Uv ajed – (oov a-zhed), French – The distinct, and absolutely positive realization that you have never been here before. Antonym: Deja vu
Welcome to Tunisia
I never know how to feel around women carrying guns. It’s an experience that is both titillating and intimidating simultaneously which is exactly how I felt when the shapely armed cop explained “We need your passport for a police report”. I handed over my passport, a situation that always fills me with dread when it happens. After all I don’t own my passport, my government does.
“I’ll give it back to you on the boat” she said reassuringly. Fair enough.
I rode the elevator up to the sky deck and plopped myself down in the near empty Pacific room with my two traveling companions Josh and Wendy. I met Josh and Wendy while waiting in line to board the Excelsior, one of Grimaldi’s many ferries that ply the Mediterranean. The ferry was scheduled to depart at 10am which in Italian time can mean anywhere from 10am to the eventual supernova of the sun.
After we’d gotten underway I walked out onto the open deck and it was a glorious day, sunny and warm. The water was a magnificent bright blue and I wondered what the hell I was doing going to Africa. In my travels I have learned to accept occasional bouts of depressions, loneliness and bewilderment and when the Sicilian coast disappeared I realized that there was no going back.
Tunisia was very much in my very immediate future.
It took a long time for the boat to turn itself to moor into Tunis harbor. I could see the lights of the city and the top of La Goulette mosque was lit up in brilliant green. It was a beautiful sight. Christianity and other faiths have nothing on Islam when it comes to beautiful architecture.
Josh and Wendy had become regular pals throughout the voyage and I agreed to wait for them after passport control. I liked them immensely after getting to know them. They were both students from Connecticut and were traveling for a couple of months. They were an attractive couple destined to have attractive children one day.
The passport control officer checked my name against a list of other, presumably suspect, names and then stamped my passport with a crimson red arabic stamp. Entry granted.
While I waited for Josh and Wendy, the vultures arrived and their offers were fast and furious.
“You need taxi? I take you to town.”
“Hammamet, Sidi Bou Said, I go to them all”
“Come with me my friend I make you good deal”
When I asked how much, the most enthusiastic man said “30 Euros”, an outrageous sum. That equalled 48 dinars for a ride that I found out later on the way back from Tunis would cost me only 5. ($1 equals 1.25 dinars). I decided to walk out just like the guide books say and flag down a licensed legitimate taxi.
Sure enough the vulture flew right behind us trying to sell us on what a great deal 30 Euros was when the licensed taxi pulled up. Josh, Wendy and I got into the taxi in a hurry with the intention of putting as much distance between us and him as possible. The vulture then talked to the taxi driver who handed him some cash.
The taxi drove us to Tunis with the radio volume cranked up to a decibel level rivaling jet engines on takeoff. It was apparently a sports play by play because there was a crowd yelling every few minutes which left me temporarily deaf. It could have been a public beheading as far I knew, I don’t speak arabic.
When the taxi driver dropped Josh and Wendy off at their hotel the meter indicated 1.6 and it occurred to me that the driver never turned it on. Unbeknownst to me Josh paid the driver 20 dinars and the driver told him that he would only charge me 10. When Wendy was ready to get out I mentioned that I thought about getting a room at the Diplomat for the night, but then decided to stick with my original plan and head to the Hotel Salammbo. She looked at me dead in the eye and asked “Are you sure?” I could tell she was concerned even if she didn’t say it. She didn’t have to. None of us had good vibes yet from this adventure.
I bid them both farewell and said I’d see them on the way back to Palermo. The taxi driver then took me to the Salammbo where I stupidly, but with a pleasant demeanor paid him 20 dinars because my brain just hadn’t processed it all.
Here’s the scam: the vulture cut a deal with the taxi driver and the taxi driver didn’t turn on the meter with the intention of over charging us. When I saw Wendy on the way back to Palermo she said that Josh fumed over this for a few days. I viewed it more as the infallibility of karma. There are reasons why people are born into shitty circumstances and do shitty things and why they will continue that cycle for lifetimes to come. Sometimes that’s as much thought as you need to give it before you get on with your own drama.
Sadly, the coming days would have my bag pilfered while I was wearing it, a medina that made the ferry port look like preschool, and an attempted mugging by four young men at Place Barcelone.
Would I do Tunisia again? Without question. There were also days of relaxing on the sands of Hammamet and swimming in it’s warm waters, a serious reaffirmation of why I am proud as all hell to be an American, and the best shawarma platter you could ask for.