On July 31st we arrived in Tunisia, tired, hungry, lugging 21 suitcases and two exhausted kids. (What a great first impression the director got when he picked us up at the airport!) Well, now it’s August 31st. Here we are a month later, a little wiser, a little more rested, teaching and settled into our house. On one hand, sitting in those airports feels like it happened years ago. On the other hand, I still feel like I have no clue what’s going on here. I spend a lot of time confused by the language, the new routine, the metric system, the money, the roads, and the stores. To be fair, we spent the first 14 days quarantined in our house so we didn’t get the full orientation most newbies get. I’ll continue to milk that excuse for as long as possible because it makes me feel just a teensy bit more justified in my helplessness.
But back to the celebration and away from my expat whining. This post will be my way of reflecting on the positives. (Probably a good thing to reread when I’m over the honeymoon period, crying about the lack of trick-or-treating and Christmas trees in a few months.)
Here is (in no particular order and with the understanding that I have seen very little of Tunisia so far) my “Top 5 Best Things About Living in Tunisia.”
1. The Plant Life: We have 8 fruit trees in our yard and that is typical. The produce here is crazy good. We’ve got our “fruit guy” down the road from our house and we love taking our little trip to stock up for the week (which inevitably only lasts a few days and we have to go back again). You don’t get a wide variety of fruits and vegetables because they only sell locally grown stuff that is currently in-season. Imagine the best peach you’ve ever had. Well, these are better and they are consistent. I remember never getting it right at the grocery stores back home. They were too mushy, too hard, no flavor, etc. There’s no guesswork here and we are definitely getting more than our daily serving! And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the gorgeous flowers EVERYWHERE! They add color and beauty to every view. Bonus: I haven’t managed to kill them which is kind of a miracle for me!
2. Cost of Living: One dinar is equivalent to about 35 cents in the US. It takes a while to adjust to the look of higher prices, but once you do the math in your head, you realize what a steal you are getting. There are some items that are more expensive here, especially if they are imported, but for the most part, our money goes far. A baguette is .35 dinar, so divide by about 3 and it’s like a US dime for fresh baked bread! We are paying about 20 dinar a month for our cell phone service. That’s less than a hundred dollars a year for our phones. Many services are cheaper too- getting your car cleaned, getting a massage, having a housekeeper. Trust me, I never thought I’d be able to afford to have someone cleaning or cooking for me, but here, it’s pretty standard. I come home to a clean house and dinner multiple times a week, and the crazy thing is, even with that, we are saving more money than we ever would have as teachers in America.
3. The Kindness of Strangers: People we’ve met here are so friendly, especially when you make an effort to communicate. I do not know Tunisian Arabic, but I’ve memorized the greeting: “Aslema!” The serious demeanor instantly changes when we begin a friendly interaction. We’ve had restaurant owners, school staff, and drivers try to teach us more phrases, give us advice for places to visit, and by the end of the conversation we are pals. I do not want to stereotype, but I will say that overall, many of our experiences with locals have been warm, welcoming, and enthusiastic.
4. It’s Not Boring: I do not want to belittle the community I left. In fact, I miss it a lot (99% of that is attributed to the people I love and miss). Eudora, Kansas holds a lot of dear memories and served us well for many years. With that said, we left a lot of beige houses in neat little rows with perfectly manicured lawns and lots of commercial chain stores and restaurants. Tunisia is far from that! The architecture is artistic. There are beaches and mountains and desserts. It’s OLD! We are minutes away from ancient Roman ruins. We pass by camels and butcher shops (sometimes one and the same), graffiti, crumbling buildings and mansions, people walking in the middle of the highway, signs in different languages, locally owned boulangeries (bakeries), and palm trees- and that’s just on the 10 minute drive we take to school each day! Everything is new to us. This place has a rich culture. It’s not always clean or sleek, but it’s charming and beautiful and it is anything but boring! (One of my goals in coming here was to break out of the monotony…. Umm… mission accomplished!)
5. A Laid Back Culture: At times it can be frustrating that some things don’t happen quickly or efficiently here, but, if you ease into it, you realize that it is also one of the reasons this place is so great. The strict rules and processes and red tape of the States are not as much of a concern. The rules (as you see when you drive) are a bit fluid and sometimes made up. (Want to go down that one-way street the wrong way? Go for it, dude!) Even at my new school (which is fabulous by the way!) I had to adjust my teaching style. There are no straight, silent lines of students walking down the hall. The kids here have a little more freedom. They get more time for the arts, more recess, more freedom in how they learn. They choose what they want to read or write about and they are given time to relax and enjoy the process. In my personal life, I’m still getting used to balancing this vacation-feeling with work, but we are encouraged to go home at a decent time and enjoy the city. There are lots of social events, and endless alleyways and markets and sites to explore. Life here is a bit slower and a bit more fun!
There’s a lot to love about Tunisia. There’s also a lot more to learn. It may not always be easy, but I haven’t doubted this decision once. We are so fortunate to have this opportunity to expand our horizons. One month down- many more to come. Stay tuned!