Saturday, September 26, 2015

Tunisian Couscous Recipe

Eid al-Adha, one of the most important Islamic holidays, took place on Thursday (long post about it coming soon!). Eid in Tunisia is pretty different from what I experienced in Oman, but one central theme is food. Yesterday, I was able to help my host mom make couscous and without further adieu, a recipe! 

First, chop together a small onion and scallion and put them in pot with tomato paste, olive oil, harissa (a Tunisian spice paste), some spices to taste (cumin perhaps) and chickpeas. 

Add some hot water!

You'll let it boil for a while, and then add meat if you're choosing to use any. Because it was Eid yesterday, this couscous was very different from any I'd had before, because rather than making it with chicken or meat, we used a Tunisian Eid speciality called 3osben. 3osben is made with the innards of the sheep by creating pouches with parts of the stomach and filling it with spinach and other parts of the innards. I've included a picture of the 3osben and also one of it added to the sauce. 

Next, you'll peel your veggies (usually squash, potato and carrot), chop them to large-ish pieces, and soak them in a bowl of water. 

Next you're going to start with your couscous. Start a sort of double boiler--basically, the couscous is cooked by the steam from the sauce below. 

First, move the couscous to a bowl and add oil and salt. 

Then, add couscous to the second level of the pot and cook uncovered over the sauce. 

 Cook for a while, and then remove the couscous from the steam and add a little water to it in a bowl. Mix thoroughly! Then you'll add your veggies to the sauce mixture and replace the couscous on top of it in the double boiler. After boiling for a while, add a hot pepper if you desire!

You know the sauce is ready when you see oil floating on the top. Then, you'll remove the couscous from the double boiler and, in a large bowl, add some of the tomato mixture (make sure not to get any veggies or meat in this part). 

Display in a nice serving dish, put your meat and veggies on top, and voilà! You've made Tunisian couscous. 

As a side note, my host mom is such a beautiful soul, so here's a selfie we took yesterday while cooking!

Sunday, September 20, 2015


Here's a really short post from today! My host mom's friend, who is a harquus artist (the best in La Marsa!) came over to our house. Harquus, a North African form of skin dying similar to henna, was traditionally done on the face but now is typical all over the body. 

Friday, September 18, 2015

Roman and Punic Carthage!

Today I had the incredible chance to fulfill one of my lifelong dreams and visit historic Carthage. Although today the neighborhood of Carthage is a large, modern, treed suburb of Tunis (one south of Sidi Bou Said), a few pockets of Punic and Roman ruins remain. 

We visited the sites roughly in historical order-- Punic Carthage was founded in 814 BC by Phoenician traders. Most of the city has been destroyed and repurposed by later invaders, but one segment of a temple remained. The most prominent purpose of the temple was as a place of sacrifice to the gods; legend has it that Phoenicians in Carthage sacrificed their first born children, who thus were buried in the temple where we visited. (Historians tell us it is more likely that people actually sacrificed stillborn children and animals.) 

Our esteemed program director, Mounir, gave a demonstration with Ryan on the sacrificial altar. 

Also in Punic Carthage were gravestones. The following one has the image of the moon goddess Tanit.

Here I am on the altar.

Also at the Punic site were some Roman vaults of a later era (note the modern buildings right behind them!)

Then we were off to one of the main sites of Roman Carthage, which is still intact in a more significant way. Most of Punic Carthage was burned by the Romans, who then sprinkled salt on the razed earth to symbolize infertility of the soil and took any leftover building materials for their own city about 80 years later. 

This is one of the Roman boulevards which connected parts of the city. At one point, 700,000 people lived in Roman Carthage! 

One of the largest remaining sections of Roman Carthage is the bathhouse, though only the basements remain in any significant way. The bathhouse symbolized wealth and power to Roman Carthaginians and was a place to see and be seen (not to mention to see an impeccable view of the Mediterranean). 

Here I am perched on a piece of carved granite, a great show of wealth given that it had to be transported from western Egypt. 

Wisconsin girls in Carthage! 

The last site we visited today was one with both Roman and Punic history. At the top of the hill, it was the home of the temple, library, and government. The story about the Phoenician acquisition of the hill goes as follows: Dido, a queen, was fleeing a foreign army when she landed at Carthage. Hoping to buy a piece of land to start a new city to protect herself, she paid a significant sum of money to a local king. He told her that the amount of money she had offered would buy land the size of a bull's hide. So Dido cut the hide into long, thin strips which she stretched around the hill,  claiming a large piece of land for herself. As such, the area is known of as Carthage Byrsa (which means the name for bull's hide, and is from the same origin as the English word "purse"). 

I love the view here--ruins, modern suburbs, and the Mediterranean. 

Although for a long time, archaeologists believed that Byrsa was only a Roman site, a few years back they uncovered a Punic section of the city, pictured below--both the Phoenicians and the Romans chose to make Byrsa the central point of their cities. 

As always, I'm thrilled to be in the amazing Tunisia! Today, the history major in me is especially happy to be here. 

Monday, September 14, 2015

Fil Ba7r...On the Beach!

This weekend ended up being absolutely fantastic. I moved in with a new host family after deciding with the program director that it would be best for me to make a switch, and I'm loving my new host family situation (I'll write more about how wonderful they are later!). I'm living now in La Marsa, one of the northernmost suburbs of Tunis. It's also conveniently close to the beach, where I went this weekend with most of our group!

We're not in Wisconsin anymore, that's for sure! All photo credits to Taylor and Amy.

The Mediterranean is absolutely lovely. If you ever get a chance to visit, please go for it! Crystal clear water, lovely beaches, and of course the incidental man peddling a bike-on-a-raft contraption. 

Chweya (a little bit) Arabic for you today: ba7r (7 pronounced as a breathy h) means ocean or sea, assiba7a means swimming!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Tunis Medina


Yesterday we got to venture into downtown Tunis itself to see both the European quarter and the medina, or old city. This was officially the last part of our orientation, though we also began classes on Monday. 

On our way to Tunis, we took the tram (also called TGM because it connects Tunis to the suburbs of Goulette and Marsa) in order to learn a bit more about using public transit with confidence. As we walked into Tunis, our director was approached by a plainclothes police officer who is a member of a brigade dedicated to assisting tourists. As a result, we ended up with a police escort for about a half a mile. First, we headed to CEMAT (the Center for Maghreb Studies in Tunis), a research center downtown, where we will be spending lots of time during the ISP period of the program. We visited the library there and learned all about their extensive research materials which are available to us. 
CEMAT is housed in a lovely old villa built by an Italian fascist (and named for his daughter), later resided in by a French general after World War Two, claimed in the 1950's by a newly independent Tunisia, and given to CEMAT a few year ago at their founding by the Ministry of Education. 

Lily and I were dressed the same way, down to the tortoiseshell glasses...

After visiting CEMAT, we ventured into the medina, which is built on a hill. At the top of the hill is the grand mosque, which is surrounded by streets which historically were home to various trades. The cleanest trades (perfume shops, booksellers) were closest to the mosque, while dirtier professions (tanneries) were located at the bottom of the hill, far from the mosque. 

In the Medina we also got to see the exterior of the grand mosque, though it was closed. This mosque, which also was home to the esteemed Zeitouna University, was built around the year 800 and thus is one of the oldest in North Africa. Interestingly, it was built on the same spot as an ancient Roman temple; a spot of excavation showcasing lead pipes displays this. 

Near the mosque we also got to see the former dormitory of students who traveled to Tunis to study in the university. Now the home of a variety of NGO's, the building still displays significant Tunisian traits, such as the white striped archways. 
Hayley and some several-hundred year old tile

Another interesting point about the mosque is its minaret in comparison to other nearby minarets. When built, Islam did not have a sure hold in the region and thus the minaret doubled as a watchtower and the mosque as a fortress. A nearby Ottoman mosque from the 18th century was instead much more intricate with an octagonal shape and decorative designs. 
The functional watchtower-like minaret of the large mosque.

Two different more decorative Ottoman minarets in the Medina.

We also had a chance to visit Kasbah Square (aka government square), the home to many of the 2011 protests. Still today you can see remnants of the protests, including increased police presence and barbed wire near the entrance. 

After Kasbah Square, we went to a tea shop in the medina (Tunisians love their mint tea). Interestingly, the tea shops built in the 18th century were all built adjacent to the tomb of a Sufi saint, and we could see that the wall of the tomb had been incorporated into the tea shop. 
The brick wall in the back is the tomb. 

Lily, Taylor and I enjoying the tea house 

At the end of the day, we returned via bus to the program center in order to continue to learn about transportation methods available to us. I'm looking forward to venturing back into downtown Tunis again and feel confident in my ability to do so--as long as I don't get lost in the medina!