So I’ve been working on writing my experiences from a year-long backpacking trip I took in 2008/9. Well sort of working on…kind of like this blog. But I decided I would like to share an excerpt from what I hope becomes a book someday. I wrote it in third person just because I felt it easier to write about myself that way. I’ve only proofread it once and it really takes place in the middle of my journey when I was in Tunisia. I can write more about the trip later but I feel if I don’t post this now I probably won’t. So keep these things in mind as you read and I’d like you to ask yourself at the end “Would I like to read more?” Either what happened previously or later on. Thanks for reading.
Ride to Matlana
Southern Tunisia had lived up to its desert description. His last night in Douz had been spent watching the sunset from the top of a large sand dune with the cousins of some friends he had met in Tunis. The greenness of the palm trees in the oasis turned shades of purple and red as the vast sea of sand continued its swell beyond their date bearing branches. In fact it was date season and the workers in the mazes of palms could only be heard as they chattered about, packing up their tools and bags of freshly picked deglet noor dates- some of the best in the world. Their voices became fainter and fainter as the most brilliant light show came to an end and soon after he and his friends descended the dune. He bid his farewells to the cousins after they prayed the evening prayer together and had drank some delicious tea which had been infused in a traditional Tunisian way with pine nuts. Contentness was abound.
Hungry from a long day of walking through the date fields. he passed by the souq of the old city, down one of the main streets and into one of the restaurants of the small town. He sat down and ordered in Arabic which impressed the waiter. A 6’5’’ blonde guy finding his way into any of these small towns always drew attention, which he was used to at this point. He noticed the very laid back owner who was continually looking up from his coffee with a extremely curios gaze which he didn’t know how to interpret. It was half piercing and half welcoming. When the food was ready and after the stares diminished a bit, the owner himself delivered it to his table and after hearing the proper formalities given back in Arabic, he sat down and started to ask some basic questions. His Americanness wanted to eat alone and then leave, but it was his nature to endure the interesting tourist role for sometime out of niceness until a good conversation started up or until things just got weird. He was aware of both of these scenarios.
Actually the thickly mustached restaurant owner became quite a good conversationalist after the sideways looks were determined to be just a part of his desert machismo. But under all of the chest hair was a good heart and they talked for some time about the marvels of traveling to places and the potentials of unexplored territories (at least for them.) The owner finally had to attend to some paper work and so he ordered some coffee as a night cap before heading off to the hotel.
Then suddenly, as if a line had formed to speak to him, an east African man with the beginning of some dreadlocks sat down and introduced himself in very clear and eloquent Arabic. “My name is Abdu Rahman, and your honored name?” (It sounds funny in English but quite beautiful in Arabic.) He asked this with a brilliant smile that led him to realize that smiles were becoming the indicator as well as the theme for the amazing parts of his journey so he readily welcomed the second conversation even though yawns were beginning to attack him involuntarily. The coffee still had to be drunk and savored anyway. It always tastes better with sugar and words he thought.
Abdu Rahman also worked at the hotel/restaurant. A maintenance man he gathered, as he was given free rent for his work. Abdu Rahman was also very impressed at a 6’5’’ foreign Muslim speaking Arabic at a decent clip. They talked about Abdu Rahman’s family and his journeys, as well as his own family how he became Muslim despite September 11 and the feelings that followed. Abdu Rahman also mentioned that he wanted to visit the US one day but visa issues wouldn’t permit him. This was a sad song sung by so many of the young men he met along the way. Some probably having intention to marry and get a green card and some honestly wanting to see the place. The US is still very popular despite the perceived hostilities.
He mentioned to Abdu Rahman that he was headed to the town of Matlana the next day. He didn’t mention how much of a Star-Wars geek he was and that this town was a must see for fans of the cult classic if they ever find themselves at the Sahara’s gates. In fact Spielberg took many ideas from southern Tunisia, such as clothing, building design, names of planets, and he even filmed many of the scenes from the original in 1977 there. Despite this inner excitement to share all of the Star Wars trivia he knew with Abdu Rahman, he toned it down and told him he wanted to see the underground dwellings of the town left over from indigenous people in the area.
Abdu Rahman told him that if he took the shared taxis the optimal form of distance travel in Tunisia, (however not always the most comfortable) that it would take him all day because there was no direct route for the taxis, however there was a direct road. Instead he suggested that he ride with one of his friends that was going there anyway. He was surprised by the offer and told Abdu Rahman that would be okay as long as his friend didn’t mind. They exchanged numbers and he headed to his hotel to get some rest.
After waking and having some breakfast he checked out of the hotel and wandered around the town waiting for Abdu Rahman to call. He started to get a bit nervous about the time and as time was the main fuel of his anxieties he went to the shared taxi station to see how long it would take to get on the road. After waiting for some time there was only one more seat to fill for the shared taxi to hit the road. Then his phone rang. He wondered whether to answer at all; why bother someone if he was already to take the taxi. But after feeling very silly for letting the phone ring for some time he answered it and sure enough it was Abdu Rahman saying that his friend was getting ready to leave and that he could meet up with him now. He agreed and started heading back into town thinking about what this ride would be like.
He arrived at the restaurant expecting to see a full size car but what was in front of him instead was a very small version of a pickup truck. It was as if the truck had been hit by a shrink ray of sort and where the bed would have been the was a flat board attached to the metal of the truck…somehow, and thin horizontally placed boards attached in the fashion of a rickety fence which in total made the make shift bed of the truck all ready half loaded with feed of some sorts and some tools. Tunisian cowboys, is what he immediately thought of when he looked at the men he would be driving with. After growing up in the south of Arizona, he was quite accustomed to seeing desert farmers and ranchers, and now he was getting to meet Tunisia’s version. They looked at him in a blank stare of disbelief and then in a shaky voice the driver said “let’s go” in Arabic. So into the truck they went, albeit a bit slow trying to cram three grown men into a space for maybe two. With his knees to his nose and the window roller shoved conveniently in his side, he asked in Arabic how long it would take. He was sure that he sounded like children when they spout off at the mouth two minutes into the ride, “Are we there yet?!”
But as the ride progressed and after paying for some of the gas the ice began to break, or more like melt. They were interesting men who worked hard in life and toiled every day. He had always appreciated such people because he was never one of them. He worked hard at his barbershop in Seattle but physical labor and he didn’t really get along although he could fake it for a while. The small truck tumbled down the highway getting passed by many others but as he took in the southern Tunisian country side with these farmers he knew that he couldn’t trade this experience for any other. In fact at one point the large shadow of a tour bus pulled up next to them and he craned his neck down and around to look up at the passengers. Sure enough there were some looking back down at him with lost faces. He couldn’t tell if they wanted to be there or not. They were in transit. From one site to the next; one hotel to the next and one gaudy shop to another. He quickly realized that even in his discomfort, even jammed in this hot sweaty “cab” of the “truck” he was loving every minute. He pitied the air-conditioned, cushioned passengers of the cruise-liner for the fact that they wouldn’t get to have such a real Tunisian experience such as this; a chance to build with real locals and talk about their problems. But then again maybe they didn’t want that in the first place and that was why they were sitting in the cruise-liner and him in the farmers ride.