out that my 3 PM flight which had been moved to 2:30 was now leaving at 4:00. I had already arranged for a driver for a half day in order to see the Tunis bazaar, and to have a place for my luggage. The man I spent yesterday with was on the early flight and together we arranged for the driver to send more time with us, stopped for tea and a croissant, drove over a draw bridge, found him a hotel (the first choice, which would also have been mine if Id stayed downtown, was full, as was the second, and the driver found him a moderate acceptable hotel near the bazaar). We stopped to see the synagogue, were carefully vetted by security, grudgingly allowed inside, to see the interior, give tips to the caretaker and a woman who had followed us in, stopped also to see another hotel Id been considering, entered through Khan square, then wandered through the cobbled streets of the medina. The main streets are full of wares for tourists and vendors who grab for attention, we took some perpendicular and parallel routes, stopped so I could buy a cotton caftan, watched craftsmen spin silver ribbon into fine thread and then make the filigree the region is known for, watched a fez maker brush the wool felt, anoint it with something, brush more, stopped for a delicious briq, wandered into more private parts of the old city, including an antique shop with exquisite old embroidered silk wedding costumes and more, and a boutique of top quality hand dyed silk scarves and more. Then to the airport, a 10 minute ride when I had been thought it would be 30, the driver asked to be paid before we got to the airport because otherwise the security guards would question the amount of the fare, and I have three hours, have used the cash machine and had a cup of tea, and am typing. The check-in sign is flashing but there are no clerks, and there is till 90 minutes. There are no obvious trash bins.
Ive had a nice several days, pleased and surprised to find another traveler I enjoy being with and who enjoys being with me. We have a complimentary mesh of travel/eating/shopping/choosing styles, different knowledges, different rhythms. He lives in Southern California and we exchanged emails and will stay in touch. He is going on to Oman.
In the ladies toilette, a woman is carefully washing and drying with toilet paper, including her feet, then rewraps her head scarf.
My suitcase is now 1.8 KG overweight, I have shopped a bit and am adding more than I am using up, but no one cares and the claim tag just says 20KG. The plane is 30 minutes late departing, it is raining some, I watch carts full of luggage getting wet while they are not loaded, but it not for our flight, the boarding passes are reviewed manually, a not so easy to separate stub torn off, a woman in a wheel chair is waiting to board and I watch a mobile lift arrive, she is wheeled on to it, raised, driven to the plane, and boards, we are bussed very far from where we are waiting, the seating is again 3 3 and I have an aisle, all the overheads near me are full though the plane isnt at all, I am near the front and I think people must have left their bags in the first free slot instead of at their place but I only have under the seat so I have no difficulty, the flight is short and uneventful, I am sitting next to a young man who has learned English in school and speaks well, was a waiter, but now that the tourist season is over so is his contract over and he is looking for work, gives me his phone number in case I need help in Djerba, the driver isnt familiar with how I say the hotel name, then recognizes, and, it sounds to me sneering, says "Jewish quarter," and we drive for about 15 minutes and down a narrow road to a very small sign and door. I go in to make sure we are in the right place, he has just left my luggage by the side of the road, I ask him to bring it inside the door and to lift the tote to the top of the large wheeled bag, he seems very surly and I make the connection to Jewish, but maybe not. This is the first unpleasantness, except for the vendor assaults, since I have been here.
I am where I have made a reservation, the street is narrow, there is nothing commercial in sight, the entrance is an old arch, two large metal wall sconces, into a small covered area with a bench, an old pottery amphora storage jar, metal chandelier, wooden ceiling, stone floor, hotel name discreetly in mosaic, a split wooden door in an arch is half open, now a square area, tiled floor in a diamond pattern with a central design, more old ceramic storage pots in the corners, a high curved ceiling, a round metal chandelier and 8 green globes, two sofas each seating four, upholstered in persimmon linen, next a small carved reception desk, fabric wall hangings, a little English, the area small and cozy, and ahead, more sofas, arches, hangings, metal work, a candelabra, a brazier, to the left I later discover is a whole other area, bedrooms, patios, sitting rooms, a small pool, now a young man dressed in a long immaculate unwrinkled white caftan wheels my bag through several twists and turns, past a room with long cream linen covered benches and pillows, two backless seats, a small fireplace, and up and down a stair or two, a bar with three stools, a table, benches and chairs, a few more steps, small sitting areas, a patio and on its left the dining room, a small beautiful pool, lounge chairs, a table and chairs, potted plants discreetly in corners everywhere, past a hamman and to my room, he turns on a light, shows me how to work the door bolt, returns a few minutes later with a plate of fruit and a fork (but no knife, and I wonder what one does with a pear and a fork). It is very dimly lit and I cant see at all well. I just stand for a few minutes, acclimating, looking around, listening, go beyond my room to find another patio, a few more rooms, and test finding my way back towards the dining room.
The room: theres a split heavy wooden door closed from the inside with first a horizontal and then a vertical wooden bolt. There is also a key to lock from the outside. Hanging on metal hooks from a metal rod with decorative ends is a rectangle of ivory cotton gauze, fringed at each end, for light and air with privacy. The metal also provides security, the loops and rod ring, bell-like, when the curtain is drawn. The walls are ivory stucco (I find the chalk on my sleeves, on my suitcase), the floor terra cotta. It is night, the lighting is very dim. On the right is double bed, wrought iron headboard, lushly made up with an ivory spread and five ivory pillows, and a very very firm mattress and under it a slab of wood to hold the mattress in the frame. On either side of the bed a marble topped wrought iron bed table, a small wooden lamp and a wall light in the upper corner, a bright bulb shaded by a metal hamsa 18" square. On the wall is a signed sepia work, beside it cut into the at least a foot thick stucco walls an alcove with a too bright unshaded small round bulb and a small sculpture of metal and glass, with a few inches of sand, for a candle. On the same wall as the door are two alcoves, with windows to the corridor, shuttered closed or open to grill work (with screens). Under one there is a large old chest refitted to contain a refrigerator and a shelf for glasses and bar tools. The wall opposite the head of the bed has another alcove and window, and an interesting framed piece, a geometric design of circle spire and triangle, theres a table and two chairs, all this wrought iron and very heavy to move even an inch, and set into the corner, diagonally, a beautifully carved old piece of wood, an armoire, with a long rod for clothes and a gauze curtain to serve as a closing. All this about 8' x 12', ceilings maybe 14' high, and made of wood, beams the long way, studs every foot or so the other, edges detailed. On the floor a rug very thin, more like blanket weight, fringed, wine and turquoise and cream and coral, too big for the space so that it wrinkles and I keep smoothing it. Straight ahead from the door is the dressing area, curved stucco ceiling. On the right shelves and a safe behind wooden doors (but no instructions for setting), a numbered lithograph, in one corner a bidet, in another the toilet, a large sink, mirror above framed in ceramic tiles, faucets that turn in for on, out for off, a light above the mirror with green glass rectangular shade, an alcove with an electric outlet, a large shower area enclosed by a chest high wall with a small opaque skylight to catch the light, dense, heavy towels, no soap, no hair dryer. No paper, pen, television, tour information.
I unpacked slowly and carefully since the light was so dim, heard some gulping plumbing noises that I hoped wouldnt continue, heard noisy guests walking to dinner, felt my location was too near the pool and path to the dining room, but by bed time all was quiet. I woke to pitch black and dim provided light and again moved carefully until after sunrise I opened my door, drew the gauze curtain, and its still dim - the architecture protects from the sun and rain, preserves heat in the winter and cool in the summer. Theres one persistent fly in my room. Breakfast is at 8.
But I learn that means only not before 8. No, not in the dining room, in my room if I want, or by the pool. By 8:30, a tray with cake, tea, orange preserve, butter, a glass of fresh juice with an inch square ice cube, and then some toast is brought to me. Ive chosen by the pool and have to ask for a chair for the table. The preserve is in a tiny glass jar with a metal hasp to open and close, like canning jars. The butter is pushed into what looks like half an egg cup with small holes in the side and a handle at the bottom. Inverted into its accompanying dish which contains ice, the butter is covered, stays cool, doesnt become rancid. Picked up by the handle and turned upside down, I could scrape the knife across the top for a thin serving of butter. I dont know if once upside down again the butter descends to what will become the top. Ive not seen anything like that before. I am surprised there is nothing more substantial and I wonder if its because most of the guests are from France and only have bread in the morning.
A family from Australia is in the lobby, leaving for the airport; they too have been at WSIS, won an award, but missed some of the conference because of delayed arrival flights (and discovered there were no welcome briefcases nor program books left, so stayed confused for the several days of the meetings). There are soft orang and fuschia bougainvillea in blossom, a tree with blossoms that remind me of cactus, the air is so dry that by the time I return to my room, the shower floor is dry.
I walked to the very old synagogue, wondered how so many small markets could be supported, for instance on all four corners of a plaza, selling bread, eggs, dairy and detergent, plastic wares, ... . It is cool, a light wind, the sky is ominous and dark, but people here say only maybe it will rain. I passed some women weaving rugs, was invited in, there are 8 of them, all heads covered, friendly to me, chatting with each other, I ask if they are making "kilim" and they think this is very funny, very stupid, no, no, they say, "tapis" - the yarn colors are muted and dull, not attractive to my eye at all, especially for so much labor. I watch a woman take one strand, by hand thread it through the vertical threads by bringing forward one group, threading, another group, threading, til she reached the end, then tamping down the thread, then twisting the loose end around three times, then clipping to make the nap, then brushing. One thread.
Im told there had been a bombing at the synagogue, the security is very strict, a metal detector, bag inspection, passport held until I leave, no one inside speaks English, few understand my French, the men are chanting, shmoozing, finally I ask one if there are Friday services here, he says no, but there is a synagogue in town. He is very uninterested in helping me, wants to return to his friends.
Even woman must cover their heads, there are scarves handed out, and skull caps, shoes must be removed, a man demands a donation and gives a postcard in return, but only points me to the written English, doesnt try to engage.
A group bus arrives just as I do, and I walk quickly to have a few quiet moments, they stay altogether maybe 5 minutes, I dont know where they are from.
Embroidered velour caftans are very popular. I see women wearing them on the street and see them for sale in shops for people who live here, as well, of course, in the tourist shops.
I explored the rest of the hotel, noted an open storeroom full of kerosene lamps, was again glad I had brought a flashlight. Originally there were five Jewish families in this compound, and I was shown some of the original rooms, beautifully refurbished, different sizes, one with an upstairs, and somewhere I dont think I could find again, another living room, very quiet, with television. For me theres an odd mix of elegance, comfort, and lack of some modern conveniences, camping. Im wondering what the Qatar princes desert camp is like and if there might be some parallels.
But there are workman outside my door, and painting and drilling near the quiet room, and background music in the public areas, and the inability to find a quiet spot I am letting making me cranky and lonely.
I took a taxi to the souk in the next town, wandered around, saw spices and vegetables and beans and nuts and henna, and the office of the national fish market, was urged too many times to just look, saw welcome signs in Hebrew as well as French and some Jewish candelabra and jewelry, took a taxi back for my hamman appointment to find it was being repaired and not available, went to the bar to order an exotic fruit tea infusion on their menu that I had planned on trying, but that too was not available, the menu is new, the items on it not yet for sale. So my sense of this hotel is that is a fascinating place to admire and maybe stay one night, and its not much of a place to come to alone. I would be happy to read, but between the construction and the music and the cleaners, its not restful. The manager is apologetic about the noise and the hamman, offers to change my room, there were full last night and are again expecting a group and I could change now, and I get to see several others but dont move, and he arranges for a taxi tour for tomorrow for several hours since there are busses across the island but not around the perimeter.
Early this morning I heard strong wind and heavy rain on the roof and it continues. It is dark, Thanksgiving, and I am looking forward to cancelling the island tour and reading, hoping the rain will prevent the workmen from continuing. I have today and tomorrow here, and two more travel days and am beginning to think of obligations once I get home.
Im glad I have my kettle and tea bags - yesterday it took half an hour of negotiating to get a breakfast tray; today I expect they might eventually bring something to my room, but maybe not. Its 8, the rain has stopped for a bit, Im going to put on my slippers and see who is awake.
No one is up, the doors are closed, by 9 there is some activity, and I have guessed wrong, they are serving in the dining room today, I stop to chat with a couple from England, breakfast in my room, am told there will be banging all day, choose the island tour by car, the driver is late, he just has to stop by the garage, a small mechanical problem, 15 minutes, the manager says, with a smile, "Welcome to Tunisia," and shrugs, I reschedule for an hour later, he is dismayed, just a few minutes, when I return in an hour his hood is open, three men fiddling with the motor, a few minutes he says, no, I say, and one of the hotel managers insists he call another driver. Off we go, the touristic zone, the smell of gas is strong and it takes me a few minutes to realize I should open my window, past major hotels along the beach, past the Jerba dialysis center, the driver doesnt understand when I ask the name of the water I am seeing, we communicate by his telling me the names of the major hotels we are passing, the waves are a jewel green, the beach narrow, stretching as far as I can see in both directions, he offers to stop at a supermarket where I buy some cheese, points out several thermal spring spas, a golf course, bowling, a possibility of a camel ride, a ride in a caliche (animal/horse driven cart, popular here for touring), tourists primarily come here from France, England, Italy, Czechoslovakia and Poland,
Ive resorted to tearing the blank end page out of the book Im reading to use for note paper. We visit the second largest island village, Midoun, a smaller souk, the same things keep catching my eye, the driver points out olive tree groves and tells me Tunisian olive oil is a big export, we stop by the market - meat, fish, vegetables, spices and olives (a dozen olives are $.15), a bull or cows head staring out of a plastic bucket marks the meat entrance, theres also a wares and vegetable market that moves from place to place, a set weekday in each town, at none of these stops does the driver open or hold the car door for me, nor does anyone else (attitude of men towards women? Tunisians towards foreigners, none of the above?), people here are proud to be Djerbian, jar is a word from Arabic, then on to Guellala, where much of the ceramic ware s produced, and to the cave of Ali Berber where a gray haired man in fez and clay covered apron puts on a performance for me, then another pair of tourists we arrive, demonstrating how the clay is found, mixed with water, molded, fired, and along the way how olive oil is ground and pressed, twice, all these exhibit areas in caves that interconnect, then he molds the clay into a serving dish, asks our names and carves them in, then holds the dish up, smiles, and offers a cash photo. Outside are large storage jars and he demonstrates how a person can fit in, invites the other tourist to also try, its quite amazing how she easily slips inside and if she crouches her head disappears too, another cash photo opportunity, this one really needs video. Ali Berber is a real showman and I am laughing very hard as he slickly goes through his routine. I ask the driver is ½ a dinar is enough, but he suggests 1 dinar, so I thank Ali Berber, we leave, I give a pass for the Island of 400 crocodiles, and come back to the hotel. There is still racket, one of the two owners is here and again offers a room change (but there really arent better options), theres a woman who has dropped in who was also at WSIS, based in Geneva and who works for the Digital Solidarity Fund (which was established as part of WSIS and facilitates development), its 6 PM and the drilling is still going on - the manager expected them to be done by 2; I expected they would have gone home by dark. I have succumbed to the cold, closed all the windows, and turned on the heat which, despite the high ceilings, has quickly warmed the room.
It was very strange to have Thanksgiving pass with no acknowledgment at all, no Americans to even greet or note the holiday.
Im reading some essays about the WGIG process, theres a mention of a "fully automated" alternative dispute resolution (ADR) process - Im curious what that algorithm could be.
Also, "capacity building is a critical element that needs particular attention in the immediate future to ensure that the internet and the information society is truly people centered."
For several days I have been trying to remember the archeological word for the storage jars, an a, an r, agora, amore, ... then this morning, amphora - I am intrigued at how memory works, the associations, words seemingly filed letter by letter or pairs, or ... .
It was cold last night; I closed all the shutters. So this morning the room is dark, and the sun is seeping through the cracks and flooding through the very small recessed bathroom skylight. Im amazed how the room stays warmed even when the shutters are opened.
I joined an English man for breakfast, here for the weekend with a group of men from France, friends of the owner, they are all now at the pool tanning, and I smell lots of perfumed oils and now there is incense burning, a boom box, and cats. Today is Friday, the sabbath for some, and there is a fried bread for breakfast, very greasy, not warm, and I enjoy every bite. (I saw in the market stacks that looked like tortillas - now I wonder if that is what was fried for breakfast.) The dining room tables are set with a simple lovely floral arrangement, blossoms on the cloth, and a ceramic jar holding a few branches of cactus. Later I find what looks like lace work or webbing, dried, at the root of the cactus plants and am told it is part of the interior, when the leaves dry, fall off.
The chambermaid tells me my room is made up she will just return with the "linge" , I dont understand, she repeats, more clearly and a bit louder, just as Americans expect English to be understood if they speak slowly and loudly, and another soon returns with towels.
The sun is very hot and when I walked this morning, I used a large scarf draped over my head to cover the sun side of my face, in effect veiled. Theres a factory making olive oil, a plate of oil to sample, a loaf of bread to break off a piece for the tasting, across the road an olive grove, an unpaved road, cactus and the lacy dried leaves woven along its roots, plowing between the trees, furrows not yet planted, a compound of homes at the end of the trees, a satellite dish, a couple in the yard, bon jour is all we both understand. There are lots of yellow taxis on this main road, back and forth, metered, very inexpensive, $8/hour for touring. The soil is damp, clay, my soles are caked and I need to wash my sandals before packing them and have left them outside my room to dry.
A light bulb burns out and I ask for a replacement. The man needs to get into the corner, just leans past me and unplugs the computer (I have the battery attached, just watch this unbelieving), replaces the bulb, helps me plug the computer in, shows no curiosity at the laptop, leaves. In the morning another light bulb burns out.
Again it is not restful, the group at the pool and the boom box, but I have a "grommage" scheduled soon and expect that might be relaxing - its a scrub of some kind, with sand, or sand and sugar, exfoliating, plus the hammam, the steam.
The builders of this space have arranged the walls and plants and arches so there is bright sun and cool shade close together. One has only to shift a bench a bit. Its all quite skillfully done and the more I look around the more I notice other artful arrangements.
The hammam area is large, alcoves and sinks, showers, toilets, massage tables, corridors. The grommage-er is a young boy who tells me what to do in French, leads me into the hamman, not too hot, not too moist, has me lie down on the stone ledge on a towel, pours warm water over me, than uses a scrub mitt, I think made of wool, which later he gives me to keep, washes me with natural soap, then adds some sand, and some oil, and uses the mitt, the sensation is gritty, not harsh, I ask to be covered when I turn over and he goes to get another towel, at the end points me to the showers to rinse off. It is restful and clean. I am getting organized to leave; it took about 10 minutes to calculate the bill, I tried to use up some Euro coins but the bank wont accept foreign coins, Im packing as much as I can while it is still light, a dimly lit room is a sure way to overlook things.
Curious, I again fiddled with the safe, trying to reset it or at least get the handle to turn to shut it, did somehow press some right combination, a green light turned on, the handle turned, but when I tried to replicate I set off a warning beep, like a bomb in the movies on the way to count down, and was unable to turn that off, though it did finally stop.
Ive finished one of the internet governance books I was given at WSIS and have read about 40 pages of my mystery. I was concerned I would not have enough reading and now have four paperbacks unread, adding weight to my luggage.
It is even colder tonight and again I have shuttered myself into a dim room and turned on the heat.
Im flying from Djerba to Tunis to spend another night (because I couldnt make a connection straight back).
The breakfast Ive been urged to have early is not ready and I ask three times for the taxi, there are long lines at the airport which surprises me and when I ask I am told the Tunis flight is at "the other airport." My heart sinks, I ask if I can walk, am pointed along a stone floor to the "old airport," a ten minute walk, no lines, suitcase not even weighed, I wasnt asked for id, the plane is half full, chatting with a couple from Ottawa, he a UN consultant with business here, the hotel car Id been promised is not at the airport so my careful calculations for ending with no Tunisian dinar are now negative, the agenda for a meeting next week has not arrived in the mail, and I am content to read the books I have left. I just finished "Red," by Jack Ketchum, evocative prose about loss and talionic, turning to violent, justice. There are now no entrance metal detectors, theres still some police presence at the beach. Its much warmer here. Theres a small box of dates n my room a welcome. My suitcase is now stuffed; Ive added the conference bag and some printed materials and again I wonder if weight will be a check-in issue. I sat at the beach and listened to the water, turned down a camel ride, watched "quads" four wheel small vehicles, they look like small tractors and Im guessing they are a version of sand vehicle, 10 just drove by, had Mechouia for lunch, a salad of maybe eggplant, with tuna and egg and lemon, the edge of the plate sprinkled with freshly ground pepper. Ive ordered a taxi for 5:15 AM.
He is there early, the meter already running, but is OK with my paying him with the rest of my dinar and some dollars (I have brought 10 one dollar bills), one can shrink wrap ones bag, for security, in a machine at the airport, there are many early morning flights leaving but not many people queued, a young man looking to be in his 20's leaves his mother, looking to be in her 80s but probably half that, in my care, her daughter lives in Germany, she is going to visit her grandchildren, on the plane she watches how I do the seatbelt, how to lift the tray form the arm-rest, check-in opens promptly at 6, there is no problem routing my suitcase all the way to San Francisco, it weighs 23 KG and the agent doesnt care and that is just at the US 50 pound limit, he gives me a cabin bag tag for my tote and all ignore the large plastic airport shop bag in which I have water, food, books, and the liter of olive oil I was given (Ive learned that shopping is encouraged and usually airport shop bags arent counted as the one carry-on piece, though I am patiently waiting first in line behind the yellow mark, as soon as there is an agent, a family pushes to the front to check in, it doesnt matter, I have lots of time, the whole process takes about 10 minutes, I am upgraded (though I dont realize that til Im on the plane, I was given 2A, asked for an aisle, given 4C, said I thought I had 10C, was told 4C is much better than 1C, wondered if it were a bulkhead, just didnt process the whole exchange, and at first I sat in the wrong seat, not realizing the numbering was AC DEF), I purchase a poster, doors of Tunisia, a dozen examples of design and architecture and now have that to also manage, am glad to have it and not sure where my head was when I made the purchase, I am usually more careful with what I have to carry, my passport is stamped for exit, at security those behind me are impatient as I unload my pockets and push in front of me to lay items on the belt, on the other side everything piles up on itself and people grab and jostle and I worry about my computer. I noticed in Djerba and here at the Tunis airport that some French men are heavily perfumed with something reminiscent of talcum powder, unpleasant. Theres a longish walk past a couple of shops with jars of delicious looking olives and olive spreads and Tunisian salad and olive oil, all to heavy to bring home, to seating areas by gate, opening off a central core. A woman waiting has, in addition to her shoulder bag and a plastic bag, two large, tambour shaped, ceramic vases, the gate is changed just at boarding to the one next to it, there is a surge, we board, one of the wheels of my cart breaks, the plane is quite full, we wait "the last passengers," which I thought was great for those arriving on late planes (Im guessing on the early AM flights from southern Tunisia) and not so good for those going on from Frankfurt with tight connections, and back off from the gate at 8:25. Theres snow on the ground when we land at Frankfurt, I limp along with my one wheel and use the available luggage carts where they are allowed (not on the train, not after security, awkward on the escalator) and snow flakes fall as I wait for the 2 PM San Francisco flight but I am assured weather doesnt stop flights here. The flight is full, it always is Im told, two non-stops a day always full, not because it is Thanksgiving Sunday, a young woman is distraught, some other late connection, she is wait-listed and unhappy, have a seat, well call you, another couple is confirmed but dont yet have seats, please wait, a man trying to upgrade is told business is full, I am relieved I have an aisle seat. One of the stewardesses says to another, pointing to me, shes a nice lady; I like her, and I feel a wash of pleasure and wonder what she has responded to, perhaps watching me carefully settle myself and my belongings. My seatmates are a young couple who immediately fall asleep, there are movies I am not listening to, lunch, I have finished one book and might sleep. Its 11 hours from Frankfurt to San Francisco, then customs, then at least a 90 minute ride home (and maybe even holiday traffic). I expect to be looking at two grocery bags full of paper mail my neighbor has collected, an empty refrigerator, and another suitcase. Because, in the meantime, I was invited to the SAMHSA womens conference, am leaving Tuesday for Denver and then Saturday to Sacramento for the day for a PAI board meeting.
It's Monday morning, I've just spent 30 minutes on the phone with my friendly ISP because I am somehow not connected to the domain name server, and now that I am, the .htm files I composed on my laptop show all the htm coding instead of interpreting it.
All this, it seems, a fitting end to a trip where nothing was as it seemed.