SEVENSEAS Marine Conservation & Travel Issue 14, July 2016 - Page 99

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!