May 27, 2008
PORT EL KANTAOUI, Tunisia -
Cal director of operations Sarah Holsinger will be blogging daily from Africa.
Since I last wrote, we have continued on our amazing African journey. Last night after a great dinner at our hotel, we headed to Port El Kantaoui for a little shopping. This area is about three minutes from our resort and sits right on the Mediterranean Sea. The shops at the port are mainly clothing shops featuring designer clothes, shoes and hats. You can also get just about any soccer (futbol) jersey you can imagine here because this is the most popular sport in Tunisia. Also at the port, you will find a small amusement and water park and a petting zoo featuring rabbits and guinea pigs. I asked Rama if guinea pigs were also in Senegal, and she just looked at me and said "What are skinny pigs?" I guess not.
After we left the port, we headed about 20 minutes down the road towards the town of Kondar. Our next stop was a Cinespectacle Tunisia Show. Along the way, we noticed that there were a multitude of cafes. But what is interesting about these cafes is that only men can go there to hang out. No women are allowed. The few women that we did see along the way were fully covered, sometimes with their children, and always in route somewhere. It doesn't seem like the women socialize with each other like the men do at these cafes. The show, called Medinat Alzahra, is located in a man-made coliseum. When we arrived, we were given wool capes with hoods that reminded us of Star Wars outfits. It was a breezy night, so these capes definitely came in handy. We were also given round straw mats to sit on to make the concrete seats more comfortable.
The show was in three different languages (French, Arabic and English). A high-tech arrangement of water, colored lighting, cinematic images, horseman and extras with truly amazing costumes portrayed the history of Tunisia to the audience. Everyone really enjoyed the show. We finished around 11 p.m. and headed back to the resort to get some shut eye.
I woke up this morning and headed to breakfast around 8:30 a.m. The breakfast here, in my opinion, is the best meal they offer. You have your choice of such things as omelets or fried eggs, chocolate croissants, fresh fruit, crepes and pancakes. The pancakes here are not your traditional hot cakes. They are more like the Indian style of bread, Naan, and instead of syrup, they use chocolate sauce and cinnamon and sugar. The coffee here is to die for and has become a staple to most of the staff to fight off our jetlag.
After breakfast, we headed to the city of Sousse, which is located about 20 minutes south of our hotel. Sousse is known as a "raucous city" by Tunisian standards. This city seems much more liberal than the other parts of the country we have seen so far. Sousse was founded in the ninth century BC and was used as a base for the famous Carthaginian general Hannibal for the final stages of the Punic War.
The first thing we did when we arrived in Sousse was visit the Great Mosque. In order to enter the mosque, the women in our group had to wear pants past our knees and shirts that covered our shoulders.
Non-Muslims aren't allowed beyond the courtyard but from there we could see the prayer hall. Our tour guide and translator, Ida, who has been with us since we arrived in Tunisia, explained Muslim prayer. Among other rituals, Muslims pray five times a day, but they are only required to go to the mosque on Fridays. Everyone finishes work by noon on Fridays so that they can go to the mosque to pray. While in the mosque, men and women pray separately.
Once we left the mosque, we headed into the Medina, the market, to do some serious shopping. This is not your typical shopping because there are no price tags. You must bargain for everything. We started our shopping excursion out by bargaining for bottled water. It is very clear that Rama's bargaining power is more effective than the rest of the group. We managed a small bottle (.5 liter) of water for $1 and Rama walked away (chuckling) with a large (1.5 liter) bottled water for $1. She also now has two free Henna tattoos that she got at the pool today.
This was quite different from Coach Smith and Angela Niles (assistant director of operations) who paid $10 a piece for one tattoo.
The next stop was the Tunisian rug store. We learned all about the process of hand weaving vs. knotting and how that effects the quality of the rug. Every rug is different, and each design within the rug signifies some aspect of Islam. The gentleman who owned the store proceeded to prove to Coach Smith that her cat could not destroy one of his rugs by gnawing on a corner with his own teeth. He wasn't lying. He also took a lighter to some of the rugs to prove how durable they are. Coach Boyle was offered a rug for every two players she traded in to stay in Tunisia. Thankfully Coach Boyle is rug free.
The group then split up to do some final shopping. Mollie McClure (our photographer) and I ventured out into the market to find some gifts for her nephews. We made our way through the narrow walkways and every man that we passed tried to entice us into his shop. We finally entered a shop that was owned by a 23-year-old named Bilel. Mollie and I had a more personal experience with Bilel compared to the other shop owners.
We were the first Americans he had seen in six years. We learned from him that he has a very serious girlfriend (he hesitated to even label her this) and because of his religion, he can't even hold hands with her in public until they are married. He also said that to get married in Tunisia, it is very expensive and the man must pay for this. It was really interesting for us to see yet again the differences in our cultures.
After shopping, we went back to the hotel and the players napped while the staff hung out by the pool. There are a ton of activities to do at the resort. Yesterday Devanei, Lexi, Krista and Coach Smith went jet skiing in the Mediterranean Sea while LG, Ashley, Tasha and Trell rented four-wheelers and rode trails for an hour and a half.
We left our hotel this afternoon at 4:30 p.m. for Monastir, the town where we played our first game. The arena is very nice and sits on the Mediterranean Sea. We won and visited with the team after the game. We gave each player and coach a Cal basketball t-shirt. Check out the recap on CalBears.com.
We made it back to the hotel around 9 p.m. for a late dinner. Many of the players tried ox and said it was pretty tasty. Tomorrow we depart at 10 a.m. to ride camels. Then, we have our first clinic and our second game. Until then.....GO BEARS!