Order Tara's Bicycle Touring Cookbook Today!

The Dark Side

by Tara

We've been enjoying Tunisia more than ever for the past few weeks. The trick for us, sadly, has been turning a blind eye to a lot of crappy behavior. I suppose we all do this every day on some level; there are injustices great and small everywhere in the world. If we didn't, I imagine we would spend every day in some level of outrage. Here in Tunisia our resolve is tested almost daily in this regard, often reminding us why the culture here was and is so hard to warm up to. Leaving out the biggest and most frequent example, undercurrents of misogyny and repeated sexual overtures, here are two others:

Getting Ripped Off

Last night for dinner we found a small, inexpensive restaurant off the main street of Tozeur. I ordered roasted chicken and Tyler ordered spaghetti. The place was a bit shabby but the food was decent. We ate our fill and the waiter was very nice. For some unknown reason he even brought me a plastic rose. Weird. When we were through we asked for the bill but the man returned without one, saying simply that our meal was 15 dinar.

Tyler @ Dinner

One thing we've found crucial to surviving happily here is constantly ensuring that we know exactly what we owe so we don't get stiffed. Tyler is usually the first to confront a swindler. Tonight, he was tired from our ride and I was shocked when he let out an uncharacteristic sigh and nearly forked over the money. The prices had been listed on our menu and I knew there was no way they added up to the 15 dinar the waiter was asking for.

Before Tyler could pay, I told the waiter to recalculate. He counted in his head, mumbling numbers and ticking off imaginary dishes with his fingers. After all of this he pulled the sum of 12 dinar out of thin air. With a laugh I shook my head and asked the waiter to bring me the menu, proceeding to count out each item myself. Our total came to 8 dinar, just slightly over half of what the man was asking. After we placed eight dinar in his outstretched hand and left, he smiled and waved goodbye sheepishly. We encounter this sort of behavior nearly every day.

Animal Cruelty

This morning we rode our Mobylette to Nefta, a supposedly beautiful town full of Sufi mosques only 30 kilometers away. We enjoyed the ride, but Nefta was pretty underwhelming. As far as we could tell, it was an ordinary Tunisian town in the middle of nowhere. The "corbeille" it is famous for, a giant crater around which the town is built, was unimpressive and used as a public dump. I should have guessed this would be the case, since corbeille means garbage can in French!

Camel Crossing! Nefta Corbeille

While we "admired" the views, making an honest attempt to discover why our guidebook recommended the visit, a man came over carrying an adorable little puppy by one leg. He sort of tossed it on the ground by the side of the corbeille, presumably abandoning it. The dog very calmly laid down on the dirt in the sun and didn't bark or bite or bother anyone. He didn't even move when I got close to take his picture.

Nefta Puppy

After a minute or two, another man came along and grabbed it by the snout, lifting it off the ground and setting it down roughly a little further away. He then sort of lightly kicked it with his boot. We were already upset by how this harmless puppy was being treated when a group of kids came along and a boy grabbed the puppy like a football and chucked it into the crater.

We could not believe what had just happened as we watched the poor puppy fly through the air, hit the dirt, and then roll and tumble down the trash-strewn crater wall. Why would anyone do that?! Tyler's immediate reaction involved horrified shouting, and though the kids likely didn't understand much English, there were a few four letter words they might have. The girls scolded the boy and they all ran away. I looked over the edge and saw the puppy had thankfully survived and was now listlessly sniffing its new surroundings. Poor thing!

Tunisia may be a beautiful country but the culture sometimes leaves a lot to be desired.

Previous Entry
The Road to Tozeur


Getting ripped off...this I understand. It reminds me of one of my favorite scenes from the movie Manhattan, a flashback fight between Woody Allen's parents. The mother says, "I'm firing the cleaning lady!" "Why?!" "She's stealing from us!" "Well, of course she is, who else is she gonna steal from?" I always felt as a perso of privilege, this was part of my lot in life. Not that you don't get pissed, and you can;t let people egt away with it, but of course it's not personal.

But the animal cruelty part....very hard to accept. I spent four years in Asia and never found a way to accept. Ugh. I guess we have relationships with animals that others consider dirty, ugly, and use to epitomize bad qualities. I hate it.
Posted by Green Jobs on December 30th, 2009 at 12:22 PM
We struggled with prices and the question of the 'right price' in quite a few countries. Double for your meal is extreme but I came to accept that it wasn't really a big deal if we paid a little more than the locals, given how fortunate we are. What did bother me was the blatant dishonesty when people tried to rip us off. If they asked us for say 10% more than the going rate I was okay with it. If they raised the price halfway through I found it harder to accept.

On the subject of animal cruelty, it's terrible but I'm not sure it's so much better where we're from. If it were, we wouldn't need the SPCA. It's just that it doesn't happen in public so much.

Hope you're having fun riding your scooter!
Posted by Friedel on January 1st, 2010 at 2:05 AM
In a class I took called "culture and ministry" we read a couple books that I found to be very helpful on the experience of encountering trans-cultural moral norms (and the culture shock that often follows). One of them comes from a fairly missiological perspective (hey, these folks have had to wrestle with such things!), but the other is not religiously concerned. Both, however, were excellent to engage.

Now I doubt you'll be having ready access to Amazon, nor be interested in lugging books along on your journey, but I've been surprised by greater things... They are:

"Strange Virtues: Ethics in a Multicultural World"


"Figuring Foreigners Out: A Practical Guide"

Cherishing your experience,

Posted by Alex on January 5th, 2010 at 8:47 AM

Thanks for posting the names of those books. My girlfriend and I are planning on a long-distance tour, and GoingSlowly has become an amazing resource to help us plan (financially and mentally) for what we might encounter.

And while I'm guessing the Tyler and Tara might not want to test Amazon Prime's ability to get goods to the middle of the Sahara, I'm pretty sure that we are going to pick up one or both of those books in preparation for our own trip. :-)
Posted by Kirby on January 8th, 2010 at 5:46 PM