After a 20 day hiatus, you may need to refresh on III to remember the scene, none the less please enjoy........
Adventure and Spontaneity IV
The three are speaking Arabic now; the only problem is that the word estranger (foreigner) appears to be the same in French as it is in Arabic. Whatever they are saying about me, it appears to be worth a solid laugh. The knapsack is resting on Sabres lap. I reach for my knapsack. More as a security blanket than for any real plan of action. Maybe I wanted to get out the ten dollars to remind him he was in contract. Maybe I thought hiding my passport in some books would help the situation. Maybe I wanted my knife closer to my hand.
Jaws says laisse laisse c’est bien, gesturing for me to leave my school bag alone. Maybe he thought I was going to get the ten dollars out, and he didn’t want to taint his favour with money until the end. Maybe he was thinking…. what I was thinking he was thinking, ….and didn’t want me preparing myself for what he was about to do.
I let my school bag down, flick the window switch, adjust my seatbelt, fidget with my cell phone, none of it calms me. I ask Jaws if he has a wife and kids, I ask him if he is Muslim, I’m appealing to all I can think will remind him we’re both humans. The other two are conversing vigorously in the back, maybe I can win jaws over I think. Maybe Sabre is his relative and he’s only doing him a favour by providing the vehicle for the crime. He’s seen the good life in France; he doesn’t need to be a part of this petty shit ….right?
Passing a highway kilometre marker, I see that Kelibi, my destination, is 14km away. The next kilometre marker is all but buried in sand and illegible. We pass an asphalt road on our left, I catch the next kilometre mark Kelibi, 16km. Ill suspicions instantly turn into an iller reality, we’re not going to Kelibi. Every ounce of oxygen is sucked out of the car and even quicker out of my lungs, as if a low flying jet is passing over. My hopes whimper in pain. Five dollars? But I like my life. I’ve got plans, I’ve got potential. Can I bribe them ? Who am I kidding, they don’t need my best wishes to get my money. How long will it really take them to search my bound and gagged wriggling torso, or worse yet, my motionless corpse.
The talking in the back stops long enough for Sabre to assess the situation. “schpeak” (What is it you want, ie what are you up to)
I understand the first two words of Jaws reply, “Schoon? scpheak” replies Jaws Roughly speaking ( what do you mean, what am I up to?).
Saber starts laughing, from the next words out of his mouth, I’ve gathered he’s called Jaws stupid and said the word France and he points out the back window.
Jaws ignoring his obligation to the road turns around to ask “Schoon Suthic” (Whos Stupid)
Not reading, or not concerned by Jaws displeasure, Sabre replies “Anti”, (you are)
From the front seat I watch jaws lift his right knee a few inches before plummeting it into the brake pedal, the seat belt stops my forward acceleration but only until Sabres unrestrained body slams into the back of my seat. Pulling over the car, Jaws gets out and walks with long steps on a mission to Sabres rear passenger side door. Opening it, reaching inside, he pulls Sabre out despite Sabres efforts to hold on to the door frame.
I don’t know what Jaws said, I don’t know what Sabre said, but the shouting match which pursued made me think this wasn’t the first time, and Jaws certainly didn’t appreciate what had just happened. Sabre says nothing as Jaws screams in his face. I may have laughed at the scolding, but I wasn’t sure where Sabers slapped wrist, or Jaws hot head would leave me.
Jaws moves back to the door he had just ripped a body out of, opens it, and locks it. He says something else pointing at Sabre and pointing at the ground behind him.
Sabre appears to be pleading now, Jaws says two quick words, before getting back in the car and starting the engine. Sabre runs over to his driver side door as Jaws begins pulling a “U”ey in the middle of the barren stretch. Sahmani he is repeating (Sorry, Sorry). I’ve not left the car all the while, and only for this reason was I a passenger as we accelerated back towards Douz, and hopefully the road that I believe leads us to Kelibi. Out the back window, Sabre is throwing a temper tantrum. A sign ahead says Kelibi and points left. Jaws puts on his left blinker, simply to rub salt in Sabres wounds, as there are no cars for miles.
The blinker gives me some hope. I look at Sabers school bag in the back seat as we make the turn. I’m feeling some relief now, and am successful in restraining a smile only until I hear the police officer in the back let out a snicker probably at Sabres situation. Jaws hasn’t smiled the whole trip let alone the last few minutes. He looks in the mirror at the police officer but doesn’t smile. The police officer is covering his mouth but his body is shaking with laughter. I realise that I’m grinning too, the police officer lets out a snort, Jaws is dead serious, but I can’t help it, I start to laugh. Jaws cracks a slight grin, and sticks out his hand for a congratulatory handshake. I shake his huge paw while he pulls the car over a few hundred meters from the start of the road. He backs the car up along the side of this road, and out into the middle of the old road. Sabre is walking towards. Jaws holds his hand on the horn for ten seconds but incites no increased speed in Sabres dejected walk back to the car. He enters with a scowl, and doesn’t say a word. Logic tells me that on a mission to kidnap, you would refrain from such carrying ons, and I open up my cookies. Nothing has really changed, maybe I’m still unsafe, but this chocolate centred Sablito never tasted so good.
The police officer starts laughing again, Sabre ignores him. Jaws shifts up a gear, I watch the kilometres count down to Kelibi, and eat another cookie.
I learned later, that they were going to pass kelibi en route to Tozeur, and for free gas money why not take me. Tozeur was my final destination, and they invited me along for 35 then 25 then 15 and finally 5 dinars, but I just felt anyone reading this would have told me to get out at pay 80 dollars for a taxi if need be. The louage in Kelibi was empty save 3 places, I ended up waiting for an hour and a half until the louage arrived from Douz with passengers for Tozeur. In short, I could have waited for the louage to leave, saved ten dinars, maintained a normal heart rate, and arrived in Tozeur at the same time.
I boarded the train in Tozuur at 8 pm, and descended the steps at 3am in el Djem. Passing closed business after closed business, silent house after silent house, and crossing the street a few times to avoid late night strangers, I found what I was looking for. Orange street lights lit up the road about a kilometre in front of me, at which point my view was blocked by the el djem coliseum, the biggest roman monument in Northern Africa. Standing at its base, I look up to see the 1500 year old poorly lit brown stone meet the navy sky six stories up. Stars are visible through open ports near the top of the wall. The right face has been blown out during one of the Punic wars.
En route back to the train I stop at a not so well fenced off construction site and climb an unfinished stair case for a full view of the coliseum. Use the pictures I’ll post in the next few days to assess for yourself whether it was worth the 3am promenade. At the station I spend some time speaking with two youth en route from Gabes to Tunis for a
Nordine the train station manager persists in asking me to return to El djem in July when the Vienna symphony will play inside the coliseum. The soccer fans and Nordine collectively teach me that in Arabic, Gamera means the moon, Lyoom means today, and Chems means the sun. As a foreigner, special effort is made to ensure that I make it onto to the first class section before the whistle is blown signalling the engineer its okay to depart.
I don’t talk about my trips here to my friends and colleagues here. Only the odd anecdote here or there. The comments I receive range from “seule? Ca cest fort, ou fou » ? (Alone, that’s strong or crazy). Alternatively I’m asked “Why do you bother going if you’ll spend half your time travelling”. They’re partially right, afterall this trip took me 32 hours, over 22 spent travelling, and it cost me about 100 dinars. However I saw three corners of the inhabited part of this country, learned about Canadian immigration policies, saw The Sahara Desert, entered an underground house, tried to mount a camel, saw the biggest coliseum in Northern Africa, and learned how quickly you can end up with your life in someone else’s hands.
I’ve since done 4 or 5 more whirlwind tours, none any safer than this one. Clearly, I’m not able to post five page blogs regularly, so for the rest of my trip count on a reversion to photos and one page perspectives and cynical anecdotes.
Countdown to Canada is 14 days.
All the best,Luke