Sunday, August 29, 2010

Photos of Upstairs

My bed
My room
I don't know why I stopped with the upstairs bathroom and didn't send any pictures of the bedrooms. Probably they were messy at the time. Anyway, here are my three rooms. Lots of space for visitors, as you can see, and another double bed is coming in October.
Guest bed
Guest room balcony
Office - avec Libby

Iftar desserts

Every evening during Ramadan, Muslims feast. So much so that 36 percent of men and 57 percent of women actually gain weight during the month where the eat and drink nothing between sunrise and sunset. That takes serious application! Women hurry home after work and begin cooking as soon as they arrive. By 3 am, they're all up making breakfast because nothing may be consumed after 4.
Lounging on a landing in Dorsaf's home
 Last night, the new teachers were invited to the home of our most refined and elegant colleague, Dorsaf. Dorsaf's knowledge of Tunisian history and culture is encylcopedic, and her love and pride for her country contageous.
Dorsaf - the woman behind the desserts.

On the left, you see a sweet couscous dish made with a bit of honey - not too sweet - dates, almonds and sultanas. On the near right is a plate of savouries - little pastries filled with olives or cheese. The desserts are eaten first in the firm belief is that eating something salty at the end of the meal aids in digesting the sugar. This after a meal of soup, brik, salads and meat! At the three o'clock position are samsas, little pastries made of the same thing as a brik (see below) and stuffed with ground pistacios lightly sweetened with honey. Then come les doigts de Fatima, finger-shaped pastries filled with nuts and cream.

Drinks included the ubiquitous mint tea, fresh pressed strawberry juice, fresh made lemonade and the delicious high-fat bouza, a cooked concoction of sorghum, ground hazelnuts, and sweetened condensed milk. A glass of that before bed and another upon rising keeps away hunger for much of the day, apparently. Nothing keeps away the thirst.

A brik is made of an impossibly thin crêpe-like semolina disc. The edges are folded in to the middle to make a square, then filled with ground either ground meat or cheese and a raw egg. It is folded in half diagonally to make a triangle, then fried in oil until the egg is cooked to the desired consistency. Are you seeing how the pounds could sock on?

Dorsaf's stairs.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Tomorrow's child

Our Director, Allan Bredy, just sent out an e-mail to staff complimenting them on how welcoming and ready the school looks for tomorrow's opening. As an attachment, he sent the following poem by Rubin Alves which I found very moving. Thought I'd share it with you.

Tomorrow’s Child

What is hope?
It is the pre-sentiment that imagination
is more real and reality is less real than it looks.
It is the hunch that the overwhelming brutality
of facts that oppress and repress us
is not the last word.
It is the suspicion that reality is more complex
than the realists want us to believe.
That the frontiers of the possible are not
determined by the limits of the actual;
and in a miraculous and unexplained way
life is opening up creative events
which will open the way to freedom and resurrection –
but the two – suffering and hope
must live from each other.
Suffering without hope produces resentment and despair.
But, hope without suffering creates illusions, naïveté
and drunkenness.
So let us plant dates
even though we who plant them will never eat them.
We must live by the love of what we will never see.
That is the secret discipline.
It is the refusal to let our creative act
be dissolved away by our need for immediate sense experience
and is a struggled commitment to the future of our grandchildren.
Such disciplined hope is what has given prophets, revolutionaries and saints,
the courage to die for the future they envisage.
They make their own bodies the seed of their highest hopes.

- Rubin Alves

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Sheep and Shiatsu

Yesterday, I had a simply wonderful shiatsu treatment thanks to the recommendation of a colleague. If you're ever in town, I'll see if I can get you a session with Noura. Apparently, almost all massage in Tunis is done fully clothed and is very delicate. Not what I like at all. Give me full contact and deep work every time. Noura had me down to my skivvies and proceded to hurt me good. My body fairly hummed by the time she was done.
The interesting thing that I wanted to share was this. She practices where she lives, in her parents' home. Her husband left her when her children, now in their late teens, were very young and so the three generations live together. It's a beautiful home in a nice part of Tunis, so it struck me funny to be looking up at a gorgeous chandelier in a well-appointed room scented with essential oils, and in the background to be hearing the bleating of sheep. She explained that there was in fact only one sheep, and that its presence was exceptional. A neighbour had died three days earlier and the deceased's family - not all Tunisians, she hastened to add - held with a tradition of sheep slaughter and feasting on the fourth day.
On the way out, Noura treated me to my first prickly pear, bought from a street vendor. I reached for it and both she and the vendor yelped! The outside, I have now learned the hard way, is covered in almost invisible prickles, hence the name. He deftly cut the skin off, one hand in a rubber glove, and gave me the yellow fruit inside. Delicious. Also known as Barbary Figs, I recommend you try one when you can, but do wear gloves!

Half Ramadan

Misty moon between the palms
 The full moon marks the mid-point of Ramadan. It seemed like every house on the block was hosting a party to mark the event. My gorgeous neighbour, Rym, came over at 6:45 with this plate of lamb couscous. I made the mistake of thinking that because the pepper was large, it wouldn't be very hot. I associate intense peppers with small ones like the Scotch Bonnet and Thai birdseye. May I just say that generalities of this sort are not always correct.

Later, I walked Libby in the humid night, and despite not having a tripod, managed to get an interesting shot of the mid-Ramadan moon.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


Ramadan is the most important event in the Islamic calendar. It occurs during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, when Muslims believe that the prophet Mohamed received the Koran from heaven. Muslims around the world commemorate this event by fasting from sunrise to sunset throughout this month. This is an extremely difficult thing to do in this heat. Friday's temperature here hit 42 degrees. Imagine driving cab in that all day, or working as a gardiner. Construction workers are obliged to drink some water during the day, and not to work from 1 to 3. Menstruating women are excused, as are people with medical reasons and children. The rest do not eat, drink or smoke from sunrise to sunset for thirty days.
Since the Islamic calendar is completely lunar and only 354 days long, the month of Ramadan comes earlier each year than the year before. For the next several years, fasting will be at its most difficult because the summer days are not only hotter, they are longer. Right now, Tunisian Muslims are allowed to break their fast at 7:15 in the evening, and every night is a feast in some homes. Fasting must begin again at 4 am. To get through the day, people get up at 3 to make and eat a meal, then try to get a bit more sleep before they start work. They're not only hungry, dehydrated, and having nic fits, they're sleep deprived as well. No sex, either. This is twenty percent of the world's population, people! All this is supposed to be about discipline and reflection, but the fact is that most people gain weight during Ramadan because they eat so much in the evening and very early morning!
Here is a site with more about the ideal practise of Ramadan. The ideal is very nice.
Lucky old me, I got here one day too late because of that plane delay. You cannot buy a bottle of wine anywhere in the Muslim world at the moment. The Cave des Vins in all the supermarkets are full of pop for the duration.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Sidi Bou Said

Me pretending I live here. Welcome!
This morning I got a call from one of the young single teachers in our group asking if I would like to join two of them in a trip to the neighbouring town of Sidi Bou Said, pronounce sah-eed. Heck, yes!
Don't you love the blues?
Me in the library of the former palace of Baron d'Erlanger, and 18th century home consisting of 55 rooms.
After a long climb up and up the main street, we enjoyed the magnificent view across the strait to Hammamet. We toured an old mansion that is still partly inhabited by descendents of its original owners, then went to the Café des Nattes, former hangout of André Gide and Gauguin. They probably had something stronger, but we had orange pressé - the surly waiter told us they never or rarely had lemons for citron pressé which is ridiculous since they're hanging on half the trees on the street - and shared a snack of cut melons and a cheese-stuffed pastry.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Orientation Week

The view from my room at the Sapphire Palace
In the lobby with my first glass of mint tea in Tunisia
The fountain at the school's entrance
I could not have asked for better from my orientation week. I was picked up at the airport on time and taken “home” where a welcome pack of basic foods awaited me. The next morning, after a blissful night’s sleep, the school’s driver picked up my fellow newbies and me  and took us to school. Breakfast and lunch were provided every day, even though it was Ramadan – more on that later. During the week, the Director, the High School Principal and the Elementary Principal each hosted feasts in their homes for us, this despite putting in full days at work. Each morning we had a session on something helpful in terms of understanding the school and its policies and procedures. Each afternoon, the bus took us on excursion – shopping for essentials, touring our immediate surroundings, and finally on an overnight trip to Hammamet where we stayed in the Iberostar Sappire Palace, a five-star all-inclusive hotel. I have never been in such luxury and it was right across the road from the beach! The only sad thing was that my camera battery packed it in after two shots, so I only have two personal photos to share with you. The websites will have to do. The meals were amazing buffets combining local, European and American foods. Guess which one I avoided? At dinner, I sampled some sort of beef stew that takes two days to prepare and that is made with a herb that makes it greenish black. Take that, Dr. Seuss!
On the Saturday morning after breakfast, I took one of the gorgeous young teachers and went to the Medina - the ancient walled city of Hammamet. The place is a rabbit warren of merchants of all kinds, each vying loudly for the attention of passers-by. Around me we could here not only English and French greetings, but Italian, Spanish and German, too. I bought my first of what I hope are many carpets. This was probably foolish as I have tourist written all over me, but I am happy with it and what I paid for it. If they guy got ten dinars to much for it, so be it. After all, I got a very good price because he considered me as his daughter! It is prayer rug sized and pure Tunisian silk. It lies beside my bed waiting for the day I start meditating again.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Here at last!

I won't have a computer at home until Monday evening, and orientation has kept us hopping all day. Please just know that Libby and I are now in Tunis and beginning to settle in. It is simply gorgeous here! The school has been beyond welcoming, the local people are warm and open, and my neighbourhood is quiet and beautiful. Once the first month is past and I get my bearings - both at work and at home - I think I am going to be very happy here.

We're off to the resort town of Hammamet in 15 minutes for an overnight stay. Must dash!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Here at last!

Traffic on the way back from the airport. Suddenly, I'm not as impatient to get my car.

I'm really here!

My front door. This nail in wood is classic for Tunisian doors.

My street.

Living room.

Living room with hot dog lying on cool stone floor.

Warning. Do not take psychotropic drugs before entering kitchen!

Suicide's dream stove. Gas turns on and stays on without flame, both on burners and in oven! The school is buying me a new one soon.

Powder room.

 Upper bathroom.