Alice revisits Tunisia

 

Throughout the year that I spent in Tunisia, I called my host mother “mom”, not maman (French) or oumi (Tunisian).  One day, towards the end of my stay with my family, my host mom and I were spending time together, as usual.  She had noticed that I never used the French or Tunisian term to address her and she wanted to know why.  In her mind, using the English word kept me emotionally separate from her, as if I didn’t think of her as my mom.  Additionally, she didn’t (and still doesn’t) speak English.  So the English term really had no emotional meaning for her.  I explained to her that calling her maman or oumi had no meaning for me too.  It was like using some random word to address her.  I really felt (and still feel) that she is my second mother.  By my using the English word, I was conveying how I truly came to feel about her.  She quickly understood my perspective and started crying, with happiness.

Fast forward 26 years….As a 44 year old woman, I went to visit my Tunisian family for 2 1/2 weeks, for the first time in 24 years; I had visited for 8 days when I was a university student.  My family has moved to a different apartment; the new apartment is bigger than the small apartment I had lived in with them.  My two sisters live at home and my  brother is married, with two children, and lives overseas.

And how did it feel visiting after so many years?  It felt as if my seat at their dinner table was still warm.  I arrived at their home and immediately settled in, almost like I had never left.  It was quite a surreal feeling actually.  My host sisters speak perfect English, so it was not a problem communicating with them.  My host parents, on the other hand, do not speak any English.  They speak Arabic and French. So the first few days were not easy, as far as communicating is concerned.   Now, let me clarify some things here.  When I lived with my family as an exchange student, I arrived in the country with 4 years of high school French under my belt and I had never heard a word of Tunisian .  So, my French was not great but I could get by.  When I left the country to return to the United States, I was dreaming in Tunisian and French; I had come a long way in my language skills.  Again, fast forward 26 years, and I felt like I was back at ground zero in the language department.  However, the lack of language did not in any way impede in my feelings of being ‘home’.

While visiting in 2013, I shared my host sister’s bed.  When I got into bed with her, I felt as if I were 18 again.  It was like a teenage slumber party revisited.  We stayed up late, talking, laughing, and sharing.  The rest of the visit felt the same way.  I spent time hanging out with my host mom in the kitchen, cooking with her and learning how to make a few things.  Slowly, my Arabic brain came back to life and we began to talk about more and more things.  It felt so comforting being back in the kitchen with her. When I lived with my host family, I spent a lot of time helping my mom in the kitchen.  I do not love cooking, never have,  but the kitchen was where we formed a lot of our bond.  And my host father?  He was the same man; he was kind of behind the scenes in the family.  He is a quiet observer, never very outspoken.  When I visited, we didn’t have too many exchanges, but we shared space-eating or watching TV together.  However, as in the past, he noticed everything.  For example, I visited in the Winter, and I hadn’t brought a robe or slippers; my host father noticed right away and (in Tunisian, and I happily understood) told my host mother to get me a robe and slippers….always keeping an eye on his brood, including me.

In the summer of 2014, I had the pleasure of introducing my husband and daughter to Tunisia and my Tunisian family and friends.  We stayed in the Medina at an amazing guest house-Dar Ben Gacem.  We had an unforgettable 10 days.  We spent time wandering through the Medina.  We visited many cultural and historical sites-Sidi Bou Said, Carthage, El Bardo Museum, Hammamet, Kairouan, El Jem Coliseum.  Most importantly, we spent invaluable time with my Tunisian family and friends.  It felt as if Mom and Baba were finally getting to meet their son-in-law and granddaughter.

And my feelings being back in the country of Tunisia?  I felt as if I had come home.  I have been fortunate enough to travel to many different countries, but there is something very special about Tunisia.  The Tunisian people have an especially warm, comforting way about them.  Being tall, blonde, and blue eyed, I will never fit in in Tunisia; I will always look different.  At first glance, Tunisians generally make the assumption that I am a tourist and they want to try and get something from me (a sale or two).  However, once they realize that I am not a tourist and that I can speak (ok, maybe not that well) Tunisian, everything changes.  It is not what they can get from me anymore, but what they can give me or do for me.  It is the most amazing experience really.  Their language  and culture is so important to them.  Tunisians feel that their language is very very difficult.  As a result, anyone who takes the time to learn the language and culture is deemed a “daughter or son” of Tunisia.

I guess I have become a daughter of Tunisia.  I am definitely a daughter to my host family.  It seems that time doesn’t change all things…..mom is still “mom” to me.

As for Alice in Wonderland, I can completely understand how she felt when asked, “Who ARE You?”  Her response, “I–I hardly know, sir, just at present– at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.”  My experience in Tunisia changed me;  the experience has had an immeasurable effect on my path in life and who I have become…..

Update: Since working on this blog post, my host father has sadly passed away.  I will always remember him as a very kind and loving man.

 

For a special experience in the Medina:

http://www.darbengacem.com

 

The ‘Other’ California

When I meet new people on my travels, a common question asked is “where are you from?”  My answer is Northern California.  For those that have never been to California, a common perception is that California is sun, beach, surf boards, and palm trees.  These things do exist in California, but predominantly in Southern California.  The Northern part of the state has beaches but the coastline is much colder and more rugged than in the Southern end of the state.IMG_9452

There is a lot more to California than the Pacific Coast.  When questioned in detail about my origins, my response is that I am from a small town in the northeastern Sierra Nevada Mountains; a town called Truckee.  Truckee’s current population is about 17,000.  The town was much smaller 30 years ago, when I was growing up; the population was around 3000.

Since Truckee is located in the high mountains (it sits at an elevation of about 6000 feet), there is quite a lot of snow in the winter.  Yes!  There is snow in California, a lot of snow.  Located on a major interstate highway (80), the town is the gateway to many well-known ski resorts – Northstar at Tahoe, Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows, Soda Springs….to name a few.  Beyond the snow, Truckee is also one of the coldest places in the United States, especially during the summer months.  It is not uncommon to have a day time temperature of around 80 F and the night time temperature (on the same day) at or below 32 F!

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The many train tracks that go through Truckee

Truckee holds an important place in California history.  It grew as a lumber and railroad town, with the building of the Transcontinental Railroad.  At one point, the town was home to a large population of Chinese laborers working to build the railroad connecting the East and West of the United States.  Today, the train goes right threw the downtown area of Truckee numerous times a day

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Donner Lake

There is a beautiful alpine lake, Donner Lake, located on the West side of Truckee. This lake is named after a well known group of people known as The Donner Party.  Throughout my childhood, I was enthralled by the story of The Donner Party, as the story took place in what felt like my back yard.  During the 1840’s, there was an increase of pioneers from the East that wanted to settle in the new territories of Oregon and California.  The Donner Party was one such group of 87 people.  The party was given advice to follow a new route to California.  As a result, they found themselves in the rugged Sierra Nevada mountains when a particularly harsh winter began.  The group ended up at what is now Donner Lake, for almost 4 months.  In the end, 48 of the original 87 pioneers survived their ordeal.

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The rugged Donner Summit

Today, Donner Lake is an amazingly beautiful place, surrounded by homes and activity. It is the place that I see first when I visit Truckee.  It is the place that reminds me of my childhood and the incredibly beautiful area of California I call home.  It is the place that holds special memories of my lifelong friends.

The part of Truckee that I carry with me through life are the friendships that were made and have lasted 35+ years.  For some reason, unbeknownst to me, small-town childhood friends are the long-lasting kind of friends.  They are the thick and thin friendships that don’t need nurturing anymore; they are infinite.  They are the kind where your friends are able to complete memories of events that you can’t remember, but were part of.

Last weekend, my son and I attended a family memorial service in Truckee.  Typical of the weather in Truckee, Saturday was a beautiful, clear Fall day.  Sunday, the weather changed quickly.  By 2 pm, chains were required on 2 wheel drive cars traveling over Donner Summit-the high pass we needed to cross in order to return home.

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Highway 70, Beckwourth Pass

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Belden Town on Highway 70, Feather River Canyon

I do not enjoy putting chains on; I don’t think anyone does!  Luckily for me, there is another route I was able to take to get home.  The route, highway 70,  is through Sierra County and quite rural.  Driving through the high Sierra Valley, I found myself reflecting on the diversity of California which prompted this blog post.  I drove through areas along the highway where the population of cattle is much higher than the population of people!  I feel very fortunate to live in an area of extreme beauty and diversity.  In a 4 hour drive, I can go from the dense, urban setting of San Francisco to the sparsely populated High Sierras.

For further reading:

Truckee, California

Truckee Historical Society

Trip Advisor: Truckee

Truckee Chamber of Commerce

 

Who I am and Why I am here

Blogging U.This blogging thing is new to me.  I never saw myself as a writer.  I have always seen myself as an observer of people;  I guess you could say that I am curious.  Along with my curiosity, is my passion for travel and experiencing the world.

Everyone has a story to tell and I love to hear them.  The world is small and really not as complicated as it seems to be.  Most people around the world are the same; they want to be healthy, happy and prosperous.  The cultural road to attain these goals may be different;  that road is what interests me.

Each time I experience or revisit a city or country, I learn so many things about people, food, art, music, customs, etc.  My vision for this blog is to share these experiences and stories here.  My ultimate goal is to have this blog as a place to exchange information and stories from around the world.

The more we (world citizens) know about each other, the better we can understand each other.  Maybe, just maybe, that understanding can someday lead to a more peaceful world.