Dec
14
2009

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Notes from the Cafe

by Tara

During our stay here on Kerkannah, we've spent the majority of our time working at the Salon de Thé (tearoom) called "la Corniche". They have free wi-fi (thankfully or we'd have to return to Sfax to get anything done) and we use it liberally. The waiters are friendly, and often random people come up and introduce themselves to us.

We're not sure if this instant friendliness is because everyone really just is that friendly, because the site of an outgoing female at the male-dominated cafe is a turn on, or because we are quite the spectacle. We're realizing that on these small islands, everyone knows everybody else and being associated with the two foreigners in town (the most exciting thing to happen to this place in awhile) can be a bit of a social boost.

But I like to think its because everyone is so nice.

The woman who cleans at the youth hostel, Yasmin, knew Abdallah instantly when we mentioned we had gone boating with him. Even when we biked 15 kilometers away (a relatively large distance on the small islands) the man working at the bar of the Grand Hotel knew every single person in our photos. "Oh you met Ali!" he said, and then "Of course I know Abdallah!"

Seriously. Everyone knows everyone else!

We love meeting people and making friends and hanging out, but we've also found (mostly in Tunisia) that we have to establish boundaries. Otherwise, my smiles and friendly nature are soon taken as flirting. On the mainland, any acknowledgment, however slight, of the existence of a passing male stranger, is instantly taken as a come-on. Thankfully here on the islands, it has taken much longer for this to kick in. It's what I love about Kerkennians.

After a few days here, though, we found that we needed to set boundaries again. What what used to be simple friendly conversations were beginning to take a turn towards the awkward and quasi-sexual. Since Tyler doesn't speak French, I do most of the talking, and unfortunately that is pretty unheard of here. It obviously must mean I am constantly hitting on everyone! Thankfully, after Tyler upped his manly protective presence and I made a point of not being so friendly (is that sad?), the balances have tipped once more into the comfortable ranges of friendly acquaintances.

Regardless of boundaries, it cannot be denied that people here are special. Our waiter/friend Yousri, when finding out we'd be waylaid a few days to wait for our tires, was so visibly happy that he practically exploded with joy at the news. "You will be Kerkennian!" he exclaimed. It is hard to beat such a welcome!

Here at the cafe, we've since tried hookah with Yousri and his friends, developed favorite drinks that are now known as our "usuals," and have established a regular place at a table by the power outlet. When we do not show up for our daily work, people actually worry a little and ask where we've been. Some even get offended that we did not show up!

Here are some photos of Yousri and Agrabi, arriving to hang out at the cafe on their days off:

Yousri & Agrebi Yousri & Agrebi

Though we now now all the waiters by name, the older manager always remained quiet and very serious looking. A few days ago he completely surprised us by coming over and sitting down at our table with a smile. He had a game for us to play! One of those math games where you write numbers down and add them up and, as if by magic, he already knows the answer. Somehow either he or Tyler added wrong each time, so the trick's effect was never as showstopping as he had hoped, but still it was really cute and it was fun to see a different side of the manager.

Games at the Cafe Games at the Cafe

Since the day he came to play games with us, the manager now routinely brings us a complimentary savory pastry every day for lunch. It will spoil his appetite, he says; he prefers to be really hungry when he returns home for his wife's carefully prepared lunch.

Tuna & Egg-filled Pastry

To everyone at La Corniche, thank you for your kindness and hospitality! It feels good to be so welcomed into a community.


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2 comments

I love this post, Tara. You have a generous spirit that I am sure does much to allay wrong impressions about western female identity.
Posted by Green Jobs on December 29th, 2009 at 6:18 PM
Thank you, glad you enjoyed it! :-)
Posted by Tara on December 30th, 2009 at 9:49 AM
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