Walden World

The wacky and wonderful tales of Beth's and Catherine's global adventures. And all things Walden too.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Pater Familius Beth Gives Thanks to Saint Anthony for a Safe Journey

When in Tunis yesterday I lit a candle to Saint Anthony at the Catholic Church and asked him to guard us on our journey.

I am so very glad I did.

Both C and I have been very sick with flu and respiratory infections since Naples requiring great quantities of antibiotics. Yesterday C said she just wanted to get the hell out of Tunis and go to the sea.

This morning we packed up and asked our hotel staff to get us a taxi to the bus station. In Tunisia they have two kinds of buses: big buses and a small shared taxi bus called a "louage.

The guidebook warned us that many travellers believe louages are far too dangerous to travel in: they have no seatbelts, the drivers in Tunisia are insanely dangerous and there are countless accidents, with louage drivers more so as the only way to make any profit is to disregard all speed limits and try and fit in one more run per day as the routes and rates are all regulated.

I asked the hotel staff to get us a taxi to the regular bus/coach station but alas they told me "no you must go by loauge"

C was angry: "I told you no louages they are too dangerous". I said "What the hell? They are faster and that way we get to meet locals and live as Tunisians do".

The Gods curse those who laugh at their warnings.

The taxi on the house took us to the louage station where I went to a small booth and bought two tickets to Hammament. All the people stared at us, as they've been doing since we first arrived, as if we were from outerspace. One of the most disturbing things about this custom is the fact that all of the women who walk by stare at my crotch.

"Ummm....does my money belt look really big or something, why are all these women staring at me? Do I look really fat today?" I worried they thought I was pregnant

I bought the louage tickets and brought our backpacks to the bus and climbed in C behind me.

There was a small front seat for two in which a woman and her boyfriend sat. Next was an empty seat next to a very cross eyed young woman. In the last seat was a man and his wife, the only woman in the louage wearing a headscarf or hajib, snuggling each other.

I threw our backpacks on the floor only to be told I should haul them into the back. I got the seat beside the cross eyed woman and C sat behind me next to the couple.

Off went the louage. I was happy, dazily enjoying the feeling of travel, as I always so,in a different world surrounded by complete differences.

That is until we got onto the highway. Our friend the driver increased his speed to 110 km: the speed limit; then it climbed to 120, then 130, then 140 and kept going and going and here he was zipping in and out of traffic and at what must have been 150 km or more tailgating a Mercedes with less then a foot between the louage and car. All the while the road was reduced in size due to huge concrete construction barriers which jutted out into the road as if thrown randomly.

I think it was when the driver put on his seat belt, we having none, that I outright panicked.

He continued to go faster and faster suddenly breaking only to speed up again. Throughout our trip C has bragged about her great French, how she studied it in university although she had yet to actually speak French.

I turned around to her panic stricken. I was on the verge of completely losing it. "Can you ask the driver to slow down?" I said to C, my voice shaking, expecting her to employ her excellent French. C turned to the man next to her and said in English "Can you ask the driver to slow down? She is very scared" she said pointing to me." "Yes, yes I understand Inglish" said the man who said something to the driver in Arabic which the driver promptly ignored.

All I could think of was the laws of physics and how, the louage on impact, would stop suddenly and I would go flying out the front window like a cannonball at a speed of 150 km an hour. I could imagine the feeling of crashing through the windshield headfirst, the sound of the shattering glass. "OK" I thought "My only chance of survival is to try and crawl underneath a seat" and though all my bones would break and I would suffer internal bleeding I just might not be thrown through the windshield and may survive if they airlifted me to an American military hospital right away. That was my plan.

I then began to slump down in my seat trying to fix myself underneath on floor. The seats in louages are made for tiny Tunisians. There was no way I could fit. "Jesus Christ" I announced panicked "Can't he slow down?" I shouted. "You are scared eh?" said the man in front of me who proceeded to laugh and turn to go back to sleep. Everyone else watched as I tried in vain to squish myself to the floor repeatedly begging the driver to slow down, sweating profusely, crossing myself and taking the Lord's name in vain every time the driver hit the breaks.

Everyone began laughing at me. The cross eyed woman answered her mobile phone and began telling her correspondent about the foreigner beside her giggling like a giddy schoolgirl.

I felt someone touch shoulder. The couple behind me continued to laugh and point at me. The man was touching my shoulder and asking C a question. I could hear C respond: "No it is a woman, not a man, a woman, a woman." She said emphatically. He chuckled and told me "Everything is fine".

We arrived in Hammamet and I jumped out. "Everyone thought you were the funniest thing they had ever seen. Everytime you hid behind the seat they just laughed more." C said. "And they thought I was a man too." I replied. "Well he kept asking if me if you were 'padre'" said C.

I have in the past, been greatly insulted when I was twice asked if I was C's (who is two years older than me) mother, but now to be mistaken for her father?

It was then that I realized the enormity of the contempt I had incurred. Here in an enormously patriarchal society, the idea that not only was I a crouching, shaking, Don Knotts of a man, but that I was also C's father only added to my stigma as a completely craven and cringing coward.

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