Sunday, November 21, 2010

10W 5D Tunisian Wedding Ceremony

A typical Tunisian wedding ceremony consists of 7 days of celebration, dancing and happiness. I got the chance to take part in a wedding where a celebratory reception was held at a house with 50 or so guests dancing, singing, eating and drinking tea into the early morning hours.

Our musicians

Beautiful bride

The ceremony took place tonight in a beautiful Turkish style palace with the bride and groom sitting on an elevated surface – the fathers of each sitting next to them with the equivalent of a priest sitting before them to draw up the marriage contract. The contract cost 5 Tunisian Dinars or roughly 3.65 US dollars. Everyone is dressed up and as the prayers are said and the marriage is made official, the room fills with sounds of cheers and applause. Sometimes there is a party or reception afterwards but this particular marriage celebration concluded with this ceremony.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

10W1D “Thanksgiving” in the Form of Lamb

Warning: Pictures below may be a bit graphic.

The sounds of men and women praying fill every occupyable space in the air like the buzzing of bees in one’s ears at a bee farm, even before the morning light fills the sky. The noise of lamb baa’s and maaa’s get louder as the sun starts to rise counting down the minutes of the sacrifice. It is as if the lamb knows they are about to be sacrificed on this day. Each family has brought a lamb from a farmer at a cost of the equivalent of about 300-400 USD depending on the quality of the lamb.

Lunch at a family's home in Sidibouzid

Little kids run around the uneven dirt street as lamb’s throats are sliced along the lazily paved stone sidewalks in front of each family’s residence. The lamb makes sounds of struggle and seizure like movements as blood seeps out rapidly from its neck. As the movements of the lamb get slower and it takes its last breath, the family prepares knives to skin and cut up the lamb into different parts which are then used to create meals for the rest of the week, such as m’rouzia, which is a stew with raisin s and chestnuts or daouara, which is sausage made of sheep liver and lungs, parsley and mint.

In a suburb in Sidibouzid

Eid al-Kebir takes place 70 days after the end of Ramadan. It is the celebration of the willingness of Abraham to obey God and to sacrifice Isaac. In the end, God tells him to sacrifice a lamb instead.

Adorable boy in Sidibouzid

Not one piece of the lamb is wasted – even the lamb head is eaten (some Tunisians claim this is the best part) and the skin made into a rug. The event is similar to that of a typical American Thanksgiving (but most likely the Turkey has been mechanically “sacrificed”) where there is no work and all the family gathers to cook and spend time together.

Bye bye Aloush (lamb)!

I joined the celebration at a family’s home in a city called Sidi Bou Zid (not to be confused with Sidi Bou Said) far from Tunis in what I call “the middle of nowhere.” We took a louage (shared passenger van) which took about 4 hours to get there. The road was paved most of the way but definitely not up to the paving standards in American so the ride was more like being on a cart of a badly put together roller coaster.

One thing I have found is that family and developing relationships is very important in Tunisian culture. Even though the system and government is flawed and threatens to tear the Tunisian identity apart, the idea of family remains strong and I think this element helps to keep the country together.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Thursday, November 11, 2010

9W2D What is the Tunisian Identity?

Sunset in Carthage

I can’t believe how quickly time flies. I’ve been here in Tunis for about 2 and a half weeks and am at the halfway point of my entire trip and feel I have so much more to discover and learn. I met with a student who attends the Ecole Nationale d'Architecture de Tunis in Sidi Bou Said and we discussed true vernacular Djerba architecture, Asma is originally from Djerba so her knowledge of this area is very interesting and valuable. Next week I will begin my journey to the rest of Tunisia, with a stopover in Djerba to explore the island.

A walk through the Medina of Tunis

The architecture consists of very simple white walls with no decoration as compared to the architecture of the medina in Tunis, which is a little more elaborate with its colorful doors covered in black studded ornamentation against white walls. The Djerbans live a very simple life, with little or no possessions and this is reflected in the architecture.

I have realized a question that comes up frequently when looking at the conservation of heritage and identity of Tunisians in architecture is what exactly is the Tunisian identity? This question has always has always generated a lively and heated debate with every Tunisian I’ve spoken to. There is always a discussion about the government and system, history, race, language and faith. I briefly mentioned this in my last post. Since then I’ve gotten to talk to a musician and film maker whose work speaks about the social problems of Tunisia and with architects who discussed how one could solve these social problems using architecture.

Zitouna Mosque in Medina of Tunis

Tunisia has a long history and has somehow survived domination and imported identities such as Carthage, Rome, Byzantine Empire, Medieval Islam, Ottoman Empire, and European. Carthage was a diverse place that welcomed Greeks, Egyptians and Spaniards who co-existed peacefully together, that is until the Roman invasion. Even the Berbers came from outside of North Africa to this region. Add in the relations with other Muslims of various races and backgrounds at the beginning of the Islamic era and you get a vibrant and unique society that is not found elsewhere.

Examples of the diverse history include the flag, resembling that of Turkey, the Berber fish.palm symbols to protect people from the “evil eye”, the Andalusian fez, the Roman ruins, and the blue/white architectural combinations that was common in Andalusia and Greece.

It seems that being open to others and allowing women more freedom has always been a part of Tunisian history. In addition, Jews enjoyed a better life here than in other places such as Europe. The mentality of modern Tunisians seems to be very open but with a conservative twist. I’m not even sure if I could classify Tunisia as an Arab country. Tunisia is a Mediterranean culture. Many of the elder residents have told me the country, culture and society is moving backwards. When they were young, the city was diverse and vibrant with French, Tunisian, Italians and other European people. But now economically and socially it is lagging and has not improved over the years. All the money is put into the small downtown without regard for the surrounding areas. Architectural standards and codes are not followed and can be “changed” if you have money.

Another interesting note to mention is that the identity of the headscarf is not part of the Tunisian culture – it is an imported identity from Iran and other Middle Eastern countries. The people I’ve talked to believe the city can change with time and have a stronger identity. But because there isn’t an intelligent system in place right now that protects this identity, it is slowly degrading. A lot of people are not a fan of the current president, Ben Ali who has been ruling since 1987. Restrictions on press freedom is ongoing – and is seen through the banning of political films and internet sites being blocked. In 2006 Tunisia even closed its Qatar embassy to protest against an interview with an opposition leader on Al Jazeera television.

Monday, November 8, 2010

8W6D (I'm crazy!) انا ماسهنونا

I’m going crazy. By the time I leave here I’ll know a little bit of every language. I have dedicated my free time to learning Tunisan Arabic, but the people I’ve been around speak Arabic, Tunisian Arabic, French and Italian so they switch back and forth easily between these languages creating a melting pot of languages in my head. Today we cooked some fish at the house and had a nice lunch.

If I can’t communicate in one language, I find myself switching to another language to compensate and even find my Korean sneaking in there occasionally!

One thing is for sure – Americans really are trapped in their little bubble of the United States of America when it comes to being able to speak any other language besides English. Lucky for us, English is still the business language of the world…