Asalama! Sorry it's been a few days since I've written; after Eid we went on a week-long trip and then had a large exam today, but here's an update about all that's happened this week. Our first excursion focused primarily on northern historical and archaeological sites.
Our first stop was Dougga, one of the best-preserved Roman historical sites in the world. Tunisia is home to over 22,000 Roman sites, ranging from tiny homesteads (which are often visible from the window of a car as you drive by) to Carthage. Dougga is on the bigger end of these sites, with impeccably preserved buildings. Of about 35 hectares, only 5 are excavated, and yet the site is still truly impressive. Combine that with truly beautiful weather, and here are some amazing pictures.
The incredible Dougga Amphitheater, which can hold 7000 people! It's truly an incredible work of architecture.
On stage! Rather, on the backdrop of the amphitheater.
This is either a brothel or a hostel--Dougga was a city inhabited by travelers who would have mostly been single men, so either explanation works well and archaeologists are unsure about the true purpose of this building.
This is the incredible view from Dougga! The surrounding area is lush farmland, and was known of as the breadbasket of Rome.
Our esteemed leader, Mounir, telling us of the high likelihood that Julius Caesar walked by this particular olive tree given its ancient age and proximity to Dougga's most important buildings.
Temple to Juno
Here is our whole group on the steps of the incredible temple to Jupiter! I'm a little out of breath in it as I had a ten-second sprint up the steps to make the picture after putting my camera on an auto-timer.
After Dougga, we headed onwards to El Kaf, a city of 150,00 located in the northwestern mountains. We had a chance to walk around the medina and see the kasbah, but I thought that the most interesting part of El Kaf was the variety of street art.
This is the Kasbah, at the top of the mountain in El Kaf. It's surrounded by the medina, and below that are the more modern quarters of the city.
Here's some incredible post-revolutionary street art.
There's also a lot of interesting tagging which has been done by Amazigh (Berber, although this is a fairly offensive word with the same root as "barbarian") artists. Under the Ben Ali regime, any allegiances to groups other than the state were suppressed, and after the revolution, tags such as this began to appear, reclaiming the identity. I found this to be a particularly interesting aspect of shifting identities in a post-revolutionary Tunisia. One of our classes, Youth, Media, and Social Movements, examines self-identifications such as these and I am looking forward to further study of the subject of Amazigh identity in Tunisia in the next few weeks.
The next day, we had a chance to visit the glorious Althibourous, a Roman municipality an hour and half from El Kaf and about 45 minutes from the nearest town with more than a few thousand people. Although a tourist site, we were the first group to visit in a very long time, as was evidenced by the gate, which had rusted shut.
Lily with our driver, Bilel.
Casual conversation in Althibourous. Good thing Bilel is the one paying the most attention!
Best seat in the house aka a Roman pillar!
Later than day the rest of my group got to visit an organic farm near El Kaf which I hear was truly fantastic, but alas! I had a bout of an illness which we all had at some point during the trip and thus stayed in bed for the afternoon and evening.
The next morning I was back on my feet and we were back on the road, this time bound for Tabarka, a city in the northwest corner of Tunisia on the Mediterranean. On our way, we stopped at an extraordinarily eclectic restaurant in the woods which was reminiscent of a Texan barbecue joint, with Frank Sinatra playing on full blast in the background whilst we dined on Tunisian cuisine. While there, we had the opportunity to meet with the leaders of an incredible cooperative of women who make soap which is then distributed by major cosmetic companies in France and Canada. The cooperative used to include men as well as women, but as one of them said, the women kicked them out a few years ago and since then the organization has become more efficient and trustworthy.
Tabarka itself is a beautiful seaside town, home to a fort built by Genovese pirates which was so sturdy that the Ottomans were unable to penetrate its defenses for quite a long time.
Beautiful Tabarka as a storm rolls in!
Genovese Pirate Fort
Tabarka is home to a yearly jazz festival which draws artists from around the world. This mural celebrates people from the USA, Tunisia, and South Africa as well as many others! Thought of you when I saw this, Nellie!
After Tabarka we were off to Bizerte, a seaside city in northeastern Tunisia, known for its fish and incredible beaches.While there, we got to visit a really cool NGO called It's Up to You to Change Bizerte, which is a youth group which began post-revolution with a Facebook-advertised city-wide cleanup. It has since then evolved into a cultural, social, and environmental organization dedicated to bettering the lives of everyone in Bizerte, and has inspired the creation of a variety of other organizations elsewhere in Tunisia.
I also had a chance to hang out with Majd, who spent a year in Beloit on the YES program! Ironically, it was the same year I was in Oman and so before last week we only met once before on Skype (and it was 5am my time, and the National Honor Society initiation, but that's a story for another time). It was truly fantastic to get to spend time with him and get to know him in person.
Here's the incredible Bizerte harbor!
Truly, this was an incredible excursion. With its end, we're halfway through the coursework aspect of the program (the last five weeks are dedicated to independent study projects).