We have officially been in Tunisia for one week! With all that we have experienced, and all that we have had to do it feels much longer. Not in a bad way, the days are full and they have that sense of flashing by but also feeling long.
We have had the great fortune to meet some very gracious people this week. People who have extended themselves with acts of hospitality, offers of help, their time, their shoulders to lean on. Grateful can't be said too many times for this community.
We arrived in Tunisia during Ramadan, the month long period of fasting for Muslims. Things here are pretty quiet during the day, but after breaking their fast our city certainly has a new energy about it. The breaking of the fast is called Iftar. After fasting all day it is tradition to begin by eating dates and water. This is part tradition and part practical, the dates give a nice hit of sugar and nutrients and the your body is ready for some hydration after not having anything to drink all day.
Dates filled with almond paste and rolled in crushed pistachios
I have to give this little spoiler alert. The pictures in this post aren't great. They were done on a camera phone in poor light, but I felt the evening needed to be documented.
All the new staff here at the school were invited to an Iftar dinner, the dinner where Muslim's break their fast. It is a big family affair, and there is a very celebratory air about it. Our neighbors are all out playing soccer on the beach, the cafe's are filled with men drinking tea and smoking. We went to a special restaurant downtown, it was owned by a woman who is a Princess of the last Ottoman ruler over Tunis. (I could be wrong so don't quote me)
Our dinner was lead by 2 veteran staff members. Dorsaf who is Phoenician and Karima who was born in Algeria and has lived in Tunisia since she was a small girl. I have to say they are the most interesting women I have ever met. I look forward to sitting down for another chat with them soon.
Dorsaff and Karima
After the dates, we were next served a four course starter (four course)! Soup, similar to Avgolemono, couscous with raisins, a salad with tuna and shrimp, and a meat dish that I was told was a sausage. Everything was fabulous. The flavors big and bold but not overly done. After this we were served Brik which is a Tunisian specialty. It is a pastry similar to Phyllo, wrapped around some highly seasoned ground meat, and an egg. The whole thing is deep fried (that can't be bad right?) and when you eat it you squeeze a little lime over it. My husband asked where he would be able to find it in Tunis, they were mighty good.
We were stuffed, and we weren't sure what the etiquette was. Must you be a part of the Clean Plate Ranger's club during Iftar? I'm contacting Emily Post to find out. After the above we were served our main course. Andy had Lamb with figs, and almonds, I had a chicken that was oven poached in local olive oil, my friend Julie of Bergamot Orange had the stuffed calamari.
Olive Oil Poached Chicken
Lamb Braised with Figs and Stone Fruit with Almonds
I guess when you fast all day you feel entitled to eat your entire weeks worth of calories in one sitting because next came dessert. We were groaning at this point and I am pretty sure I heard someone say this wasn't fair.
There was, what I would call a fruit salad. Fresh fruits, almond, and a little cream. It was very refreshing and had I known that more was to come I would have only sampled it. Next came a Pistachio pudding which was light and not overly sweet and this was served with fresh mint tea that had a thick cap of pine nuts floating on top. It was unusual and I think I would really like to try it again when the temperature dips below 98. Hot tea on a hot night doesn't equal good times to me. Lastly, out came some almond cookies which were very similar to Greek Kouramebides or Mexican Wedding Cookies.
Mint tea and Pistachio Pudding
This however was not the end of our night. Oh no, we rolled our over stuffed and groaning bodies back into the bus and headed over the Medina and Casbah for a short tour. We passed the sights of the recent revolution complete with razor wire and soldiers still on guard. The Libyan Embassy was flying it's new flag as news was just rolling in that Tripoli was being taken by the rebel fighters. The streets were crowded with families strolling and of course men smoking and drinking tea.
At the entrance to the Medina I was talking to Karima and asking her as many questions as I could in the short amount of time we had. I noticed that her eyes kept welling up with tears, but she would go on with her stories, passing on important bits of information. At the end of the tour she told me that this was the first time that she had returned to the Medina since the revolution. She was seeing again in her minds eye her friends and fellow countrymen being beaten, reliving the realization that they had fought a hard won fight that was not yet finished, and coming into the fullness of the great hope and fear that now grips her nation as they await elections.
At the outset of the evening I was not sure what to expect. The evening was so much more than my words here can express. The Tunisian people I have met are filled with pride for their country, with hope for their future, and a joy for life that I have not seen in my travels. We really are living in interesting times and living here in Tunisia, I feel I am living at the crossroads of history in the making.