SEVENSEAS Marine Conservation & Travel Issue 14, July 2016 - Page 98

unisia was never on my list. Never even on my radar. It's a small country in North Africa, wedged between Algeria and Libya. It's large Mediterranean coastline is dotted with resorts that were popular with Germans and Brits but most of Tunisia hasn't seen a lot of foreigners since

their 2011 revolution and even fewer now due to recent ISIS acts. The unemployment rate has

averaged 15% for the last ten years, with 2015 ending at 15.4% and the latest terrorist attacks

have caused a rise in these numbers devastating for a population of 11,000,000 people where

mainly men work.

My original destination was Cairo and the Great Pyramids. If you are traveling and have more time than money, I found it is considerably cheaper getting to Egypt by taking the ferry from Palermo, Sicily to Tunis then flying to Cairo. As long as I was going to be there I figured I'd spend a few days in Tunis just to be able to check off another country in my aroundtheworld trip. Although my interest was piqued by photos from a friend that was traveling around Tunisia, I still wasn't too excited so I decided to give it a week. But as it does, life has a curious way of completely turning things upside down. One week became fifteen days and my trip to Tunisia turned out to be one of the best experiences I've had in two years of travel.

What started as a sightseeing trip quickly turned into a cultural experience. The morning of my second day in Tunis I had the good fortune to be matched up with a Tunisian man and his visiting Argentinian friend who were renting a car and doing a similar tour of the south that I had mapped out for myself. Khalil, my new Tunisian travel companion, is a funny, easygoing person who meets everyone with a genuine smile and the beautiful greeting of "Assalam Alikom" translated as, "Peace upon you." The greeting is always returned. In Islamic culture everyone is family, all the men brothers. If I didn't know better, I would have believed this to be a literal statement after witnessing the familiar interactions between everyone. At food stands he sometimes walked into the kitchen and helped himself to the fries. When I remarked on this the kiosk owner said, "It's not a problem, it is the Tunisian way. We are brothers." They were expressions I had heard from Khalil himself previously on our journey. In the hotel, the manager put his arm around Khalil like they were old friends. A common response to our questions regarding time schedules was, "As you like." I'd found a shoe repair man to fix my flip flops. When I tried to pay he said no, it was free. Of course I gave him something but the gesture was unforgettable. One morning when we wanted to get a cup of tea, the hostel owner walked with us for a few minutes to show us a nice cafe, joined us and bought our drinks. His friend we visited in Tozeur always wore a big smile and greeted everyone he encountered everywhere he went. I didn't need to speak Arabic to understand as he approached a short­tempered father and, with a few gently spoken words, easily diffused the man's anger toward his young son. "Love is my religion," he said to me. My first night in Tunis I had visited the home of a young lady whose friends and family were visiting and all welcomed me with open arms and a big heart, even providing me with a cell phone to use for my travel in their country! When I went back to her home after the road trip I felt like part of the family. There were no formalities and the laughter and joking was easy and natural as I recalled the adventures of the past week. It's just the way they are. It's the Tunisian way!