Five days ago I was in a hotel room with my Mom trying to scale down my suitcase to 50 pounds and ensure I had everything needed for 8 months in Africa. The next thing I knew I was at the airport tearfully waving goodbye.
Leaving is the hardest part – to leave behind everything you know, all the comforts of home, and get on a plane headed for the other half of the hemisphere. The second hardest part is drowning out the voice in your head that begins questioning and taunting you on that long, lonely plane ride – “What were you thinking? Why can’t you just be normal? What if it doesn’t work out?”
Conveniently, there is no way to exit a plane once it has taken off! So you survive those thoughts and the voice in your head disappears the moment your plane breaks through the clouds and unveils a new landscape, a miniature world below you that is about to become your world to discover.
I was greeted at the airport by my friend Halima and her brother, Sofien. They drove me an hour north to the city of Bizerte, where I have been staying with Halima’s family for the past couple of days. I cannot tell you how wonderful this family has been to me! Instead of playing tourist my first week in Tunisia, I have become a daughter and sister.
I was fortunate enough to arrive during the Islamic holiday of Ramadan and experience how Tunisian families celebrate this holiday. During Ramadan, the family fasts during the day and enjoys a large meal together at night – it’s like a month of Thanksgiving dinner, if you can imagine!
Aside from feasting we have spent a lot of time in the cafés. My second night here we went to a popular café to listen to one of Halima’s longtime friends sing and play the lute. I remember at one point it really hit me that I am actually in Africa, no longer daydreaming but fully experiencing this moment of being in a crowded café, drinking almond tea, smoking shisha, and listening to a Tunisian troubadour sing about love.
I had another such moment last night during a family outing to Sidi Bou Said. It was perfect enough for a dream – walking along the marina during sunset, then up and down the famous cobblestone streets lined with bright blue doors reminiscent of Greece, and lastly buying Lebanese sandwiches to eat on the beach as we listened to waves crashing towards the shore at midnight.
My time in Bizerte is coming to an end. Tomorrow I will take the train south to Sfax – where I will be living and working for the next 6 months. It will be very sad to say goodbye to my newfound Tunisian family, but I am eager to reunite with some old friends and to begin my new life.