July 5, 2004

On the Edge of the Sahara

I am writing on an alien keyboard so I will have to keep this brief. Half the letters are in the wrong place and typing is hard. I may be able to write more easily in a few days when I get back to a large city. Also, you see all these hyperlinks in the text? This computer added those. I did not, and I cannot get rid of them.

I am slightly amazed I can blog at all from where I am. My hotel is 100 feet from the edge of the Grand Erg Oriental, one of the two great sand seas of the Sahara. Out my hotel window are camels and dunes to the horizon. Ohmygod is it HOT here, so hot you have no idea. Of course I knew North Africa would be toasty in July, but this place feels like the blast furnace planet Crematoria in The Chronicles of Riddick.

I have not seen any American tourists, but there are quite a few Europeans who came down here as I did from the capital of Tunis in the north. The difference between the social behavior of Europeans and the social behavior of Arabs is absolutely incredible. Tunisians are without a doubt the kindest, sweetest, most hospitable people I have ever met. It is overwhelming. I can hardly move without being invited to sit down for tea. I have been invited out to dinner, to a Bedouin wedding, and also into the home of an English teacher to watch soccer and practice speaking Arabic. The Europeans, who seem to be mostly French, come down here and turn up the sneer volume to eleven. I am sharing a hotel with them and they refuse even to look at me. I am a ghost to them, I do not exist. They do not know I am American, and it clearly is not personal. They are treating each other this way, too. But it takes great effort to be so antisocial. I do not understand how these people can be in such a warm and friendly place and go for days in a row without looking their fellow human beings in the eye. I watch them in the souk. They are not a fraction as nice to the shopkeepers as I am. One of the merchants actually complained to me about how rude his previous French customers were. I wonder if they ever get invited to sit down for tea.

I feel far more welcome here in the Middle East of Africa than I ever did in Europe. And truth be told, my dear fellow Americans, they are a lot nicer to us when we visit their country than we are to them when they visit ours.

(Oh, and obviously I am not referring to Mr. Mohammad Atta here, but instead to the way the average American treats the averge visiting Arab, and vice versa.)

Posted by Michael J. Totten at July 5, 2004 2:07 AM
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