Wow… I am so overwhelmed. I’ve never been anywhere where english isn’t spoken. It’s like a whole different planet than what I’m familiar with. Everything is white with blue trim. Cars are small and people drive crazy… running over curbs, scraping against other cars. The arabic language sounds like an argument. Even a calm conversation sounds like the participants are raising their voices and getting upset. Maybe it’s the 14 different ways to pronounce the “H” sound.
After we landed in XXXXX we went through customs and I tried a little French small talk with the customs officer. They speak French in XXXXX, but I’m pretty sure the guy didn’t think I was speaking French because I learned French with a rural Illinois farm town accent.
We took 2 taxis to B’s apartment (taxis are only large enough for 2 passengers, plus luggage), and since I was the only person in the group, besides B (who spoke arabic), with language skills (ha), I was doomed to always ride in the “other” taxi for the week. Just getting a taxi and negotiating a fare at the airport involved what looked to be quite an animated debate, that even involved the police. Somehow my taxi made it to the same place B’s did, and we arrived at his apartment around lunch time. These pictures are of the outside of the apartment (landlord lives on first floor, B’s apartment was directly above him, with access to the roof).
Looking out his window, I could honestly say I couldn’t believe I was in Africa. Middle East, maybe, but not Africa. It is really quite a culture shock when you go some place like that if all you know of the world is the U.S. Everything is painted white (at least in XXXX) with blue trim, and everywhere you look there are satellite dishes. Notice in the photo on the right the large pile of garbage at the end of the street. This was there trash dump, and occasionally a truck would come by a scoop some of it up to haul it off to an even larger dump, probably at the end of somebody else’s street. Mangy stray cats are everywhere and nobody seems to use garbage bags to, uh, bag up their garbage. It just kind of blows around and is out there for the world to enjoy finding out what you had in your house that you no longer want.
Since it was lunch time (about 6am body time I think), we went down the street to a small restaurant in some sort of market where we had shwarmas, which is pretty similar to a gyro, and quite delicious. On the way to lunch we passed a mosque and I got to hear my first call to prayer. I’m not sure what time it was, but all the mosques seem to have synchronized their watches because if you are close enough to town to hear the call to prayer you can probably hear multiple mosques doing it simultaneously. It’s kind of a spooky sound when you hear more than one at a time because each imam (?) has his own pitch that he’ll sing it at, and they make some crazy dissonance by singing over top of each other. You’d think if they synchronize their watches they could use a pitch pipe as well.
After lunch we wandered around the market while B caught up with several friends. It was amazing how the language is a blend between French and Arabic, and that B seems to carry on pretty well in conversations. He says it’s all small talk, but that in this culture is really important to be able to small talk well. B creates instant credibility with people he meets by speaking their particulary dialect of Arabic.
We went back to his apartment and started packing dishes and stuff while some other “workers” (codeword for missionaries) came by to get supplies we’d brought for them or to purchase furniture or appliances from B. Surprise of all surprises, one of the workers was “TN” (name witheld for security), who Lesa and I went to college with! Small world… it only took 3 hours from our arrival in North Africa for me to run into someone I knew pretty well. Crazy!
After packing for a while, we split again and waited outside Cafe Cote-du-Cote for taxis to take us to our hotel downtown. This became a big part of our trip, waiting for an open taxi, watching 2 of our group take off in it, then waiting for another taxi and hoping I could communicate well enough to get us to the same place. Another interesting thing about Cafe Cote-du-Cote, and other cafes here: They don’t seem to be really in the business of serving food or coffee, the main business that happens there is smoking chicha (more on that later). These pictures were snapped while we waited, and waited, and then eventually crossed the street to wait beside some kind of interstate or limited-access-highway, which didn’t seem safe but proved to be a lot more efficient at finding a taxi!
I don’t know if it was my French, or that I just looked gullible, but our taxi ride took twice as long and cost twice as much as B’s. But I didn’t really care, I was thankful we found ourselves in the same place, considering I didn’t have a single phone number or way to get ahold of anybody should we have been separated. Anyhow, we walked several blocks to our hotel. It’s old (1920’s or earlier) and not fancy, but at least we had our own toilet and it had toilet paper (which is rare in a country where “the hose” is the norm).
Outside our window I can hear arabic music and lots of people milling around… very tired… must shut eyes…