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The Wanderer

My Scholarship entry - A local encounter that changed my life

WORLDWIDE | Monday, 23 April 2012 | Views [204] | Scholarship Entry

One can travel from South to North and the sun does not set yet, one can experience the Sahara and the Mediterranean Sea on the same day. Tunisia. I knew something was different the moment I had landed. Everyone was smoking while waiting for their baggages. My bag arrived, and I pulled out a cigarette, but saw that there were “Defense Defumer” signs all around. A figure was fast turning from a blur into a policeman, and I thought I was done for. The cop came up and asked, “You need a lighter?”
You can smoke anywhere in Tunisia, except under water. I have seen people smoke in museums, railway stations, at petrol stations. The best smoky experience was at Manouba University in Tunis where students were protesting against the arrest of a few students. It was protest through music. The music was sublime, as was one’s vision, for it was all a haze – everyone was smoking.
I was about to board for my journey back, when in a guide book, I saw ‘Le petit prince restaurant’ in Tozeur in the South. The Little Prince has always been my favourite book. I walked up to the airlines counter, and asked the lady hesitatingly.
“Actually I think I have missed something important. Do you think I can go three days later?”
The lady looked at me intently, smiled. “Of course. And we won’t charge you extra either.” Pause. “Sir, looks like you are in love.”
I took a train. Gabes is where I got down. From here I would travel to Douz and Tozeur, the desert cities. Mini buses of all the third world think alike. They do not move till they are full. I waited in this mini bus, or “luage”. I was alone with another guy, who was very keen to talk, but Arabic is Greek to me, and English was Latin to him. I came upon an idea. I asked “Bluetooth?” and he said “Bluetooth”, and we exchanged music over our mobiles. We became bosom buddies, and he showed me around his village in Douz all day long. I still get calls from him. Missed calls every Saturday. The language of silence.

Tags: Travel Writing Scholarship 2012

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