Saturday, January 21, 2006

Tunis, Egypt

I went to Tunis last week, and it only took me an hour and a half to drive there from Cairo. How did that happen? Well, it was simple. The Tunis I went to is not the North African country, it's a small village close to Fayoum on the shores of Lake Qaroun. Tunis has a very interesting story: many artists and writers have chosen to live there because of the beautiful scenery, the peace and tranquility, and its proximity to Cairo. They built beautiful houses there in traditional style (mud houses) with leafy gardens and fanastic views overlooking the lake. Living and mingling with the villagers . One of the residents in particular fascinated me: a swiss couple that have been living there for around 40 years. The wife is an acclaimed pottery artist who exports her art around the world. She set up a pottery school that teaches many of the local village youth pottery as an art, and not as a craft. I visited this school and I met a couple of her students and the passion they had to the art truly inspired me. Some of these students have even displayed their work outside Egypt (one of them is travelling to France soon). Not only does this couple live in the village, they put their kids in the local schools and the kids grew up to be like any other Fayyoumi villager. Can you imagine a blond swiss girl speaking Arabic with a fayoumi accent wearing her gallabiya and running around with the other kids? This couple loved the place so much that they purchased lands and properties that they wanted to preserve. They bought a pigeon tower (borg hamam) when they found out it was going to be torn down in order to preserve it. Their son dropped out of school and is now running a succesful landscaping operation out of the village. The husband set another operation where he exports silk clothes woven at a certain village in Upper Egypt to Europe, saving that village from bankruptcy since their craft was dying. Overall, a really amazing story.

Over there, we stayed at a nice, cosy guest house called Zad Al Musafir, which is owned by a writer. A truly peaceful little place that I highly recommend. Another good thing you can do in Tunis bird watching, since many migrating birds come to Lake Qaroun for the winter. I saw a flock of flamingos on the lake and that was a truly amazing scene - more than a hundred of these gracious birds lounging around the lake, absorbibg the nice winter sun. I went with a guide (a local guy from the village) that was a bird-watching expert - he was also very passionate about his field. A grant from the EU gave him courses to develop his expertise, and I was impressed by how much such a grant helped him, his community, and the environmnet. So, some of that aid really does make a difference after all. All in all, I had a great time visiting Tunis and its people. Highly recommended.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

First Post

So this is my first post. I always wondered how that would come out. I've been addicted to reading blogs for months now and I always had it in the back of my mind to publish one. Now that I've done it, it feels weird. So, I'll just be testing the technical apsects of this thing before I start writing something real.