It's been a few days and much has happened. We spent the remainder of last week in Tunis, the capital. We had a few days of orientation at CEMAT including Tunisian Arabic lessons. The Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) that is taught in class isn't used in everyday conversation. Orientation was pretty much all day from 0830 to 1800. We visited the US Embassy, had a reception at the ambassador's house, met some of the researchers at CEMAT, took a tour around the capital, and had a few lectures about Tunisian history and family structure.
The program seems be pretty well organized. Our classes will be held in Sidi Bou Said at the SIT building A typical schedule for us will include class in the morning from 0830 to 1300, a break from 1300 to 1700 and an evening activity. This week we have 1 hour of Tunisian Arabic lessons. Other days will include excursions around town with Fulbright Foreign Language Teacher Assistants (FLTAs). Basically, they'll walk us through a real life scenario (shopping, ordering food, etc.) using the local dialect.
We also have cultural clubs: cooking, dancing, darbuka (drumming), and calligraphy. I'll be in the cooking club (of course) and I can't wait to add new recipes to my cookbook.
So yesterday (Sunday) was the BIG day! We met our host families. I was a little anxious about meeting my family but soon realized that I have nothing to worry about. My immediate host family consists of a mom, dad, and 4 month old baby girl. My host mom and I are actually the same age! We live in a house upstairs and downstairs is part of my extended family where my classmate, Anthony, is living. Yesterday after meeting everyone and having a mini-tour of the houses, I showed pictures of my family and Alabama on a map. The family's last exchange student was from Alabama too! It's nice to know that Alabama is being represented in Tunisia.
We ate lunch. It was delicious. I played with the baby and played "language charades" with my parents. Since I don't speak French or Arabic, we have to do a lot of pointing and gesturing to communicate. Although it is frustrating, I am happy that I can't use French as a crutch to get by...
After lunch, we went to the beach. Anthony, Mouna (my host cousin, I think), and I walked to our host grandmother's house where 2 other classmates are staying (David and Angela). The beach is beautiful!!! We hung out there for a couple of hours. I met some other exchange students who are studying Arabic through SIT, met some more extended host family...
When I got back my host parent's helped my study the alphabet. That was really helpful. In Tunisia, dinner is eaten really late. We didn't eat until after 2100. I got to make my first Tunisian dish! I made brik which is a tuna and egg turnover (in simple terms). The turnover is cooked so that the yolk is still raw. The goal is to eat it without getting egg all over your face :-)
I was supposed to go out for coffee afterwards but I was very tired. So I ate a small dessert and looked at some more pictures of my family and went to bed.
You may notice that I mentioned eating alot...If you think Southern hospitality is great, then you haven't experienced Tunisian hospitality. In the US, we say "no thank you" to be polite if offered something, because wasting it is considered rude. In Tunisia, it's considered rude to say "no thank you". It's actually better to take what's offered (even if it’s small) and eat some of it, than to refuse it all together. So I aet alot of things yesterday including beef stew, watermelon, apricots, peaches, bread, brik, salad, cookies, tea, tuna, etc. Will I eat these things when I get back to the US??? Only time will tell :-) (but not the beef stew)
Today, we had a first real Arabic class...Overwhelming only partly describes the material. It's alot to learn, and I'm ok with that. I spent much of the afternoon studying, but have decided to take a break this evening to update the blog. I hope to post some more profound and meaningful entries later on.
Thanks for reading! Bisslaama!
PS: برشاء (pronounced bar-shah) means "a lot"