Under the Tunisian Sun – تحت الشمس التونسي

It has been an awfully long time since I cataloged my adventures here, but I’m back and armed with stories galore. Time flew by last semester; one minute I was starting classes in January and the next I was scrambling to pull together final papers in May. Here are some of the highlights:

  • My mom came to visit in February/March, and we climbed Mount Sinai and ran the Jerusalem Marathon and floated in the Dead Sea and climbed around on the pyramids– it was really fun to get to share the life I built in Egypt with the lady who gave birth to me, and it was definitely happy times.

    Mama and me watching the sunrise from the top of Mount Sinai.

    Mama and me watching the sunrise from the top of Mount Sinai.

  • A few weeks later, my friend Mary and I returned to Israel/Palestine to run in the first ever Palestinian Marathon (http://righttomovement.com/) in Bethlehem. The marathon was a physical and symbolic protest against the Israeli government’s restrictions on Palestinians’ freedom of movement. Though it rained the whole time, and Bethlehem is ludicrously hilly, it was a really powerful event to be a part of.

    Post-race walk through the Jerusalem medina.

    Post-race walk through the Jerusalem medina.

  • Two days after we got back from Palestine, we joined a group of 8 traveling around Ethiopia for Spring Break. We flew into Addis Ababa, a colorful city that we all found a bit unapproachable. After a few days of shopping in the mercado (supposedly the largest open air market in Africa, though I’m not sure who’s going around measuring), consuming stacks of injera(a spongy bread that is the center of Ethiopian cuisine), and wiggling our way around various monasteries and museums, we all hopped on a plane to Gondar, the gateway to the Simien Mountains. From Gondar, we met our trekking guide and embarked on a breath-taking three-day backpacking trip, which culminated in me getting disgustingly sick (on my birthday, no less!) But all’s well that ends well, and alhamdulilah I recovered in time to stuff my face with Ethiopian birthday cake and visit the origin of the Nile River with my friends.
Trekking in the Simien Mountains.

Trekking in the Simien Mountains.

Girls & cliffs in the Ethiopian wilderness.

Girls & cliffs in the Ethiopian wilderness.

  • Upon returning to Cairo, I moved downtown to an amazzzzing apartment two blocks from Tahrir Square with three of the most welcoming, easy-going humans in Cairo. (Shout out to Mary, Casey, and Ahmed: thanks for making it fun to come home everyday; you guys are the best.) A frenzy of final papers later, I have officially survived my first year of graduate school! — with straight A’s and copious memories to boot.

As soon as finals were over (I actually wrote my last paper on the plane), I left for Portland, Maine. First, I visited a good friend from college who is working on a farm in the middle of nowhere central Maine, which is the polar opposite of Cairo in every possible way. Then I spent a week with my mom, aunt, uncle, 2 cousins, and grandparents at their cottage on the coast. It’s a really magical place that has been in my family for almost 100 years, and it felt really good to be in the quiet of Maine and spend time with my family. It was a much needed literal and mental breath of fresh air.

Granny and me at Grey Gables.

Granny and me at Grey Gables.

From Maine I flew down to Houston to visit my best friend, who I’ve been best friends with since we were 2. She just moved there, and it was fun to get to see the new life she has built in Texas and meet her peeps and check out her digs. We’ve been best friends for so long that being with her always feels like home, so it was an amazing (albeit wayyy too short) 2 day visit.

Theoretically, after Maine, I was supposed to go to France straightaway, but instead my flights got all mixed up and I got stuck in Washington DC at the airport for 2 days. My flight was late, so I missed my connecting flight and they lost my baggage and refused to transfer my ticket to the next flight because the flight that was late and the flight that I missed were on different airlines… and I cried a little and felt like I must have done something really awful to the travel gods, but eventually some nice airline personnel worked it out and I made it to France. (Lessons learned: 1. United is an airline company composed entirely of endless lines that they send you back and forth between ad infinitum. 2. The Washington DC Dalles Airport is the armpit of US airports. 3. Everything > airport purgatory.)

Sadly, because I got to France 2 days late, I had to miss Paris. But I was greeted at the airport by the lovely Rebecca, who lovingly escorted my airport-weary body back to Strasbourg. And Strasbourg was bea-u-ti-ful and filled with copious amounts of sunshine, friendly pedestrians, good wine, and delicious cheeses. We biked to Germany, had elaborate cheese picnics, baked pies, watched silly TV shows, and just generally frolicked about. C’est la belle vie.

Picnicking in the park.

Picnicking in the park in France.

After 5 days or so in Strasbourg I had to head south to make it to Marseille in time for my ferry. Ferries are an interesting (and verrrrrry slow) way to travel. I spent most of the 24 hours on the boat from Marseille to Tunis slurping coffee, sleeping, and hiding from men trying to propose me, which was exhausting and silly at the same time.

I’ve been in Tunis now for about a week, and I like it a lot so far. The city is a lot more laid-back than Cairo, but there’s still plenty of adventures to be had and cool people to meet. I only have Arabic classes in the mornings from 9am-1pm, so I have been trying to get into a good routine of working out, exploring a bit, and hanging out with new friends in the evenings. But it’s been really hot here, so sometimes all I want to do is find a refrigerator to nap in all day.

The rooftops of Tunis.

The rooftops of Tunis.

Meanwhile, back in Cairo, revolutionary murmurs are bubbling up again… June 30th is rumored to be the date of Revolution 2.0. Inshallah the voices of the people are heard, no one gets hurt, and my apartment downtown stays in one undestroyed piece until I get home.

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About Jade

Jade Lansing is a graduate student in Middle East Studies at the American University in Cairo. She currently lives in Beirut, Lebanon, where she conducts research on civics education and works for the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia. Jade is a recent graduate of Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon, where she majored in International Affairs and studied Arabic at Portland State University. She has made multiple trips to North Africa—conducting research, volunteering, and studying Arabic. She is especially interested in Middle East politics, intercultural communication, civil society development, and foreign language education. Contact the author at: jade@aucegypt.edu.

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