This post is the third in a series which starts HERE
I am sitting on a wooden bench in the back of an ancient van that is veering from side to side to avoid potholes. The catch on the rear door is broken so it flaps back and forth and the dust cloud swirling behind the vehicle obscures the view of the parched Tunisian countryside. I brace my feet against the floor and clutch the bench, scared of being thrown out the back door or being catapulted into the laps of the two village women sitting opposite Samir and I. They are wearing red tachleilas, intricately-embroidered traditional attire, and they are talking to me in Arabic. I’ve no idea what they are saying, but they are friendly and warm.
It is the end of my two week holiday and Samir is taking me to visit his family home in a rural village.
We emerge from the ‘boneshaker’ at the entrance to the village and set off into a maze of high cactus hedges that hide the buildings nestled amongst them. Dogs on frayed ropes snarl and leap at us as we pass low houses.
We turn into a hard-packed garden. There are fruit trees growing in the parched ground and ramshackle sheds around the edges. I catch a glimpse of white rabbits in one of them.
A hearty woman in a tachleila and colourful headscarf appears from an arched doorway in a wall. She beams at me, kisses me twice on each cheek, looks at me again, then pulls me into a warm embrace. The sense of welcome I feel is immense, even though she doesn’t know who I am, and didn’t know we were coming – they have no phone and the shared village phone in the tiny shop/post office only works intermittently.
She ushers me into the courtyard of their L-shaped home, and two girls of about four and five watch shyly as Samir’s mother fetches chairs and a low table from inside the house.
Samir encourages the girls – his younger sisters – to come closer. The older one hangs back, but the younger one, who has a mop of curly hair and a feisty look on her face, sidles up to me, staring intensely; she has never seen a Westerner before. Samir teases her and she shrieks at him as his mother brings out a bowl of shakshouka – spicy tomato and garlic sauce with egg – and fresh bread from the tabouna – a home-made clay oven in which a fire is lit to heat stones inside it (the flat rounds of bread are baked by attaching them to the inside wall of the oven). By the time we have eaten, Samir’s little sister has climbed onto my knee and is chattering away in Arabic.
This is when I make my decision. As the winter sun warms my face I take in the colours of Tunisia – the bright blue of the sky, the shades of red of the women’s clothing, the ochre of the parched ground and the green leaves of the pomegranate tree. Samir and his mother smile at me as they converse in Arabic and I feel far removed from the drab unfriendliness of London, the stress of the job I hate and the sadness at being cheated on by my lover of six years.
The little girl on my knee giggles at my attempt to pronounce something in Arabic and I find myself hoping that one day I will have a little girl just like her.
Sometimes dreams do come true.
The tabouna bread oven.
If you enjoy these blog posts, you might want to consider my debut novel, Daughter, Disappeared, a hard-hitting ‘women in jeopardy’ thriller, set in Tunisia. Please read the reviews on Amazon UK: http://amzn.to/2eCnZRf. Or to purchase on Amazon.com, for those in USA/Canada: http://amzn.to/2ozbGe8.
There’s also my facebook page: Fiona MacBain – Writer – thank you!