Star Date: January 2017
Hello Dear Family & Friends!
ik? Mani echeghel? Alkher ghas,"
Tunisia has long been considered North Africa's most stable and liberal nation. It was a surprise when the 'Jasmine Revolution' erupted in 2011. The ensuing fledgling democracy is suffering economically and the tourism business has all but stopped due to recent acts of violence by a tiny but high profile group of reactionaries. The main street in Tunis has areas of barricaded soldiers and tanks mixed in with glamorous, modern young women off shopping in the designer stores or joining friends in the many sidewalk cafes dotting the avenue.
The revolution brought a total shake up of not only government but of life in general. Try no garbage removal for 1 year in Tunis? We found the pride and will of the people has been broken somewhat in the back streets of Tunis. Why keep things clean when there are mounds of garbage in the street in front of your place?
As a visitor to Tunis one needs only venture into the back market alleys or stick to the clean modern boulevards to experience life in Tunisia. Concealed behind the monuments and fountains is a hidden ancient world just begging to be explored. The medina, bazaar or ancient market place is a well maintained maze of streets offering everything under the sun. This colorful kaleidoscope of shops is a fun way to step back in time and feel the spirit of these Arabic people. Outside of this charming labyrinth, though, is the European-style of the Ville Nouvelle (New Town), where French café culture sets the speed of the day and sumptuous belle époque architecture lines the ordered streets.
98% of Tunisians are Sunni Muslim and the call to prayer rings out loud and clear 5 times a day. Since the Jasmine Revolution an increasing number of young women are wearing the veil, though it is far from universal. Walking down the boulevards it is common to see smartly dressed women without habib head scarves.
Tunisians love spice and luckily the fiery hot 'arissa' chili paste is only served on the side of most dishes. Every meal features salads of all types, often topped with tuna and eggs. Catch them in time and a pleasant plate of salad can be added to 'brik' (deep fried stuffed pockets) 'cous cous' (vegetables and sauce served over cooked grain) huge sandwiches made with baguettes, golden vegan pizza folded in half, or a plate of look alike spaghetti. Hamdoulilah! ( Thanks to God, usually said when you're full!)
Tucked between Algeria, Libya, The Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea, Tunisia is small but boasts northern forested mountains, sparkling coastal villages, Roman ruins, flat interior leading to the crystalline salt lakes 'chotts' and finally the Sahara sand dunes. 98% of the country is Arab-Berber. These two cultures have been mixing for fourteen centuries. The tribes people in the south on the Sahara Desert claim to be pure Berber. And who is going to argue with fierce looking turbaned warriors wielding long curved swords?
The Tuareg evoke images of a long forgotten and romantic age. I was immediately intrigued by these fascinating tribes people. We were able to spend time with tribesmen both in southern Tunisia and Morocco. Their Berber silver jewelry is unique and often functional, such as the compasses or good luck amulets they wear over their robes. But it's that turban that screams exotic and floods the mind with visions of majestic, endless sand dunes, camels and green oasis's.
The Tuareg tribes of the Sahara Desert are fiercely independent. Known as the warriors of the Sahara, these men, wrapped in blue turbans, faces covered from the blowing sand and sun or warding off evil spirits; have struck fear into the hearts of northern Africa for over 1000 years.
Throughout history, the Tuareg were renowned and respected warriors. Their decline as a military might came with the introduction of firearms, weapons which the Tuareg did not possess. The Tuareg warrior equipment consisted of a takoba (sword), allagh (lance) and aghar (shield) made of antelope's skin. The scene of the villain pulling a sword on Indiana Jones in the busy Arabic market, solved by a shot, makes this point all too clearly.
For centuries the nomadic Tuareg tribe have crossed the Sahara desert, sometimes being led by the blind who used their heightened sense of smell and taste to pick a safe path across the ever-shifting sands. Their men became known as the 'blue men of the Sahara' because the dye from their distinctive indigo scarves rub off onto their faces giving them a mysterious air. Taking on the veil is associated with the rite of passage to manhood; men begin wearing a veil when they reach maturity. The veil usually conceals their face, excluding their eyes and the top of the nose.
Tuareg peoples have been organizing caravans for trading across the Sahara desert for centuries. The caravan in Niger from around Agadez to Fachi and the one in Mali from Timbuktu to Taoudenni Azalay. By the fourteenth century, trade routes to the wealthy salt, gold, ivory, and slave markets in North Africa, Europe, and the Middle East had sprung up across Tuareg territory. The Tuareg grew rich as livestock breeders and traders in the Saharan and Sahelian regions. (The Sahel is the region south of the Sahara Desert that is marked by times of drought but is not a real desert.
In the late nineteenth century, European exploration and military expeditions led to French rule of the Tuareg homeland. By the early twentieth century, the French had brought the Tuareg under their colonial control. They ended Tuareg trade activities, including the collection of tariffs and the protection services for camel caravans crossing the Sahara. Traditionally independent, the Tuareg, now numbering about one million, are struggling to survive amid the turmoil of North Africa.
The Touareg are classified as semi nomadic , meaning that they travel with their herds on a seasonal basis but also have a home area where they grow some food crops. Compounds in the less nomadic rural communities may include several tents and a few cone-shaped grass buildings. Some of the wealthier Tuareg who have settled in oasis areas have adobe houses. Almost 95 percent of the daily diet in rural areas consists of grains. Protein is added by dairy products (milk and cheese). Fruits such as dates and melon are eaten in season. Dried and pounded vegetables are added to sauces. Meat is eaten primarily on holidays and at rites of passage.
An interesting side of the Tuareg
tribes is the importance of women in their culture. The
woman's opinion is held in high esteem and these big 'tough guys'
are actually caring and value the women around them. When a
woman reaches marrying age the village makes her a tent. This
is her tent and the future home to her husband and children.
Life is simple. Possessions few. The woman may work for
years decorating a camel skin purse or small bag for her favorite
things and this hangs proudly in her tent. Since they are
nomadic, everything is moveable, and when staying for a while the
floor is covered with wool carpets and the walls are lined with
piles of blankets and pillows for the cold nights.
Pre-nups and divorce are every day, with parents throwing their recently separated daughters 'divorce parties' to let the men know she is available again. The ex husband goes home to his Mother's tent, where he is always welcome. In fact everyone is always welcome to eat and drink water in a Tuareg tent when traversing the mountainous, deadly sand dunes. Their predominate religion is Islam, combined with traditional beliefs and practices and this fact may see a more conservative wave of rules enforced. But for now these care free knights of the desert are enjoying life amid the dunes. If it works why fix it?
There are many proverbs, riddles, myths, and folk tales among these mysterious Tuareg. Many stories are about spirits, called jinn, who are believed to play tricks on human beings who are traveling alone in the desert. Animal tales depicting human moral questions are popular with children. They feature the jackal, hyena, and rabbit animal characters widespread in African folklore. Many Tuareg groups have myths about female ancestors who were founders of traditions. One is Tagurmat, who fought a battle on Mount Bagzan in the Air region. Her twin daughters are said to have founded the herbal healing profession. And out in the remote Sahara it is wise to know the healing herbal arts or you simply will perish. Travelers Beware. The mighty Sahara has swallowed up many travelers, never to be seen again.
And so it goes.........................................Next an in depth look at the rugged southern desert regions of Tunisia. Until then let's remember Change is good! "The bottom line is that life is short, and change is choice... In an unpredictable world, don't lose the ability to be grateful for what you have. Don't make the mistake of noticing only what's missing. Count your blessings! Take care and Thanks for Keeping in Touch! We are thankful to hear from you.
Love, Light & Laughter,
1 US Dollar equals 2.41 Tunisian Dinar
Hotel Rue de Russie, 18 Rue de Russie,, phone # 71328883
We booked with airbnb.com but the place was advertised as an apartment, or so we thought, and when we arrived we were expected to stay in our bedroom. Strange. The boyfriend was very helpful and we, as usual, made the best of it.