I do a fair amount of airing of exasperations about moving on this blog. But there are some delightful things that happen as a result of our wanderings. And one of the best of those is meeting new friends. We just moved to a different vacation rental (closer to the beach. Hurrah!), and our newest friend is a retired British gentleman who lives downstairs. Alastair (not his real name, but I assure you that his real name sounds just as British) is one of the most pleasant conversationalists I’ve ever met. He is unfailingly polite, thoughtful, interesting, and has a brilliant dry wit made all the funnier by by his proper English accent.
Yesterday was the monthly potluck that follows our informal church meetings in Tunis, so we invited him. He drove us up there in his right-handed car (yes, I embarrassed myself, as always, by attempting to get in the driver’s side). His contribution to the potluck was “a lump of cheese,” which actually turned out to be four lumps of cheese, including emmentaler, camembert, and a gigantic ball of edam. It was by far the best idea for a potluck contribution I’d ever encountered. I hope he didn’t find all of us Americans hopelessly informal, but if he did he didn’t let on.
Alastair has sort of taken us under his wing. The UV swimsuits and sun hats we ordered online from a UK company when we were back in Italy, got lost in the mail, and were eventually recovered halfway to the U.S. (they had sent them to our billing address rather than the shipping address), but too late for us to receive them before we left for Tunisia. I hadn’t gotten around to re-ordering, since it hasn’t been warm enough for us to swim. Then all of a sudden last week was sunny and beautiful, but I didn’t want to spend too much time at the beach with the children, for fear of sunburns. Alastair had no idea of my swimsuit misfortune, but a few days after he met us, he invited us to his favorite cafe for strawberry milkshakes, and bequeathed sun hats to the children on the spot. Nor did his generosity end there. When he found out we were looking for a cleaning lady who could also iron for us, he introduced us to one. Upon learning that we didn’t even have an ironing board, he produced not only a board but a matching iron (he said he had brought two from the U.K. Alastair presses all of his clothes himself. I avoid buying clothes that need pressing). Then there was the time we (I) dropped our cell phone in the toilet. Alastair had been trying to call us that afternoon, and when we apologized and offered the excuse of the wet phone, he presented us with a spare phone he just happened to have, and offered to drive Tony down to get a SIM for it. And all this is just during the past week that we’ve known him.
But there is one favor we are just unprepared to take him up on. Having learned that we are under the necessity of renewing our visa next month by exiting the borders of Tunisia, Alastair offered to drive us to Algeria. It is true that Algeria is the closest foreign border, but we’re a little leery of the kidnappers who hang around the border in hopes of snaring an unsuspecting tourist. Algeria’s opposite border (with Morocco) has been closed for the past fifteen years. Still, a quick crossing into Algeria is sounding a bit better right now than our original plan, which was a vacation to Libya. Until a month or so ago, the Tunisian-Libyan border was considered much safer than the border with Algeria, but now all bets are indefinitely off. We wish Alastair the best on his own visa trip to Algeria, but will not be accompanying him.
Instead, we’ve decided (along with tens of thousands of other residents of the African continent) to try the sea route to Europe. So next month we plan to take an overnight ferry from Tunis to Sicily. We have some wonderful friends there who have given us a long-standing invitation to stay with them. A week in Italy, some good pizza and parmesan, and our visa troubles will be solved.