When I was a little girl, beach combing was one of my favorite vacation activities. I always came home with my pockets full of treasures. And then my parents would make me go through them and decide which ones I really loved, and which ones I would need to jettison so that I could fit all my clothes back in my suitcase. Unfortunately, I managed to attach sentimental value to just about every single shell and piece of driftwood. Even the very large ones. On one occasion, my prize find was a rock nearly the size of my head. It must have weighed at least 25 pounds, but I dragged it all the way down the long beach and up the hill to the car.
I admit that it was a fairly unremarkable rock. But it was the last time we were going camping at our favorite beach on the northern California coast before I went off to college in land-locked Utah. I felt I just had to have my own personal petrean gift from the sea as a remembrance. So I dragged it much further than the car. That rock made a lovely decoration and toe-stubber in my dorm room all through freshman year. Sometime after that, it disappeared, never to be seen again.
Axa has inherited my penchant for beach scavenging. And the beaches in Tunisia afford her ample opportunity for indulging in the habit. There are enough shells to keep her happy, although they are not especially dramatic or abundant. Driftwood, my own favorite beach treasure (another holdover from northern California), is noticeably absent here. The only plant matter to be found is fibrous bits of palm tree and other desert plants. Sometimes these are matted by surf and wind into dense round spheres that resemble nothing more than gigantic hair balls. The children have christened them “buggle balls.” For many weeks (until a moratorium was declared by the fun-killing parents) they collected and brought them home until our lawn was more littered with buggle balls than the beach.
Beach glass is also something of a disappointment here. Not that there’s any shortage of glass. As in other developing countries I’ve visited, many Tunisians believe that throwing garbage on the ground creates jobs. Broken glass bottles are very much in evidence, but when they wash back up on the beach, they are usually still sharp, making them seem like garbage rather than the enchanted jewels that beach glass ought to resemble.
But where the Tunisian beaches really shine is in stone and ceramic. Tunisia is a mosaic-artist’s dream, and not just because of the Bardo Museum. The beautiful painted tiles that adorn most of the houses here wash up on the beach in a great abundance of picturesque little bits. We also find chunks of marble, granite, and lovely desert rocks. Axa’s collection grows daily. And if she wants to take it all to college, I won’t be the one to stop her.