Tunis, Tunisia - North Africa
I have been in many cities in north Africa, Israel, and the near and middle east, and I spent 18 months as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Afghanistan. Outside its old city, the Medina, Tunis is a modern European City. Inside its Medina, it is an ancient trading city which has not changed its ways of doing business for thousands of years.
Today, merchants in the Medina do take Visa, however, and they can ship Fedex. I hope I have been able to capture some of these contrasts in this way too short narrative.
This is looking east from the balcony in my hotel room in Tunis. I was impressed by all the Satellite dishes.
This is a wall hanging in my hotel in Tunis. I thought the style and the colors were very evocative of the desert and the architectures of this boundary city between the endless desert and the Mediterranean sea.
The hotel, a Hilton, was very nicely designed. I had the best room of any I stayed in in terms of view, cleanliness, and ambiance. It was also the least expensive.
This is a minaret. A Moslem holy man goes to the top of the minaret, and calls everyone to a prayer five times a day. A prayer involves spreading a rug on the ground, kneeling, then facing toward Mecca - east from here - then touching the forehead to the ground several times while praying to Allah.
Here is a Christian church about a five minute walk from the Minaret. Both these churches are in the old city of Tunis. The area is called the Medina, the bazaar, and the kasbah. I don't know the distinctions between these names. Anybody who has knowledge on this... please educate me.
These guys are rug merchants, showing me their wares. They were good salesmen.
The rug merchants told me that this building and rug sales area is actually a cooperative sponsored by the Tunisian government. The cooperative markets the rugs woven by the women of the Berber and Taureg tribes in the Tunisian Sahara. Taureg women have blue faces, and Berber woman have tattooed faces.
Before starting this trip, I read a book by Paul Theroux titled: "The Pillars of Hercules." In the book he described his experience in Tunis with the rug merchants... maybe it was these two rug merchants.
Theroux said he made the mistake in the Medina of asking an Arab how to find the rug bazaar. The Arab immediately began tugging Theroux's arm to come quickly to find the rug bazaar before it closed for that day. According to the guide, they had only a few minutes to get there.
Theroux was literally "hustled", in every meaning of that word, but he never said whether of not he actually bought any carpets. He only spoke of how offended he was that his "guide" insisted that he, the guide, be paid for taking Theroux to the rug bazaar, and how offended the guide was that Theroux would even question the amount of money demanded for the service.
With my prior experience in the middle east, I knew exactly what Theroux was talking about, and I was determined that it would not happen to me. The merchants in Tunis have been trading with tourists and other conquering armies for, what, 5,000 years? I felt I had built up immunity to the temptations of the bazaar in the Peace Corps, and, with Theroux's warnings, I resolved to get into the bazaar and out again without losing my shirt.
Hah! I not only got hustled in exactly the same way - perhaps by the same guide - I found I had no resistance to either buying the carpets, or paying the guide, or even to the rug merchant's request that I tip the rug assistant. I gave in to every assurance by the rug merchants that they would ship the carpets and I would receive them in 30 days. All I had to do was give them my credit card, and "...we will take care of everything. You have nothing to worry about."
I bought into all this, and didn't look back, but I did prepare my self mentally to absorb the disappointment when the carpets didn't show up.
Imagine my surprise when, about 40 days later, the two beautiful carpets I selected showed up wrapped in a rough cloth sack in Juneau, Alaska. The cloth sack was bound with twine, and my address was scribbled on the cloth in magic marker. Crude but effective.
I was overwhelmed. The rug merchants were as good as their word.