By Robin Croft
On July 29, 2010 a team from USAFRICOM traveled from Stuttgart to Tunisia to conduct a writers workshop for a group of 33 journalists from the Maghreb region of Africa. In between the writing seminars and exercises, we managed to get out and about and experienced a little bit of the wonder that is Tunis.
Immediately after arriving in Tunis from Stuttgart, we–the US AFRICOM team of a writers training team –were immediately squired off to a nearby sea-side café where we were treated by the US Embassy PAO, John Berry to freshly – squeezed banana and date juices. John enjoyed a smoke of “Shisha.” The shisha is a houka-like pipe filled with mashed fruit mixed with tobacco and smoking from one is a traditional social way to wind-down after a long, stressful day at work. Our group chatted with John about the history of Tunisia as we sat around a table overlooking the Mediterranean with the Atlas mountains as a backdrop. The weather was splendidly sunny with a balmy breeze carrying with it the briny smell of the sea.
Next, John took us for a tour of his house on the beach before we finally got to the hotel for a much needed rest before dinner. He showed us the manicured lawn and verandah where he viewed the rising of the sun over the sea at 5:30 each day.
The final day of our writers workshop, our little delegation took a guided tour of the site of a huge spa built by the Phoenicians in ancient Carthage, a city that was conquered by the Romans in the year 144 B.C. He told us two versions of a tale explaining the meaning of the rows of carved stones in the photo. The first version is that the ancient Phoenicians from wealthy families sacrificed their first-born sons to the goddess of fertility each spring and each stone represented one child. The other version of the story was that the stones themselves were monuments to the goddess and no children were sacrificed. While wandering around the site just before sundown was truly glorious, with the azure blue of the ocean and sky and the ruined pillars and stone corridors of the once magnificent spa that had been plundered by the Vandals and Visigoths after the Romans. After our tour, we enjoyed a seven-course dinner in the exclusive neighborhood of Citti Bou Said while an Oud player serenaded the entire team of 33 Maghrebian journalists, the administrative group and the AFRICOM folks. I recorded a bit of one of the tunes he was singing as we ate our dinner.