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Tunisia during Ramadan

Spring is in Rome! I just finished reading Pineapple Street by Jenny Jackson and am in the midst of Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney. While I sit in the warm sun amidst budding trees leafing through my book, I wonder why I hadn’t read more in the past springs. It is wonderful to feel my body soak up the sun and my imagination spin with fictional worlds!

Last weekend, Helen, Austin and I visited Tunis. As it was during Ramadan, the medina felt completely empty when we entered in the late afternoon. The sky over the meandering streets were covered with outstretched canvas and metal awnings. Little light came in, making it difficult to tell crouched stray cats apart from crumply trash bags.

I did not feel at ease. The trip was a bit spontaneous, and we brought little cash. Even though we exchanged all our euros for Tunisian dinars at the airport, we barely had enough to cover our taxi and our hostel. Our knowledge of English, Italian, Chinese and German did not go far in a country that spoke Arabic and French, and we had to mime with our hostel manager to ask where the ATM was.

With cash retrieved, we started searching for food. It was dusk, and life was returning to the medina. To our surprise shops began opening, confectionaries churned out sweets, tables and chairs appeared in the streets. People were drinking coffee and smoking hookah, but no one was eating. We looped around the neighborhood but could not find a proper restaurant. A kind man recommended a place to us, but we were initially reluctant to take his advice. However, after running into each other three times, he grabbed Austin’s hand and led us through a maze of alleyways.

Suddenly spaces opened and we walked up narrow stairs to discover a hall filled with diners. We were hungry, tearing through baguettes and munching on Tunisian fried eggs (brik). The soup, shorba frik, was especially memorable. The earthy flavor of ras el hanout–literally best of shop, a spice mix commonly found in Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco–blended fantastically with the chewy texture of frik (green wheat), greatly enhancing the humble vegetable base. I am reminded of Pete Wells' advice for reading a menu like a food critic, which includes ordering soup as it takes a lot of time to prepare but isn’t a crowd-pleaser. While soup’s menu appearances in the United States hint at chefs’ particular insistence, shorba frik is certainly a staple on Tunisian dinner tables during Ramadan. It is hearty and full of liquids, perfect for quenching thirst and ending a day of fasting.

Identify us in cats! Dinner of frik, shorba frik, grilled fish and vegetables.

When we exited outside, the streets were unrecognizable. What had been ghostly alleys a few hours before were filled with families celebrating–songs were blasting, cups of mint tea were piled high and children had their faces buried in ice cream sundaes. We merged with the clogged flow of locals, inching through clouds of hookah smoke and endless joy. My body relaxed, and Tunis became warm and welcoming.

For the entirety of the trip we didn’t have cell service or wifi, but I felt peaceful. At a certain point I stopped trying to refresh my phone and wishing for notification pop-ups. I would like to think that I looked more carefully and listened more clearly, but I don’t know for sure. I do remember staring out the train windows as we crossed the Lake of Tunis, the outlines of figures and their fishing rods blurring past. I still see the blue vastness extending beyond the Bath of Antonius, the fluffiness of the cats napping against the wall. I hear prayers echoing through the Medina, raindrops splattering on our hostel ceiling, the groundskeeper at the Royal Mausoleum speaking French slowly so we can parse out cognates.

markets in the medina, people fishing along the train tracks, and us

I did think more. I thought about how different the medina was from modern cities. It reminded me of Fremen settlements in Dune, with its cave-like complexity, extensive tunnel circulation, and surprising livability despite the harsh climates on Arrakis. Nondescript doors at street level opened to arcaded interior courtyards, antique-filled rooms, and mosaic-decorated rooftop gardens. I thought about why I was traveling, and if I was creating memory for the sake of creating memory. I thought about living in the present, and if the connection brought by the internet distorts relationships and gratification. Why do I doom scroll on Instagram for hours but hesitate to go to the park with friends or to chop garlic so my sauteed vegetables are properly seasoned?

And some previous conversations replayed in my head. On getting used to pleasant things–a year from now will love feel as precious? Always comparing up but rarely down–what’s fairness when there are advantages by birth? Emotions and hypocrisy–perhaps right and wrong have always been tainted by personal narratives?

Back in Rome, I bought a sandwich with my credit card, showered and logged onto my computer. As my old browser tabs loaded, the rawness of life and the vitality I experienced with it faded away.

remains of ancient baths set against blue sea and faint outlines of mountains
view of the sea from the Baths of Antonius

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5 comentários

12 de mai. de 2023

May you never get used to pleasant things


14 de abr. de 2023

The blessing of NOT having cell service 💓


12 de abr. de 2023

Marhaban..... ya Sadiqi! Preciousness and the Arrakis portion was a smiley surprise

Desai Wang
Desai Wang
12 de abr. de 2023
Respondendo a

Marhaban calmboa! Missing you lots!


11 de abr. de 2023

Haha! Our knowledge of English, Italian, Chinese and German did not go far in a country that spoke Arabic and French😁😂


Desai Wang

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