Shopping in Tunisia
07 September 2008 | Marina de Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia
Note: we are a few cities back in our updates and will be posting Syracuse and Malta in the next week. While it is fresh in my mind, I wanted to share an evening in Tunisia.
We sailed from Malta on the evening of September 10th and had a relatively quiet 36 hour passage (ie motoring) with the exception of a six hour spurt on the night of the 11th when we picked up some wind, shut down the motors and sailed for the first time in weeks. Did we mention, that besides the heat, there is no wind in the Med?
Arrived in Tunisia into a small port town, Sidi Bou Said, about 10 km up the coast from Tunis. With no space in the marina we docked side-to at the fuel dock and shortly thereafter a 38ft monohull rafted along side us. The pace in Tunisia is very slow; the gas station operator was sleeping in his 'office' and if you really needed him, you could knock on the window and wake him up. After a rather lengthy check in process during which John had to explain in broken French what I did for a living, John and the kids returned to the boat with a customs official in hand who boarded the boat (a first for us) and looked around and, using hand signals, inquired if we had any weapons on board.
Jenny and Connor played with the countless kittens hiding in octopus pots along the dock. Tempting, but we are still holding out on taking one on board.
With the official check in behind us, John and I switched on the generator, fired up the air conditioning and went back to sleep to catch up on the watch schedule confusion our bodies always suffer. Later in the day, the four of us took a taxi into the Sidi Bou Said, a very small touristy town lined with white buildings, blue shuttered windows and colourful doors. We wandered the market and very quickly experienced the friendly harassment of Tunisian vendors. Here is a typical conversation:
"Hello, where you from?"
"Ah, Canada, you capitalists? What do you like?"
[I pick up an olive wood salad bowl - I have been searching for them for ages and am looking forward to striking a deal in Africa]
"How much you want to pay?'
"How much is it?"
"How much you want to pay? Dinar or Euro?"
"Tell me lady, how much you want to pay?" [Takes my arm and guides me further into his store]
"I don't want it. It is too much."
"Lady, I make you a good deal. Buy two."
"No, I am not interested"
"Lady, it is the end of the day, I shut down, not eaten all day [ooops, forgot to mention, we arrived during Ramadan], I make you good deal."
[We walk away slowly; he follows]
"Lady, tell me, how much you pay? 70? Okay for you, 60, 50...."
And so it goes, in each stall, each store, each item. We have spied some lovely dishes we like and a chess board for Connor, but we are saving ourselves for Tunis.
After the market we hop a cab to the Carrefour, a large grocery/department store (like Loblaws or Real Canadian Superstore) and do some provisioning. The store is buzzing, as it the hour leading up to sundown, and the locals are stocking up on food for their evening feast. While John starts with groceries, I head into the department store looking for acrylic wine glasses and sunscreen. I cannot find either and suddenly, smile to myself as I remind myself we are in a Muslim country where drinking is forbidden and sunscreen is not required (as we glimpsed earlier in the day as women waded into the waters off the beach fully clothed from head to toe). I find John and the kids standing at the bakery counter anxiously awaiting the fresh baguettes. The baker drops the first dozen from the rack - steaming hot, we scoop up two. In a matter of minutes, 12 dozen baguettes disappear in the hands of the shoppers. (The kids, hungry and unfed, quickly demolish them and after we pick up the rest of our groceries, we line up for two more baguettes.)
We also picked up a chocolate cake to celebrate our 100 days aboard Windancer as a family.
As we exit Carrefour, we inquire about a taxi to which the locals roll their eyes and reply, "One hour, it is time to eat." Well, nothing we can do about it, so we reenter the mall, sit down, pull out our roast chicken and devour it followed by icecream. If you cant beat 'em, might as well join em.
After about 30 minutes, a taxi arrives interrupting John's trip to the Asia Food stall in the food court where hundreds of Carrefour employees line up to have dinner. Returning to Windancer, the Austrian couple rafted alongside invite us over for a drink. We convince them to join us in our salon amidst the air conditioning and were sharing a late bite (George's homemade bread and real parmesan from Parma) and a few bottles of wine. Our evening was briefly interrupted when the wind suddenly whipped up and the lightening lit up the skies. Pushed into the cement fuel dock, we quickly reset the lines, added a few more lines and fenders and, after stowing some cushions, returned to another bottle of Montepulciano d'Abruzzo.