Our Home In Hammam Sousse. Feature location: the balcony!

Pool, and our beach bar with the red roof.

Pool, and our beach bar with the red roof.

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Our building, from the beach.

Beach Bar menu. We did not try the shark...

Beach Bar menu. We did not try the shark. We found the free beer a bit expensive, to be honest.

We were on the 6th floor of the a building named the Monte Carlo! We didn’t have a sea view, which also meant we did not have a cooling sea breeze.  We could use our balcony before 9am, when the sun came around to our side, and after sunset.  Other times of day it was very useful for drying swim suits and for scorching our feet on the tile.

 

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View to the left.

 

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Sometimes there were camels. The building in the background is abandoned, with no windows.  Tayo and Rich tried to break in, but cactus and other fencing made it impenetrable.

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View to the right.  Farm on the left grows carrots.

The sunsets were a nice feature, announcing the time we could go outside again.

Jet did a photo study of the phases of the moon in the sunset.

I liked having empty fields and abandoned buildings beside us.  There was a corresponding long stretch of unpopulated beach, since the next resort was almost a kilometre away.

Zay dried dates on the porch, and, thanks to the fabulo-magnificent Susan Gorbet and her unerring gift-giving sense, we read and played in a silk hammock out there, too! For example, a hammock is a great place to conceal the fact that we seem to have lost Rich’s body.

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Cozy reading, goofy kids, setting for photos of Tunisian dresses…sky view!

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We also presented our research on Roman architecture out there.  You can check it out if you wish, but be aware–it’s unedited, and we were kindof presenting in the dark, due to waiting until it was cool….

And Finally…
Look, you need to understand,  this was all Rich’s idea.  Really.  He is the one who suggested we use Jet’s birthday bow and arrow set and shoot off the balcony into the parking lot! It was too hot to leave the house!  Entertainments can be hard to come by! The micro-sized ground crew are Rich and Tayo.
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Photos from Tunisia, Part 1

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Well,  I know we’ve been in France for a month, and I haven’t posted any pictures.  I’ve still been thinking about Tunisia.  However,  we’re leaving France in a week, so I thought I would gather a gallery of photos from Tunisia so I could get to France before we leave.

We started our first week at an all inclusive resort.  My favourite memories from that week are about no-rules waterslides, squash baked with harissa at dinner, swimming with the kids, and hanging out all together watching arabic kids’ TV and shouting when we heard a number we knew.

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Jet, backwards!

Here’s Jet going down backwards. We also tried headfirst, all together, two people on a tube, headfirst on a tube facing up (terrifying–you can;t see the drops), and anything else we could think of.  Tayo went down a tube slide and found a kid who had stopped partway down.  She wiped that kid right out.  So now we know why that rule exists, generallyIMG_3558IMG_3555 IMG_3560 IMG_0039IMG_0057 IMG_0054 IMG_0103

When I look at these pictures I can see how the kids have changed!  2 of 3 have outgrown those suits, and their faces are changing. And despite the glee in these pictures,  I know that this trip has taught them to play together more smoothly and more often.  They have such fun together.

After the resort, we rented a horrible little apartment in a beach town called Nabeul.  It was near the beach, but to get there we had to walk through a field that maybe once had houses or a hotel on it.  There was rubble and garbage everywhere.  It felt a bit like we missed a major distruptive event that left the tired hotels on either side intact.  That was the first indication we could see of how the revolution had affected the economy.  Nabeul had a terrible scraping feeling, and the desparation of the hawkers of tourist kitch in the market did not match the friendly relaxed feel described in the guide  book.  Though, to be fair, it was Ramadan, so everyone was fasting, and it was over 40 degrees most days, so maybe we didn’t catch them at their best moments.

Here’s our apartment.  The kids liked to be off the floor because of the cockroaches.

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The Nabeul museum was wonderful.  We learned all about mosaics and the Punic (people of Carthage, but from a shortening of Phonecian) goddess Tanit.  She’s in the middle line of photos next to a griffin. She has a lion head, because she is a goddess of war sometimes.  Her symbol is an ankh with arms. Later on, she was taken in by the Romans and associated with Juno,  the way that dominating societies co-opt old gods to bring everyone into the new beliefs. (I’m talking about you, goddess of renewal, Oestra/Easter)

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We also learned all about how to make fish sauce, called garum, which was a main export of the ancient Roman city of Neapolis.  They shipped this favourite delicacy all over the Roman empire.  The basic recipe is  fish guts, unuseable fish bits, spices, and lots and lots of salt.  Then you let it ferment in vats for a while, then in barrels, then finally, mmm, it’s ready to eat. The vats they made it in are huge.  Much taller than I am, with a brick-parquet pattern at the bottom.  Here they are, below.  That’s a heck of a lot of fish sauce.  Here’s Tayo showing the parquet tile.  It was not for fancy–just for work spaces. Zaylis is showing us a mosaic floor from a house hear the fish sauce factory (um, the smell?).  Zay wants you to know she was overwhelmed by heat that day and only went out in the sun for that picture.  It was tooooooo hohhhhhhht, she whines, even in remembrance.

Next, Jet is sitting in the fountain the House of Nymphs. She’s looking at Oceanus, the anceint ocean god, from before Neptune. I loved the mosaics, seeing them in place, and the sewers under the streets, and the well in the house, and the central courtyard. Also it was so hot that I kept getting out of breath and light headed.  Jet was all over the ruins, climbing and wondering and observing.  She found ancient pottery bits! Poor Zay was so hot she could hardly think.  She is sitting in the tiny bit of shade.  Why did we go exploring at noon?  Why?

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Our next destination was Tunis, the capital.  I loved the Bardo Museum, which has the most Roman mosaics of any museum in the world.  I would go back every day for a week, or every week for a month, if I could.  The museum is inside the palaces of two Beys of Tunisia from the 1800’s.

Palace

Palace

Floor in the basement for the staff.

Floor in the basement for the staff. Just a lame old geometric mosaic.

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Dining room floor mosaic of great foods to eat.  The chickens are from here.

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We love chickens because AJ loves chickens.

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Killing the minotaur.

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Hot tub. For real.

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Diana

IMG_0274 Zaylie found a mosaic she loved so much she decided to draw it.  The rest of us toured the museum, while she stayed and sketched for hours.

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this was one of my favourites. It’s varying shades of green.

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Dionysis with a gecko on a string.

And then, there’s what Jet did at the museum…IMG_0354 IMG_0353 IMG_0357 IMG_0356

She’s in the receiving hall of the palace.  Look at the roof!IMG_0343 IMG_0351

We went to Carthage, to see the Punic city that was razed by the Romans after the Cathagenians lost the Punic wars.  The Romans knocked everyhting down and then sowed the soil with slat so no one could live there again.  Shortly after, they realized that the city actually had a good location, and they began to rebuild.  The new Carthage was opened almost exactly 100 years after they ripped the old one down.  No word on what soil remediation was required, though.  The Roman baths were the most incredible part of the ruins.

Below is a map of Carthage.  This is on their coins.  The baths are almost completely ruined, so the flat parts you see on top are the floor of the original baths, and the arches are in the basement, holding it up.  The tall pillar on the left of the photo is rebuilt, and shows the height of the original ceiling for the first floor.  There were two rows of those columns, over the central room. It’s hard to describe the immensity of those columns, but Jet is standing on a plinth of one in a photo, and beside Rich you can see a patch of mosaic that would have been on the floor.

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The Carthage Museum:

Tayo made a nest, kissed Jet goodbye.

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And finally, we spent Eid in Sidi Bou Said, famous for it’s doors. We ate doughnuts made fresh in front of us, had Eid candy, wore Jasmine flowers, ate gelato, watched the vendors make the bread for kebabs, admired the families out in their finery and celebrating together, and just generally enjoyed the evening.

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Our Day Trip To Spain, By Jet and Zaylie

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IMG_1927 When A.J (our Aunt) was visiting for a week we took a road trip to Spain.  The first thing we did was hop out of the car and go for a swim. The waves were HUGE!

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The funicular is indeed fun.

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The view from the hill.

After that we wandered around until we found the funiculare, which is a little train that runs up and down the hill. A picture of the funicular. when we got to the top of the hill an amazing view awaited us.  And an amusement park. Me (Zaylie), Tayo, Mummy and Daddy went to a zoo (that had only birds) while A.J and I (Jet) sat on a bench and read.

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We rode the funicular to the bottom of the hill and sought out our hotel.  A.J and I (Jet) were in one room and me (Zaylie) and the rest of the family were in the other. When we explored our rooms we found that there were CANDIES under the pillows! It gets dark early in Spain so by the time we walked into the square for a quick (ish) dinner it was dark. We found a pastry place for dessert. It was delicious. We practically fell into our beds and the next morning we walked along the beach side path and split up again. Tayo and Mummy went to the aquarium

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This tuna is made of garbage found on the beach. It is mainly made of tuna cans!. It was constructed by Skeleton Sea Group, who work to raise awareness of the state of the seas by making art out of beach garbage.

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Duh-nuh. Duh-nuh….TAYO LOOK OUT!

 Daddy went to read and have a cup of tea while A.J took us on a walk around the city. When we all met up again we went to the pastry place from last night. Mummy bought the biggest slice of cake ever.

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Man decorates cake.

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This is not a case of the perspective being off.

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The drive home was long and we stopped at a gas station. We thought we saw a sign for a restaurant. We didn’t think to look behind the gas station until after our sad vending machine meal. We drove another 47 hours and were home.  We can never again truthfully say the words “I have never been to Spain”

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Guest Post: How we Broke the Rules in Three Different Countries, By Jet

While traveling we have broken a lot of rules. In fact, we have made the grand achievement of breaking the rules/law in three different coIMG_1137untries. In Tunisia, we sat 6 people to a cab (including the driver), and had Tayo squish down out of sight when we drIMG_1135ove past the police.  When visiting the museum in El Jem, Mummy took a fossil from an ancient column.  We were in a courtyard, and the column was sitting in a pile of old junk.  The column was IMG_1136made of sandstone and just crumbling away. The fossil shell would have fallen out anyway, eventually.  We asked the guard if it was important to the museum, and ‘no, take it”, was the answer.  I think if we were anywhere but Tunisia, taking a fossil from a courtyard in a museum wouldn’t be allowed, but rules in Tunisia are surprisingly absent, except for the number of people in a taxi rule!

Another example of breaking rules in Tunisia was when we went to the waterpark.  Beside each waterslide were posted rules for the slides.  Rules such as how tall you have to be, the age minimum, and allowed body positions for the slide were very clear.  The lifeguards balked a bit when they saw Tayo in line to go down, but once we said she could swim, they waved her through.  Another thing we did on the ‘penguin slides’ was have races sliding headfirst like penguins, hence the name.

When our rental car was broken, we drove without the headlights at night, to keep the engine running.  We took it to 3 mechanics on that trip but it couldn’t be fixed.  Plus, my mum speeds.

In the Netherlands, we used the Gorbets’ museum cards to get in to all the museums, and used their transit cards.  This was fraud.

In France we broke into the cemetery and collected (stole) walnuts (ed.’s note: were the dead people going to use the walnuts? what is ownership when you are dead?).  We plan to dry the nuts and eat them, same as the dates.  Though in this case the cemetery turned out to be open, we just had trouble with the gates (so we jumped the fence).

One other thing.  We were hiking and found a little path leading up to the top of a hill.  We wandered up to the top and saw signs that said Passage Interdit, which means no trespassing.  So we didn’t go inside the towers, we just walked around them.

In New York, we plan to jaywalk.

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Guest Post: date harvesting (…abandoned) By Zaylie

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me climbing a date palm

Climbing a palm tree is really quite easy there are little spiky things that you can use as hand holds and foot holds.

Patti adds:

Date trees have girl trees and boy trees.  In the spring, the boy trees have branches with pollen which the people harvest.  They take one branch and tie it into the middle of a bundle of girl tree branches with a palm leaf.  They leave it there for a month and then cut the palm leaf and let the fruit begin to develop.  This improves the rate of pollination from about 50% to 90%.

Date plantations are an irrigated crop which is why the trees are grown in the Tozeur Oasis.  In other date plantations we saw, they put plastic bags over the date bunches.  In Tozeur the didn’t, because it NEVER rains there.

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SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESSAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES this is all 3 of us climbing the date palm, and the date harvester, who goes to the top

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Guest Post: Pros and Cons about Tunisia, By Zaylie

 

Pros Cons
  • From about 7:00 to 9:00 am it is quite nice out. And then it gets really really really hot.
  • There are lots of ancient Roman ruins.   Dougga was my favourite because I climbed into a mausoleum.
  • There are camels and you get to ride on them. We even got to ride on camels in the Sahara desert.
  • There are lots of friendly stray cats. I like to feed and pet them.
  • They grow delicious dates. We bought fresh ones from the market and then dried them on our balcony where the sun hits.
  • We got to go to 2 aqua parks. The one Oscar and Sam would have liked best was a slide where it was pitch dark except for rainbow stripes at the beginning, then you came out into daylight and go around a super-big toilet bowl thing a couple of times and then the water forces you down a tunnel that leads down to the bottom. I loved it.
  • We went parasailing over the ocean.
  • I went snorkeling with mummy and it was so cool. We found four clam shells with mother of pearl in them! I noticed the anemones have purple tips.   Mummy named the fish tail spot– a silver fish with a spot on its tail, midspot–a blue fish with a spot in its middle, cheekspot–bet you can guess what that one looks like, and jackfish– a sideways striped fish.
  • Some streets in Tunisia smell like sewers. Yuck.
  • The summer in Tunisia is so hot that once when we were trying to go to the Sousse Medina I felt like a wilted flower and we went upstairs, changed into our bathing suits, and jumped into the pool right away instead.
  • You can’t drink the water from the tap because it tastes disgusting. We drink about 2 bottles of water a day and so in about a week we throw out about 14 bottles. Tunisia doesn’t have recycling.
  • In the ocean there are lots of jellyfish in the water I got stung on our first day here and trust me, it hurt!!!!!!!!!
  • There is garbage everywhere!!!!!!!!!!!!   There are lots of garbage cans but people don’t seem to use them.

 

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Homes

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This post is in response to a post on the blog of our friends, Alison and Dan and Sam and Maeve, who are also on a long trip. A photo of an abandoned house in their post got me thinking of the kinds of houses we saw in Tunisia.

We spent Eid after Ramadan in the town of Sidi Bou Said, which is famous for its blue and white colour scheme and beautiful doors to the houses.

 

 

These houses we saw while driving:

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Abandoned and falling down. This was common. In Nabeul, to get to the beach we had to walk across a “field” of bulldozed houses (hotels?). The water was full of sea-scoured tiles there.

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We also saw square tents made of plastic tarps and sticks and canvas, which are the homes of the Nomadic Berber people.  Other similar temporary structures were built outside marble-cutting facilities and other rural industries.

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Here is the Holy city of Kairouan. Seven trips to Kairouan can equal one trip to Mecca, our tour guide told us. Here you see the Minaret and a dust storm coming in. The Mosque is the arches to the right.

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Troglodyte cave dwelling in Matmata. To get away from the heat, the Berbers dug into the rock. The dark spot to the left in the courtyard is the kitchen.

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Kitchen, with palm tree logs shading the opening

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Inside the kitchen

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In the bedroom. There was a small room to the right with a wash bowl in it. I never did find the toilet.

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Look in the top left! The TV antenna! Up on the roof of the cave house!

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Luke Skywalker’s house was actually a Berber Troglodyte house. Now it is a hotel.

The coolest thing about the troglodyte houses is how it made me see the landscape differently.  What I saw as empty desert was actually a highly populated and managed natural environment.  The Berbers used terracing to prevent erosion and capture water for their houses and plants.  Look closely at these next pictures to see the sculpted the land.IMG_1322 IMG_1325 IMG_1350 IMG_1367

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Garbage in Tunisia

(Hi, We’re in France now, but I got behind on my posts, so I’m trying to catch up this week)

It is not possible to write about Tunisia without talking about garbage. You see it as soon as you leave the airport. There is a enormous pile of garbage beside the road, which all our driver said was because of the poorest neighborhood right beside it. Still, the poorest neighborhood doesn’t explain the plastic bags caught in trees 70 km away, or the dry riverbeds with tributaries of blue plastic water bottles and plastic, or chancres of construction waste.

These photos were all taken out the car window so please forgive their quality.  I think they give an idea of what we saw.

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IMG_4005 all the white dots in the fields are plastic bags caught on the plants.

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All the white is plastic garbage dumped from the road along the hill and under the trees.

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It’s in the sea, too. I swim every day over plastic bottles, cans, rope, strips of plastic, and one day, the rebar frame of a beach umbrella. One day I swam over a low spot on the bottom where two ripped soccer balls, a soda bottle and a condom were collected.   Floating plastic outnumbers jellyfish about twenty to one. When the kids dig in the sand at our beach, they use the sieve toy to sift the cigarette butts and bottle lids out first. Even so, when they dig down they find diapers, chicken bones and more butts. Once, in Sousse, I had to dodge a full garbage bag in the enormous waves. When the sun lights the waves from behind, you can see the garbage silhouetted like a rolling kaleidoscope of crap.

In Sousse we accidentally went to the local beach instead of the tourist beach (the difference is the level of development on the street facing the beach, and that there is no beach garbage collection tractor that drives the high tide line, scooping up garbage each day). I had to cross a thick line of water bottle lids, plastic bags and labels, the ubiquitous butts, water-worn tiles and beverage cans to get to the water. Tayo chose this beach to spend an hour measuring distances with cartwheels, and I winced inwardly the entire time. It was gross. But she was having fun, and sometimes the rest of us enjoy time to be silent together.

One day while swimming my route I swam into the equivalent of an oil slick of plastic. The wind and currents must have brought it in, because it was only there for one day. It looked like the ocean might if you wanted to make a documentary about garbage but needed to fake it up a bit to make it look good on film. It was utterly over the top. Every 2 feet was a plastic bag, and there were ribbons of plastic dangling from the surface like sea grass after a storm. Mixed in were smaller bits of plastic, from palm to fingernail size. I tried to dive deep and swim under the garbage, but the plastic bits were everywhere. It took four breaths of hard swimming to get through.

Besides how ugly it looks, plastic in the sea causes problems for wildlife. Sea turtles can mistake plastic bags for jellyfish (it certainly took my startle reflex a long time to differentiate between them). And there are leatherback turtles in Tunisia, though they are rare. After it’s been in the water a while, plastic photo-degrades in the sunlight and breaks down into smaller pieces. These smaller pieces can be eaten by fish and other animals and begin to work through the food chain. When the pieces become smaller than 5mm, they are called micro-plastics, and they begin to enter the food chain through the filter-feeders, such as clams and microorganisms. There is a fair bit of research on the effects of micro-plastics on ocean ecology. Plastic Busters are actively researching this summer, and MED, (Mediterrranean EnDangered).

In Tunisia, there are several organizations working on this. In May of this year,  Let’s Do It! organized a Mediterranean clean up, with divers and beach combers in many countries going out to collect garbage in and around the water.

I met a Tunisian man who lives in Scotland now, and he said the garbage problem is both cultural and political. Earlier this year, the garbage collectors were on strike for several months for higher wages. He also said that people are uneducated and just throw their garbage wherever. However, we often saw overflowing garbage bins. There’s not much point putting garbage in an overfull bin.

Our observations only led to more questions. Is the problem really individual behavior? We noticed there is no recycling, and we wondered what factors go into a government setting up a recycling program. Would recycling reduce the garbage everywhere? Were the shallow pits beside the road with bulldozers official dump sites or private solutions to a big problem? Why are the river valleys a magnet for dumping? Will it all wash away in the rainy season?

The Tunisian citizenry is also taking action. There is a Facebook group which began in May of this year called SelfiePoubella.  Tunisians are invited to take a selfie with the garbage in their neighborhoods in an attempt to bring attention to this issue and shame the government into action. Read about it here in Global Voices.

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Star Wars!!!!

Star Wars

No matter how worn and frayed, it is still VERY COOL to be on the set of the Star Wars films. I loved it. Here we are!

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Luke’s dining room!

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The stairs Uncle Owen runs up after dinner.

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Episode 1! Anikin’s home town!

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Dougga

Us in front of the Capitol

Us in front of the Capitol

Shouldn't they always be on pedestals?

Shouldn’t they always be on pedestals?

Rich took this picture of the kids and I standing on the Nymphaeum.

Rich took this picture of the kids and I standing on the Nymphaeum. Imagine a curved half-dome roof where we are standing. You can see the Punic Mausoleum in the background.

Dougga is an ancient Roman city built on an older Punic (Carthagenian) city, so it is unusual for a Roman city because the roads do not follow the traditional Roman linear pattern.  It is also unusually complete for a ruin, because the city died out after the Romans, so there wasn;t much need to pillage the stone form the city to build other stuff.  It became a small agricultural town, and the last of the people who lived in it were moved to New Dougga in the 1960’s.

You can read more about the History of Dougga here.

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IMG_1265 Do you see Zay in there in the upper photo?

The Punic Mausoleum was fun to climb.  It had two opened door in it, so naturally, Jet and Zaylie wanted to go in. I boosted them up to get a good look, but there were more stone doorways, and they didn’t want to go further in.  Mausoleums are for dead people, and they didn’t want to find a dead person, even if the person has been dead for 2200 years! IMG_1263  IMG_1267

But I am getting ahead of myself!  In a previous post I wrote about the foods I could find to eat if we were wildcrafting.  I forgot to mention prickly pear fruits, though.  We buy them at the market, and they are very yummy, kind of like dragonfruit, but with the consistency of a passionfruit.  And such cheery colours, too!  They are available on all the cactus growing wild in the ditches and empty lots.

So when we arrived at Dougga and found a little temple with cactus fruit growing right over the wall, it seemed like a great idea to snack on our own sun-warmed, fresh-picked prickly pear fruit to start us off.  Look!

See the fruit in the top left of the photo?

See the fruit in the top left of the photo? It’s actually falling on the ground, it is so plentiful.

Like eating a sunset!

And we all enjoyed it, until we realized we were covered in cactus fuzz, and each hair had to be pulled out individually.  And it prickled.  Which is a desert fruit way of saying hurt very much.

I took the first bite, and was perhaps the most incautious.  I ended up with a lip full of prickles that felt like I had a walrus mustache INSIDE my top lip.  It is truly a loving family when your people will take the time to pick individual cactus hairs from the inside of your lip.

The awful thing about cactus hairs in your lip is how one is tempted to explore the prickles with one’s tongue, which transfers the tiny hairs to one’s tongue.  The tongue then goes about its usual tongue business, touching other parts of the mouth, which can transfer the little swords to the gums, the roof of the mouth, or to the lower lip. And here is something your family cannot do:  They cannot pick the hairs off the inside of your gums over your molars.  They just can’t.  There is a space, light and access problem on their side, and a breathing and manouvering problem on the stuck person’s side.  Also, have you looked at your tongue lately? It’s got bumpy tastebuds on it.  How can you see a fine hair amongst all that texture?  Tongue mounted cactus hairs are just yours till they grow out.  It’s four days later, and I still have a few bristles left in my lip.  Later, in town, when we saw truckfuls of the fruit for sale, we also saw that people had stiff rubber gloves and thick cloths for getting the fruit ready.  Oh. IMG_1246

So, while we explored the ruins, we also had to stop periodically and pick the thin spines off our hands and faces. As you are admiring the photos, please also envision the mutual grooming and groaning.

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Public toilets behind Cyclops house. There’s room for lots more, and a trough to wash yourself after.

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And a basin to wash your hands when you are done.

Tayo on a single serve toilet.

Tayo on a single serve toilet.

Rich, Jet, Zaylie sitting on the wall where the roof would go over a fancy house. We are looking through the courtyard in the middle of the house, and you can see the columns which would have supported a roof over the hall surrounding the yard. The hall mosaic was still there!

Rich, Jet, Zaylie sitting on the wall where the roof would go over a fancy house. We are looking through the courtyard in the middle of the house, and you can see the columns which would have supported a roof over the hall surrounding the yard. The hall mosaic was still there!

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Arch over the Licinian Baths. The frigidarium is on the left, with little nooks for the statuary. This would have been roofed over at the time. There are tunnels underneath for the slaves to use while they maintain the baths.

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Mosaic floor in the Licinian Bath

Roman Road.  On some of them we could see wear from the centuries of cart wheels. It is more than a little unbelievable.  Are any of our roads going to be functioning in 1500 years?

Roman Road. On some of them we could see wear from the centuries of cart wheels. It is more than a little unbelievable. Are any of our roads going to be functioning in 1500 years?

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