Gateway to Tunis

I had been asleep in the taxi since 4am, Saturday morning. Whose stupendous idea was it to get a flight this early when I could have been snuggled in my pyjamas in my luscious bed catching a leisurely afternoon flight? Instead, I am sleeping in the taxi wearing a humongous woolly hat complete with giant pom-pom pom-pomming on the top of my head and woollen jacket with attached furry hood dreading carrying a heavy shoulder bag and rucksack. Early March mornings, are evidently cold. Even the Mad Hatter’s March Hare would take note of the blundering wind and offer a cup of much-needed hot sweet English tea.

I am not sure how, but after a total of three hours’ sleep (including the disturbed ‘snooze’ at home), I stumbled from the taxi to the Gladiator-style extended travelator to the check-in area of Gatwick Airport. Even the driver (on the return journey) marvelled at my slumberous motions that eventually escorted me to Duty Free. I discovered a new talent, I can spend money in my sleep.

After freshening up and wandering about the place trying to locate a cashpoint and then finally finding said card-eater, which was in front of my face the whole time having walked past it ten times (it was on a pillar, it may have been dressed up in camouflage with the rest of the grey robotic nonsensical décor) where everything merges into one for dreary eyes, I extracted cash and seated myself on a plastic seat waiting for the not-so pearly gates to welcome me into a flying whale courtesy of Jonah, is Saint Peter, his son, the pilot? I am unsure, my dream-state is not providing me with enough lucidly coherent answers and I am perhaps hallucinating within my dream through real-life hunger, eyes are glazing…

I do not remember boarding the plane, or the other passengers. I recall thinking This is not a window seat as I laid my head against the space between windows with an awkward double-vision of the sky Why do I always end up on the wing? Maybe something I can cling to in the sea should the plane crash into the tumultuous ocean, time for more sleep.

The flight was 2hr55 minutes, British Airways (BA). Please do not book with BA if you are a vegetarian in need of breakfast. To fulfil my hunger, the lovely hostess handed me a three-cheese mini seeded baton with a mini plastic carton containing orange liquid. I was not entirely sure whether I should sip from the wendy-house beaker or if it was in fact a trial version of a new type of mouthwash, or medicine. I took my chances. It was definitely orange juice. Pasteurised concentrated fairy liquid type. Ugh. (See Crusades Against Clementines for the origin of orange juice hysterical heresy). Hot drinks were not on offer, I wrapped myself up in my fur-hooded jacket, gazed out of the window momentarily, wondered how the aeroplane managed to stay like a bird in the sky, and resumed sleepage.

*

Nearing the runway of Tunis airport, you must complete a landing card which is given to you by the steward just before er, landing. This needs to be handed to Passport Control alongside your passport, Do not lose this card, Saiqa, you will need it to get back out of the country I gently remind myself.

The horror stories that my colleagues had entertained me with prior to departure that entire week, were at the forefront of my mind. Delivering wireless technology samples to Centre d’Etude et de Recherche en Télécommunication (CERT) ou dans l’anglais, telecommunications regulatory authority – was, in English speak, going to be a bit of a mission. An adventure was poignantly poised to take shape, the first stop-point being Customs.

I would like to add a disclaimer here in that it is perfectly legal to take my mobile phone handset / scanner samples into Tunisia, but it would seem they sometimes get a bit finicky about such things and can cause mass hysteria and drama via strip searching or throwing smuggling accusations in French and Arabic. As an aside and interesting point of reference, I cannot speak French. OR Arabic. You see the delightful little pickle I could find myself in if I do not have Lady Luck on my side, and she barely accompanies me on a daily basis.

Attention! Dans le francais maintenant s’il te plait! Nous avons landed sur l’aeroport du Tunis. It is surprisingly quiet and pleasant, not a billion people walking around and thank the Lord, no screaming kids. Bar one, but she was too cute for words of complaint. Most calmly, like I have no samples in my hand luggage and after swapping to the shorter queue from the longer, I wait patiently for Mr Customs Man to start investigating my passport and landing card. One minute later, he hands me my purple stamped passport. IN! I nearly did a happy dance, but refrained. Easily making my way through to baggage collection, my luggage is already flying around the S-shape conveyor belt. All too Eerie Indiana quiet so far for my liking, but I am not complaining or about to wish karma pays me an inopportune visit.

Walking through the double glazed doors and through the green channel (nothing to declare), I find myself in a small corridor and an opening at the end which I pass through. I am immediately greeted by a thousand people, Ah, my welcoming committee. How lovely of you all to join me. Not really, what I am thinking is Where are all the women? I walk past all the dudes trying to find my way to the exit point, Sortie, taking note but taking no notice of the strange looks I am on the pretend-end of receiving.

I find a central staircase leading me up to a mezzanine level and I locate the Bureau du Exchange. Again, my Britishness allows me to wait patiently in the queue, I reach the counter and greet the man Bonjour! Can I change this Sterling to Dinar please? To which he responds I’m sorry, you must change downstairs.

Daammmiiitttt, I’d arrived into the departures shopping mall and not arrivals, clever me walked back down the central staircase, the dudes must have thought I was crazy and at this point I was still thinking to myself Where are the women? Walking past a café entirely seated with smoking boys (cigarettes I mean, the boys were not literally on fire), I was suddenly approached by a random dude. You need taxi, I take your bags.

No, it’s ok thank you, not yet.

And I carried on walking on my way to find myself some currency. He didn’t give up. I can take you, I have taxi, let me take bags.

No, really it’s ok, I get different taxi. I need to change money.

You want change money, follow.

He was heading in the direction I was heading anyway so I just let it be, peace before the storm was evidently ending. I obtained my Dinar being careful to put everything away as quickly as possible in case 1) I am mugged 2) taxi driver tries to rip me off.

The taxi driver took my rucksack and I followed him outside of the airport. I have no photos but the memory stays with me. The sun was so white and bright and warm reflecting the green from the palm trees and any apprehensions I had about weird taxi driver were immediately discarded and my expression instantaneously transformed into a permanent smiling grin.

Il fait très du soleil, c’est magnifique et très beau, le temps est quinze celcius, far from the crying callous minus 1 celcius clouds of cold old England. I could not prevent the happiness from escaping the pores of my skin, I had not a worry in the world, I was radiating joy. The sun has an uncanny way of having this effect on me. It’s like human photosynthesis, the chlorophyll builds up inside me and explodes through joy like pink blossoms.

The tiny happy yellow taxi and the happy taxi driver placed my bags on the back seat and I sat in the passenger seat, quickly acclimatising myself to being a passenger on the wrong side of the car. Je m’apelle Wahid, takes my hand and I offer to shake but he turns my hand over and kisses it like they used to do in days of yore, Pride and Prejudice comes to mind, except Wahid was unfortunately, not my premonition of Mr Darcy. Enchante. Indeed, if only he was Prince Charming, why are British men not like this any longer and I drifted off into a reverie of ballgowns and dances…

But I am brought back from my subconscious as Wahid increases the music volume on the radio. If I was not sure previously, at this point I certainly knew he was attempting to woo me, especially when he ‘busted’ some John Travolta moves at the steering wheel singing along (badly) to Unchain My Heart. But to his credit, it was pure comedy and I was laughing to myself the whole time thinking when is this song going to end! But the window was open, the music was playing, I was in Tunis and I was absorbing the life that would be mine for the next few days.

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