Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Nheb Sidi Bou Said Barsha

I have fallen absolutely, completely and irrevocably in love with my little blue and white village on a hill. Sidi Bou Said is home to me here, and even when I go back to the U.S., I will get homesick for my other home across the ocean. Every day on my walk to school, I have a smile on my face because something about this town is magical. It's captivated many before me; artists, writers, French philosophes... One of my favorite lazy afternoon activities is to sit, barefoot and crosslegged on a mat in the famous Cafe des Nattes, journaling on a napkin and sipping mint tea. Cervantes, Paul Klee, Simone de Beauvoir, Andre Gide, Focault, all spent time in Sidi Bou, and some sat on those mats, barefoot, just like me. It's humbling, drinking tea where some of the world's most brilliant minds have left their footprints. On my frequent trips to the snack shop just beyond des Nattes, I wonder if these artists, writers, and philosophers indulged in a daily bambalouni like me, too. At 10,000 calories a bite, Sidi Bou's version of a Krispy Kreme (only way better), might actually be the equivalent to a mouthful of paradise. Even the poorest starving artist could afford one, too. They're only 400 millemes.

One of my friends here is from MN and goes to the U of M. He teases me, saying that I only love Sidi Bou because it's the Edina of Tunis. Despite my protestations to the contrary, there are some similarities. Sidi Bou Said has always been one of the wealthiest Tunis suburbs. The President has property here, the U.S. Ambassador lives across the street from me, the town is filled with overpriced cafes, snobby restaurants and chic boutiques. It is true that Tunisian cake-eaters (makroud-eaters?) make Sidi Bou their home but there's a culture here Edina obviously lacks. Despite being one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Tunis area (you should see the town on Wednesday and Saturdays, when the cruises from Italy, Spain and Greece dock here), it has preserved it's authenticity. Sidi Bou Said will never be Hammamet, and I love it for that.

Most the shop owners on the walk up the hill to Cafe des Nattes know me now. No longer do I hear "You, beautiful girl, enter my shop, everything for nothing!" Now I get a friendly "Asslama" and an invitation in to hear stories of the latest tourist they've ripped off. The owner of the sandwich shop down the street from SIT knows my order by heart---chawarma (grilled, spiced lamb) sandwich with keftaji, fromage, barsha harissa, and frites. And the glass of orange-banana juice, of course. Extra chocolate and honey cookies from S'lim are still one of the benefits of visiting Coste for a cup of coffee. Even the young men that used to try to flirt with me on the street on the way to school are starting to be satisfied with a friendly "Sbah la khir, le bes?" Good morning, how are you? The cashier at the supermarket knows I buy a bar of dark chocolate with almonds every week. She asks me how school is going every time I hand her money for the chocolate. And she tells me each week how much my Arabic is improving.

So does my mother. Every Wednesday I have a late start, 1:00 instead of 10:00. Every Tuesday night I used to remind my sister in English. Last night I told my mother at dinner that "ghoudwa besh nimshee lil makteb a mahdi sayah." Tomorrow I will go to school at 1:oo.  She clapped her hands. 

I feel safe whenever I hear the call to prayer emanating from the minaret of the mosque up the hill. It's one of the most beautiful, comforting sounds I've ever heard. I've heard the call to prayer from a dozen different mosques but the one from the one in Sidi Bou is my favorite.

When I need some time to myself, I wander down the road away from town and walk to the little beach. The two best places to study here are on my rooftop or on the little beach. I find the same butterfly shells I collect in Florida on this beach but I haven't seen them anywhere else here.

One of my other favorite spots is the Dar Dalaji, another cafe. During the day we can sit on the roof and drink milkshakes or coffee or strawberry juice and in the evenings we can smoke shisha and listen to live music. On the weekends it's the place to be. A very happening place.

All I know is that I love it here and somehow, someday, I want to find my way back here. One of the difficulties of traveling somewhere alone is finding a place you want to share with other people. I know my sister would love it here. I know my parents would fall in love with Sidi Bou, too. Even my boyfriend, who isn't much of the traveling type, (at least not yet!) would be charmed by Sidi Bou. I know it. So many times I'll experience or see something here and want so badly for someone to be here with me to see it, too. I want the world to know about my little slice of heaven in North Africa. Well, maybe not the world. It's a well kept secret and I think that's part of the attraction. All I know is that I will get back here someday, and next time I plan on dragging people with me.


  1. This was soo much more enjoyable than either of your recent lists that you have posted. I enjoyed all the story and detail you put into this one, blog posts like this are the ones that I really love to read from you. I can not wait for more great stories, I hope you enjoy your last few weeks in Tunisia!

    Nice jab by the way with the traveling :P Well played :)

  2. Please feel free to drag me! It sounds, indeed, like you have fallen in love!

    Love you, Mom

  3. Sounds beautiful. I agree that experiences are best when shared. Maybe we'll make it there some day.

  4. Can I come too! Mo you made your old Aunt's eyes water. You have to use this for the hook when you write about this experience. After reading this everyone will want to hear more!

    I'm just afraid that plain ole' Kalamazoo will not be much of a draw for vacation time now.

    I love you and am so proud to tell everyone that this wonderful woman is related to me.

    Aunt Bev