Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Tunisia lesson #3: Socks + marble staircase = disaster!

So I toppled down about 15 stairs this morning.

The Tunisian family I live with has a townhouse with a steep staircase with marble steps that leads up to my bedroom and the rest of the second floor. I guess I wasn't quite awake this morning because I ended up slipping on one of the first steps and falling most the way down. I was OK, not injured minus a few scrapes, but my host mom immediately ran over to me, frantically fussing in a combination of Arabic and French I only sort of understood. Her mother also jumped up from her seat on the couch and my brother rushed over to see if I was OK. When I finally conveyed to them through broken Arabic and a quick game of charades that I was, in fact, unharmed with the exception of my ego, the mood quickly changed. They all burst out laughing. So if nothing else, I can guarantee their new American daughter provides some pretty good entertainment! My mom gave me a pair of slippers to wear after that. The next few times I walked up and down the staircase, all eyes were on me to make sure I didn't face plant again.

I absolutely love my family! Wajdi takes me to Coste, the trendy cafe underneath the SIT building, to hang out with his friends, almost every night. Last night I ran into Ryan, another SIT student and his host brother and he, Wajdi and their friends taught Ryan dirty words in Arabic while my overprotective brother covered my ears :P  My sister, Woosdehn, excitedly showed me the A she got on her test yesterday. She also made honor roll and has the certificate to prove it! She's 17 and speaks the most English out of my whole family. She's also learning Spanish and we studied together last night after she figured out that I still have bits of high school espanol floating around my head. My mom owns a few shops, including a lingerie store in a mall in La Marsa, and she bought me a polka dotted pajama set yesterday! My dad does something regarding imports and exports between Europe and Africa though I don't know the details thanks to the language barrier. All I know is that he wakes up very early (around 5AM) to go to work every day. My grandmother (my host mom's mom) lives close and spent the night last night. She was actually born in Algeria.

I still live in Sidi Bou Said, which is really nice. I only have a three minute walk to school every day, and in my opinion, this is the most beautiful suburb of Tunis. I already know where the best places to eat are, where the supermarket is, where I can recharge my cell phone with more dinars, and how to get to Tunis or any of the surrounding towns. It's definitely convenient.

My bedroom is actually bigger than my room back in the states and I have a desk, a large bed and a big closet. The house itself is actually three stories. The living room and dining room/small kitchen are on the first floor, the bedrooms are on the second floor, and there's another kitchen and a terrace on the top floor.

Last night after I got out of my shower, Woosdehn asked if I wanted to dry my hair. Usually I just scrunch it and let it air dry curly but my mother absolutely refused to let me go to bed with my hair wet. I expected her to just show me where the hair dryer was, but instead, she sat me down and did my hair for me. Then she promised to do it every night. I was a little taken aback by such pampering, especially because my hair is thick and takes a long time. With a little translation help from Woosdehn, my mom told me that I had pretty hair, that I was beautiful and that she loved having me as a daughter and wanted to keep me. So my guess is that I've made an OK impression! My hair also happens to look fantastic today. When we talked about our host families in class and shared our stories, I told everyone about my mom doing my hair and Mounir explained everything. It turns out that a lot of people in Tunisia believe that if you go to bed or outside with wet hair that you will get very, very sick. Not just a cold, but something gross and evil. So most Tunisian parents refuse to let their children go to sleep without dry hair.

The only challenge has been conveying the fact that while the food is very good, I am not a bottomless pit (despite popular belief to the contrary). For breakfast this morning, my mom gave me a bowl of cereal and some OJ. After I ate that, she made me a giant sandwich with cheese and marmalade and a mug of coffee. After that was gone, she asked me if I wanted a banana and when I tried to tell her I was full, she handed it to me anyway. This is usually how most meals go here, I swear I had 7 different plates in front of me for dinner last night!

For gifts, I brought some photo books from Minnesota and a bag with Minnesota phrases and towns on them. The best part was trying to explain Minnesota speech to my siblings. Wajdi says uffda all the time now and Woosdehn likes to respond with "you betcha!"


  1. Haha... apparently of all the things of mine I gave you to take with, I should have made sure to give you my old hockey helmet, or at the least elbow pads for those stairs ;)

    It was great to read about the family, they sound like a really personable bunch. I'm very happy for you to have fallen into such a nice atmosphere. Also usually the most stressful part about transitions elsewhere is finding basic stuff, so its great to hear you already know where most of the good stuff is at.

    I can't believe though that you would taint perfectly good Tunisians with that ignorant Minnesotan dialect ;) haha, you know I'm just kidding. Of all your blog posts so far, this was easily my favorite blog post of them all :)

  2. There is a reason why your sister got the middle name "Grace" instead of you :). Your host family sounds wonderful. I am glad you are adjusting so quickly. Enjoy it while it lasts. When you get home, you'll have to go back to drying your own hair. Make sure that you are also a contributing member of the household. Lecture over. Love you.

  3. If you had told the hair story before the stair story I would have worried that they may try to keep you. I think they just want to make sure they send you home as whole and healthy as when your arrived.

    This sounds so wonderful. Enjoy yourself, and
    for Goodness sake be careful! We want you home whole and healthy too!

  4. Do you deserve to be "totally" spoiled? "You betcha" I am enjoying your blog immensely and appreciate seeing the country of Tunisia through your eyes. What an experience!
    Love, Aunt Sue