After three months in Tunisia we are finally feeling like we can groove to the African beat. There is no such thing as a fixed price. I don’t really expect the store downstairs to have butter or yogurt or bread when I need it. We’re cool with a total lack of posted or consistent hours for any sort of business. Trash receptacles are merely suggestions. Internet connections come and go. Road rules are flexible. Sheep are slaughtered in the street. We can live with that. It almost feels “homey” here to us now. Still, there are few expectations that we cling to which are distinctly first world in nature. For instance: the ability to purchase ferry tickets.
We took a ferry to get here… from Civitavecchia, Italy to Tunis. The tickets were purchased on line from Rome (after a call to our credit card company to reassure them that it really was WE who were spending money overseas… evidently after seven months something rang a bell in the system.) We printed out the paperwork, went to the port, boarded the ferry and 16 puking hours later, here we were, with a misplaced assumption that to leave the process would be repeated in reverse.
We spent three days on-line trying to book ferry passage from Carthage to Marseille, France. They charged our credit card twice, but no tickets were procured. We spent another three days on long distance phone calls to the booking agency in the UK trying to get tickets through them… unsuccessfully. Finally another day with the ferry agency itself learning that, in fact, it is impossible to book tickets from Tunis to Marseille on line or over the phone without a mailing address in Tunisia. We’d have to go to the port and buy them. The port is two hours away in Tunis… equally expensive to rent a car and pay for gas, or take the whole herd by train… neither of which we wanted to do.
“Ya know, I think I saw a billboard advertising ferries out of the port at Sousse, let’s try that first,” I suggested to the frustrated husband. Two taxis and a slight run around later we found ourselves in the Sousse office of the appropriate ferry company: excellent. “Six tickets… four kids… two adults… four bikes… no cabins, just pullman seats… 1354.000 dinar.” About a thousand bucks. “Oh… sorry… no, we don’t take credit cards.” The major ferry company out of this country to mainland Europe does not take credit cards. Neither, incidentally do ANY of the travel agencies in Sousse… we went to about seven of them… they all told us the same thing… “Tickets, no problem… but no cards at our agency, or anywhere else.” Nice. It was a long weekend of walks back and forth to the Amen Bank (“Put your money in and pray,” says Tony) to milk the ATM machine of our daily limit and collect the required amount for the tickets. This morning the little boys and I braved the rain and ankle deep puddles of sludge (the sewers flood immediately when there is any rain at all) for the Sousse Port once again.
The fellows at CTN (the Tunisian ferry company) remembered us (of course) and were happy to see us. “Six tickets… four kids… two adults… four bikes… no cabins, just pullman seats… 1354.000 dinar… and you have cash! No problem!” While we waited the office administrator loaded the boys down with posters of the ferry and booklets outlining the onboard amenities. “Mom, that guy looks like the president!” Ez whispered to me. “My son says you look like President Ben Ali,” I repeated in French. The young men, clerks in the office, hooted and hollered and shook their lit cigarettes over their heads with joy as the old man puffed up with pride and beamed as he patted Ezra on the head… like all Tunisians do. He hates it. “This is good. This is a good saying,” the fellow processing our tickets said with a big smile. “This is a good comment.” President Ben Ali is popular.
Finally, we are home. The rain is still pouring down and I’m happy to be in for the day. Now we can pay for the apartment awaiting us in Marseille (which we were afraid to do without actual tickets in the bag!) and sort out the transportation of our bikes and luggage to the Carthage port of la Goulette in two weeks. A year and a half ago as I sat in Edmonton listening to my brother Muywa tell funny stories about the unreliability of services in his home country, Nigeria, I laughed as he threw his hands up with a smile and said, “But, this is Africa!” This is Africa. I’ve come to see what he meant and his words are ringing in my ears.