Saturday, February 7, 2009

Tunisia lesson #2: Tunisian pre-teen boys got game!

Sorry I haven't updated for a few days! Internet access (especially reliable access) is hard to come by here! I hope my host family has internet.

* host family DOES have internet, which should make blogging regularly a lot easier! We had to figure out some bugs with the WIFI but it's working now!*

On Thursday morning we visited Carthage, which was one of the places in the Tunis area I wanted to see the most. Here's a short background, for those who don't know. Around 800 B.C., a Phoenician princess named Elissa fled Phoenicia (modern Lebanon, though the empire extended into parts of Syria, Israel and the former state of Palestine) because her brother wanted sole rights to the throne and had already murdered her husband. She founded Carthage in 814 B.C. Carthage peaked under Hannibal, and the Carthaginian Empire was Rome's biggest threat to expansion. Tensions over control of the Mediterranean led to the Punic Wars and during the 3rd Punic war in 146 B.C. Rome razed Carthage to the ground. By the 1st century A.D. the Romans had rebuilt Carthage when the nearby city of Utica failed to serve as an adequate new capital.

Carthage came under control of a number of different empires following the fall of Rome. The Vandals captured Carthage in the 5th century A.D., and Muslim conquerors took over the city 200 years later.

Both Punic and Roman ruins remain and we got to see the Roman Baths and Punic mausoleums, shrines, tombs and aqueducts. It was so cool to be able to see broken Roman busts and columns and the tombstones that were placed over the victims of Carthaginian sacrifice.

When we were at the Roman Baths, a group of Tunisian school kids were visiting the ruins and wanted to show off their English skills to us. They introduced themselves to us and followed us around asking us questions. When they saw my camera, one of the boys asked if I could take a picture of them! So here they are:

They were so cute, but the funniest part is how brazen the young boys around here are. They've all got game by the time they're 10 or 11 years old! One of them, who couldn't have been older than 12 asked me for my phone number! I told a little white lie and said that I didn't have a working phone in Tunisia. I thought that was kinder than "I think I'm a little old for you, kid!"

After our visit to the ruins we went to a restaurant that serves fresh fish. It was a little hole in the wall but I had really delicious sea bass. I've never really eaten fish that hasn't been de-boned and cut into a filet before this trip, so I was a little unnerved by the eyes and head and tail. Once I got past the visual, though, I realized how good fresh fish really is. The meal also came with bread (hobs in Arabic, at least here in Tunisia), a salad with eggs, and french fries. Fries are almost as ubiquitous as harissa here. They come with every meal, it seems. Before I left the states I was convinced I was going to eat less and maybe even lose weight. Man, was I ever mistaken! Tunisians love to tell you "tcoul, tcoul," which, roughly translated, means "eat more"!

We've also been taking "survival Tunisian Arabic" classes to help us learn the Tunisian dialect. It's very different from fus'ha (Modern Standard Arabic), so this class has been crucial in being understood better here. It came in especially handy Thursday night when we met our host families at a reception.

My brother was the only member of my family able to make the reception. His name is Wadje and he's 21 years old. He attends a university in Tunis. Wadje is learning English at school but his English is the equivalent of my Tunisian Arabic---minimal. I also don't speak French, which doesn't help! He loves soccer, though, and he wants to take me to the stadium to see a match!


  1. It sounds like you are in heaven, Mo. Food, boys, soccer -- wow! Keep the posts coming. They are great. And please thank your Tunisian family for us. Love, Mom

  2. Carthage sounds fascinating. We come from a society where the oldest structures are a 150 years young. I would think that standing among the ruins of cultures that existed 2,500 years ago or more would give you a different perspective on history. I'm glad that you are over your visual food issues. When you get home, I'll cook you up a nice steak with the horns still on. Please convey our greetings and thanks to your host family for us. Keep the posts coming. Love you.