Thursday, September 30, 2010

Tunisian Studies Trip

Every year, the school participates in the Tunisian Studies Trip. It takes Herculean effort on the part of the trip coordinator and an enormous commitment from the teachers to make this event happen. There are, in fact, five trips - one for each of the grades 6 through 11. The sixes go to the nearby area of Cap Bon for three days. The elevens to the desert for a five-day open air camping experience in the Sahara. The grades in between are a gradual ramping up.

As a teacher, it brought home to me the fact that the school owns me. They can tell me, without consultation, that I shall leave my home, my family, my pets and work for twenty-four hours a day with other people's children who are away from home, some for the first time. I shall travel on buses with them, prepare and lead activities with them, eat with them, do bed checks on them, take calls in the night from them, and start the same again the next day. I shall pay for the care of whatever and whomever I leave behind. I shall not get time off in lieu. When the trip is over, I shall report for work the next day. It was sobering. It was exhausting. As an introvert, it took me fullly three weeks to get my energy back. At least I didn't end up sick as did many of my colleagues.

On the other hand, it was a free trip around a beautiful part of Tunisia, and I got to see lots of things I would have missed on my own.

I was with a group of 42 11-year-olds and five chaperones. For three days we toured the Cap Bon area just north of Tunis. This was Rome's breadbasket back in the day, and it is a beautiful area. I would like to go back some time. On my own.

Here are the highlights.

Day One: Tunis, Korbous (Qurbus) and Nabeul.
Korbous is a natural hotspring that surges out of a hill and mixes with the Mediterranean. The grade sixes make this stop every year, but the organizers never let the children swim. Enough of that, I said, so here we are.
Very hot water cascades into the first pool. You can almost touch the water in the second pool, but mostly people dangle their feet above it and take in the sulpher fumes.
Year six gets right into the swim with the locals. Can you see me?
Then back on the bus and off to check in to the hotel.  Sadly, our accommodation did not live up to its promise.
We were all put in "bungalows" or cabins on the periphery of the property - a choice for which I cannot blame the hotel management, but which made supervising students very difficult. The cabins had obviously not been part of the hotel's recent upgrades. My bathroom drain belched sewage gasses, so I had to keep the door closed in order to be able to sleep. One boy's ceiling leaked the night it rained right onto his bed. The pool was great, though, and the buffet was good.
My first pomegranate tree!
Day two, Punic (or Phoenician) Kerkouane.
Student sketching alter stones in Kerkouan museum.

This is but one shot of a dozen that I took at the Kerkouane excavation, which was made a world heritage site in 1985. All that is made of this rose coloured stone has to do with baths. Not the centralized baths of the Romans, but actual bathrooms in people's homes. It was simply amazing to see. This the Phoenicians had before the Romans, and the plumbing to support it. Even more astoundning was the fact that this whole village was only discovered in 1957 and is still only 75% excavated. What I thought was an L-shaped village is in fact a square. When they get the funding, they'll finish the remaining quarter.

Back on the bus, and on to Kalibia! (Qalibyah)

This is the fort at Kalibia. Built in Byzantine times, it served its original defense purpose as recently as WWII. Before the trip, he children had been set a small group task of writing skits that expressed their understanding of some aspect of ancient Tunisian history. They performed their skits from the ramparts of the fort, which was a powerful experience for all. (Sadly, I missed all but two because it became my duty to escort girls to the bathroom which was catercorner from the "stage". The photo does not do justice to the number of stairs!

Day Three: La Haouaria (Al Huwaryah) and home!
The falconry at La Haouaria was the most exciting part of the trip for our students. The name represents a linguistic evolution from the Latin Aquilaria, meaning Land of the Eagles. The area is part of the migration path for tens of thousands of raptors every year. There are over 150 falconers in the area who train sparrowhawks and peregrine falcons to hunt quail and partridge, and who vie for the title of Falconner of the Year at their annual festival. (Note: We actually had to split up at this point. A student developed violent food-poisoning or flu symptoms in the night and had to be taken to a clinic. One chaperone spent the night in a chair in the clinic. Another replaced her at breakfast time. This caused an extremely delayed start to the day so we could not all visit both the wind farm and the falconry. My bus got the falconry. Hooray!)

Given the speed of these birds and the simplicity of my camera, I was very pleased with this shot.

Come to papa!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Tunisian Studies Trip II

The grade 6 and 7 students and their chaperones only had a three-day trip out of town. Since classes were cancelled for the whole week to accommodate the senior trips, we studied Tunisia locally on Thursday and Friday. Here are two fairly standard shots of statuary inside the Carthage Museum.

And here is what makes Tunisia so special. You walk out of the museum, and stand in history. It renders me speechless - and you know what that takes! Do you see the built up city below? The contrasts through which I pass every day are amazing. I am in a taxi at rush hour. Traffic is at a crawl. Or should I say, a trot because now the cab is being passed by a man on a donkey cart. He is selling home made charcoal. For ten minutes we pass each other until the traffic eases and we leave him behind. Stuff like that happens all the time. Calves heads hang in butchers windows beside a chic dress shop. My neighbourhood is very up market, but sheep graze across the road. I see cows foraging amongst garbage in vacant lots in between three-storey homes. It's a crazy quilt of a place, and I'm really coming to love it.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Welcome back Party

We had to wait a long time for our back to school party because of - you guessed it - Ramadan. It was worth the wait, though. The elementary principal hosted the event in her home. Administrators get an extra housing allowance so they can entertain properly, and boy did she ever! Her admin. assistant made all the food. For a hundred people. All of it. Once again, I forgot my camera, so there are no food shots.

It was a beautiful summer evening and whereas the buffet was set up in the house, the tables were set up in the garden. There was an open bar, a DJ, a dance floor and karaoke. Here are just a few shots taken by a colleague.
Our Director prepares to belt one out at karaoke.

I'm in heaven! I have a colleague who can DANCE!!

But when that Middle Eastern music plays, I'll just dance alone!

Back to JB who has obviously been a very busy man!

Veiled women having fun.

Can you spell macarena?

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Monday, September 13, 2010

Happy Birthday to me

 One of my assistants interrupted my teaching to tell me there was a leak in our staff lunch room. I came running in to find a birthday party! Have you ever seen me look so surprised?
They really got me!
 This is not what it looks like!
 Ella, left, was the temporary replacement of Leyla, right when I arrived at the school. She came back for my special day and brought the cake.
 Have you ever seen such roses? I now get the same florist to bring me a bouquet every Friday so I have flowers in the house on the weekend.
Me and the crew post for a picture. Ridha is the AV specialist, Imen has just returned from maternity leave and is a library clerk, Ella is our emergency back-up clerk and Leyla is the senior clerk. It's a great team.

Two weeks after my actual birth day, the whole gang of newbies went out to dinner to celebrate two birthdays - mine and that of the other librarian. We went to a local restaurant called Dar Tej and since I wasn't smart enough to bring my camera, you're going to just have to make do with this link. I told them it was a dual birthday when I made the reservation, and we settled on a limited menu as a way of helping the kitchen cope with a group of 18. For 25 dinars they provided a pre-appetizer snack, a choice of three appetizers, mains that included steak, whole fish or seafood pasta, and fresh melon for dessert. We brought our own birthday cake and paid extra for wine, which thank heaven is now available. After we paid the bill, the owner came out with floral tributes for each of the birthday "girls". I don't know how they make any money.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Vacation in Malta

Greetings from Gozo!
At the end of Ramadan comes a two-day celebration called Eid-al-Fitr. This year it backed onto a weekend so we had four days off. Muslims here celebrate with parties, music and feasts, and all children get new outfits and toys. We infidels go on vacation, and I chose Malta. A colleague whom I hardly knew surprised me by asking if I wanted to travel with her, and it turned out that we had the same place in mind. Malta is only a one-hour flight away, with a one-hour time change. As a result, the trip home only took five minutes!

I did a bit of reading before we left and learned that Malta is very old. Pre-historical artifacts have been found dating back over 5,000 years. There are standing stones on Malta similar to Stonehenge. The Greeks, Romans, the Phoenicians all occupied Malta at one time or another, and who could forget those Punic Wars?

I feel much better about my breasts now.
In more recent history, the British took Malta and it became of strategic importance during World War II. In fact, Malta was the most heavily bombed place on earth during the war, enduring twice as many days and nights of continuous bombing than did London during the Blitz. Unimaginable. The entire population was awarded the King George Cross for bravery after the war.

 The Maltese are Catholics in a big way, with 360 churches - one for every 1,000 people - on just 320 square kilometers of land. And they're not humble things, either. Here's the outside of one and the inside of another.
Please note the mosaic tiled floor.

The famous Blue Lagoon
We spent three of our four days on Gozo, the middle-sized island and on one of those days took a boat trip around Comino, the smallest island. The latter is where the famous Blue Lagoon film was shot. The day was very windy, so the full experience of the turquoise waters was slightly compromised, but I think you'll still appreciate how stunning it is. The water was in the mid-twenties and we had about an hour of snorkelling. There's not much to see to tell the truth, not the highly coloured fish and corals of Australia, but it was delightful to hang in the water and watch the seaweed wave.

Elephant Head Rock, Comino
Oh man. How to choose a few photos from such a wonderful vacation...
Pretty as a picture!
There are no forests or woodlands, and only about a third of the land is arable. We saw no grazing animals, although a café owner proudly told us that his father had 6 or possibly 7 sheep. This photo is of salt pans on Gozo.
A salt "farm".
A troglodyte home near the salt pans.

We did not eat here, although I did enjoy a wonderful rabbit stew at a different restaurant.

Wood working is woodworking after all.
Multi-tasking at its finest. Car rental, auto repair and funeral service. If they can't fix it after the crash, they rent your loved ones a car to get to the cemetary.

This is one of several Maltese bus designs. Each route has its own charming style.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Hamam virgin no more!

Throughout the Arab world, there is the tradition of the hamam. I remember reading about them when I lived in Paris, and have always wanted to go. Today, I finally had the chance. Now this was not a totally authentic hamam experience. This was a five-star job in a boutique hotel. Next time, I'll go with a local to something more real.
The view outside the hamam.
The hamam is a veriation on the Turkish bath. but being in Carthage, the whole thing had a very Roman feel. Colleagues Kat and Maryanne kindly included me in their twice-monthly hamam habit at the Villa Didon. Here's how it went. One is provided with slippers and a hamam towel - what my mother would have called a huck towel - something without pile. You strip down to your underpants and walk through the refrigidarium, the rubdown room, and through to the bath itself, the calorium. Everything is marble or some other stone. I tried to take pictures, but steam does not photograph very well.

Tons of atmosphere!
 There are four basins, two on each side,  in a two-foot tall shelf. You sit on the stone shelf, put your feet and legs into the basin and fill it with whatever temperature of water you prefer. The room, already hot, begins to fill with steam. You take huge ladels and pour water all over yourself. You keep doing this until you are called for your friction rub - maybe 20 or 30 minutes. A diminutive person uses a friction glove and soap to take every particle of superfluous skin off every inch of your body. It feels like heaven. Then you shower. A clean, dry robe and a hair towel appear. You float out to the relaxaruim (I'm making that up)
Picture me lolling here. No peeled grapes served until after Ramadan!

Markets and Souks

Prickly pears, or Barbary figs. Eat 20 a year, my neighbour tells me, and you will never have cancer.

One of the best parts of living in Paris was doing the weekly marketing in Meudon. I am recapturing that feeling here in La Marsa. I have been adopted my a fruit and vegetable seller who delights in individually selecting every carrot, date and banana I buy. The fish is fabulously fresh. It's all sold whole and cleaned and filetted as it is sold. No cheese shop, sadly, but there's a place that sells the best fresh pasta I've ever eaten, next to Steve and Moira's, of course!

These pictures, however, are not of the La Marsa market, but of its Sunday souk. This has a much more rural feel. There are still sellers of fruits and vegetables, but the only meat is still on the hoof - or rather claw.
Chicken, anyone?
There are dozens of tables loaded with used clothing, bedding and drapes, and amazing deals are to be had. I've only gone the once, and it was just too hot for me to feel like piling through the stuff.

Can you say hot and dusty?

Gorgeous spices
Gorgeous spice vendor