Friday, December 30, 2011

Day 92: Barefeet and Dune Skiing

How I would have loved to stand and watch the display of the distant thunderstorm for it's duration but the sun was beginning to set behind the clouds and I could see at least three deep gulches that needed to be crossed in order to reach the small cluster of houses I could see on a ridge about three kilometers away. At just that minute there, I decided that that extended family compound would make a fine place to end the day's cross-country walk. In the Tunisian countryside, all of these families offer incrediably warm reception; everyone since leaving Gebes after my Christmas rest has urged me strongly to stay for several days. They all consist of at least four generations. The brothers each build their own house before marriage and raises his family together with cousins, aunts, and uncles. Like the borscht in Eastern Europe, the potage in France, the frijoles in Mexico, each woman makes a slightly differnt couscous.

That day on the ridge, the typical adolescent greets me in French. The women of her mother's generation rarely speaks French and the fathers return from work in the olive groves, livestock grazing, plowing or fishing just after dark. They often speak a little French, but often enough too little to have much of a conversation. Teenagers learn at school but only the brighter students can actually speak fluently. Nonetheless, the girl that evening did a respectable job speaking on behalf of the family to invite me in and show me around. It's difficult to get all the names down; but to be sure, there's always a Mohammed and an Ali among the men.

I noticed from afar that there were no powerlines leading to the houses and no solar panels. No matter. The houses are similar in construction and these were particularly plainly adorn. I could see in the twilight that a trace of a Roman wall was visible at the ground surface and near where the oldest wall of the oldest house was, it had been stripped of its masoned outer surface, these making up the cornerstones of the oldest house. The girl gave me a tour of the mangers - looking exactly like the standard Christmas nativity displays - for the donkeys and horse; the domed pens of woven palms for the sheep and goats; and the glen where the five camels spend the night hobbled. Small children fed the fowl and some boys chased the chicken for dinner We walked through the ancient olive groves that go on for hectares toward the dry wadi and the vegetable gardens where carrots, turnips, fennel, and hot peppers are grown for both animal and human consumption and various herbs are grown for 'tea'.

The lack of electricity and running water made the estate appear rather timeless. A peek into the cooking-fire house - different than the kitchen for some reason - led to an introduction to Grandmother in her traditional costume before a fire of sticks made on the pounded dirt floor squatted, stirring a great dish of couscous. To my astonishment, in the corner of this partially subterranean chamber leaned two amphorae, one nearly as tall as I and the other slightly shorter due to the pointed bottom having been cut off. For olive oil I inquired to the girl but with the universal eye-rolling and tongue-clicking response of a teenager thinking all grownups are duh, like, sooooo stuuuupid, she corrected my ignorance and said impatienrly they were for flour. How old are they, I asked. She translated for Grandmother, and the response was that they've always been there. Whether the grandfather who established the estate and harvested the stones of the Roman wall - at least a century before if it were he who planted the first olive trees of the area - found them in the pickings or bought them as functional reproductions seems not to be of interest to the modern family. Grandmother scooped some flour out as she prepared some panbaked bread. Terracotta potsherds litter the ground surface but my eye is not expert to know if they're just old or really really old. They indicate certainly that people have been here for a very long time. It's all eye candy to an observer.

The day out of Gebes, I followed the lead set by the shore fishermen as they hauled their nets in to the beach and doffed the boots and socks, rolling my hiking pants up over my knees and walked in the broad surf. The wet wadis are certainly easier to cross some meters out into the surprisingly warm sea with the firm sandy base rather than attempt to wade across the sucking mud inward from the beach. Adventures were had to be sure but I haven't got much time this evening to relate them.

The walk continued across the gently ungulating land in some places deeply incised with dry canyons, but nothing nearly as deep as those I encountered last winter in the Chihuahua desert of Mexico. Today, pressing further into the sands of the Sahara, produced a fierce and steady wind and the numerous shifting sand dunes have been blown crusty on the windward side and powdery on the leeward. Steely legs tempered by these thousands of kilometers make the difficult task do-albe. My stiff-soled boots and walking sticks with the snow baskets quite effectively allow me to lean back and ski down the powdery slope - a handy skill picked up also in the Chihuahua. Before I can look back into the wind to admire the graceful ess-turns carved into the slope, the shifting sands erase them. Fun, but tiring. And 47 kilometers of it!

Tomorrow, the border town of Ras Adjir; Sunday, New Year's Day, I'll ask for entry. Another call on the absent Patron Saint of Border Crossings. Happy New Year everyone, and thanks for all the supportive comments =]

8 comments:

Nell Pilgrim said...

Happy New Year from all of us armchair pilgrims. In these dark winter months I read seed catalogues and dream of flower filled gardens and read your blogs and dream of spring pilgrimages!

Debbie said...

We'll offer a prayer for you at Mass tomorrow for safe border crossings!

Amy R said...

Ah yes, prayer for a good border crossing.

Sheila Phelan Wright said...

Ah, skiing the sand...nice image for the transition from one year to the next. Sending a prayer and a chant that the Saint of Border Crossings shows up. Thinking of you always on this journey.

Amy R said...

Hi Ann,

I'm guessing you'd like this book:

I just requested a book from the local library (happily, they have it) Journey Back to Eden: My life and Times Among the Desert Fathers by Fr. Mark Gruber, OSB

I hope all is well!

Anonymous said...

...steely legs....

OHMV said...

Happy New Year Ann! I walked 1.5 miles around the iced lake at Evergreen, all the while thinking of you. 2 miles in the gymn. I much prefer walking outside. Sending best regards! Sylvia

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