Monday, October 20, 2008

Kampala/Amsterdam/Paris/Tunis or bust

The post Uganda plan was to fly to Amsterdam where I would have a short connection, fly to Paris, wait an hour, then fly to Tunis. To my surprise, the KLM agent at the Entebbe airport said that they could check my luggage all the way through to Tunis. I was still nervous about the connections actually happening, so was a bit on edge for the majority of the trip.

I arrived in Amsterdam around 6am and double checked that my flight was on time then made my way to the internet lounge to finish a few things for work and charge my computer and ipod before boarding for France. I have heard bad things about Charles de Gaulle airport and Air France, but I never really understood the whining…it was France after all. But whoa, I get it now. The airport security was bizarrely inept and slow, funneling three lines at a time into one metal detector and forgetting that duty free materials can go through if it is sealed. They triple checked some of my duty free bags, pulled me to the side where I sat until a random worker told me that my carabineer holding my hat to my bag was too big. I told her, no, no its not, and its staying on my bag. 10 minutes later someone informed her that she was supposed to be looking at my duty free bag, not making up things to take from me. They apologized and sent me on my way. At the gate I checked on my luggage again. They responded that they didn’t have it yet registered but were sure it was on the plane…great. I boarded and was not at all surprised when I arrived in Tunis with no baggage.

I haven’t spoken French in years and it has gotten really really rusty. This did not help matters when trying to talk to the Tunian baggage correspondent regarding my lost luggage…I found my French vocabulary for outrage to be definitely insufficient. After being told that there were two more flights coming to Tunis that day but that I could not get my bags until the next day (when I would have to come pick them up), I left customs and met my friend Margaret outside. We headed back to her house, hoping that my luggage would turn up eventually.

That night we went to Sidi Bousaid, a beautiful ancient suburb of Tunis, set on the Mediterranean. It is a hilly city of whitewashed domed buildings with blue shutters and beautiful mosaics. Walking through its winding cobble stone streets feels a little like the old city in Jerusalem. We had dinner at a little outdoor restaurant…teaming with cats. Side note here, Tunisia feels like is has more cats than people. They are EVERYWHERE. And they are bold! One little white cat kept jumping up on my friend Tanner’s lap during dinner. Tanner would take him by the nape of his neck, place him away from the table and he would just jump right back up. Walking down the street, they are all around, some clearly diseased and starving, others well fed and cunning. Regardless, we had a nice little diner with the cats of cous cous, grilled meat, Tunisian salad Moushuai, and lots and lots of bread. We started off with a Brick, something you can find everywhere here. It is a fried egg, usually with tuna, wrapped in a thin crepe like thing and fried. Any rural or urban eatery is guaranteed to offer it.

After our dinner we walked around a bit and had traditional mint tea at a cafĂ© carved out of the side of a mountain over looking the harbor. We waited around a bit until it was time to meet up with one of Margaret and Tanner’s friends at a popular bar. Drinking in Tunisia is not well regarded, so though many Tunisians do drink, they do so only in certain places and at certain times. The popular bars take advantage of this and charge fairly high prices for poor selection. This particular hotel/bar was a bizarre collection of American kitsch. In the back section there were tables set around a pool and side tables for drinking. All around were plastic figures, pink flamingos, and Chinese lanterns. Somehow it just worked. The bar itself is up against the ocean. After a few drinks I was completely wiped and Margaret and I headed home.

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