One of my favorite things about traveling is being able to meet people from all over the world. This past Saturday I was able to do exactly that through an organization called InterNations. InterNations is a website deigned to connect people who are living abroad. In a sense it provides a space for expats to gather online and plan events together. You don’t even necessarily have to be an expat, as there were several Tunisians at the event I attended.
My friend Taylor and fellow SIT student is the one who introduced me to InterNations. She heard about it through a man named Patrick. Patrick is an American who is currently living in Tunisia so he can be close to his daughter’s family(his daughter married a Tunisian and they have a two year old). Taylor met Patrick because he is friend’s with Taylor’s host mom.
Patrick told us about a wine tasting event on Saturday. Taylor and Ryan, another fellow SIT student decided they would attend. Originally I was planning to go to Gafsa this weekend for my ISP. Unfortunately that did not work out since the woman who was going to translate for me was unable to come. However, I am hoping I can go next weekend, but I will blog more about that when it comes.
Since I was now free I decided to join them. We had worked hard on our ISP’s all week and agreed we deserved a break.
In order to attend all we had to do was create an account on internations.org and join the community in Tunis. The tricky part was finding a ride to the event. It was about an hour outside of Tunis so a taxi would have been pretty expensive. Taylor and Ryan posted in the comments earlier in the week that they were looking for a ride and someone offered to take them.
Now that I had a free weekend I asked Taylor if it was too late for me to attend the InterNations event. She said it was fine,a s long as I got a ride. After joining the site, I skimmed the comments and found that one woman, Amani, who was actually the organizer of the event, had an extra seat in her car. Amani is Tunisian and since it was Friday afternoon and I was running out of time until the event I decided to call her.
Now, the fact that Amani is Tunisian is very important in this story. Normally I would be hesitant to call someone during regular work hours. However, phone etiquette in Tunisia is very different from in the states. In Tunisia it is perfect permissible to call someone five times in a row until they answer, it is also permissible to call during meal times and answering your phone, no matter the situation, is not seen as rude. Luckily I was able to reach her on the first try and she still had one seat left in her car, as long as I didn’t mind sitting in the middle. I told her I was small and used to sitting in the middle so I would be fine with that. We arranged to meet in downtown Tunis in front of the Ministry of Tourism and that was that.
The next morning I set off for downtown Tunis. I was a bit nervous about finding everyone, but I had Amani’s number just in case. It turns out I didn’t even need her number as I spotted Patrick waiting near the ministry. Although I have never met Patrick, he jumped out at me as being American. I approached him and asked if he was part of InterNations. He said he was and we introduced ourselves. A few minutes later we spotted Amani and the two others with her. We piled into the car (which was indeed a bit small) and we’re off.
In addition to Amani and Patrick in our car there was also a Tunisian man named Ines and a woman who was half Swiss and half Croatian. The next hour was filled with many interesting conversations. Rather than summarize our discussions I will tell you everyone’s profession and let your imagination run wild.
Me: An American student studying political science in Tunisia.
Amani: A Tunisian who used to work for a German company but currently works in civil society for an organization that provides resources and information regarding women’s rights in the MENA region.
Patrick: An American who served in the military, who served as a civilian in Iraq, who served in the Peace Corps in Armenia and who currently lives in Tunisia.
Ines: A Tunisian who served in the Tunisian military and who currently works in the video game industry.
Barbara: A Swiss/Croatian who works for the International Committee for the Red Cross(ICRC) and moves almost every two years. She is currently working for the ICRC in Libya but is stationed in Tunisia for safety purposes. She has lived in many countries, including Afghanistan, South Sudan and Iraq.
Everyone arrived at the vineyard slowly but surely and we all chatted while we waited. There was also another group at the vineyard that had arrived before us so we mingled with them as well. While we were waiting I man from the other group approached me and introduced himself to me as being from Michigan. I told him that I studied at Hope College and he said he and his wife graduated from Hope and taught at West Ottawa High School for about twenty years. They recently moved to Tunisia and are teaching at the American school. We exchanged emails and they said they will be in touch.
During my travels, I am constantly reminded of how small the world is. Who would have expected that I would meet Hope alumni in Tunisia! One of the best things about traveling is making bizarre connections like these. Once, while my family was traveling in Italy we ran into one of my brother’s classmates in a museum. My brother had no idea she was even traveling at the time, let alone the fact that she was in Italy, in the same city as us, and in the same museum at the same time. My family has numerous stories about running into neighbors and friends while traveling. Stories like this always enforce the idea of how connected we all are and that no matter where we go, we can still find people who we share things in common with.
After everyone arrived we made our way into the warehouse where the wine is stored. We were given a brief overview of the vineyard and the wines they produces, but mostly everyone just continued chatting. Taylor and Ryan arrived a bit late since their car had gotten lost arriving.
Everyone I talked to had such an interesting background. I met one woman named Patti who was half Italian and half English. She currently teaches at the Mediterranean School of Business and had previously worked for AMIDEAST. She has lived in Tunisia for eleven years and even raised her family here. She has two daughters who are a few years younger than me who attended the Italian school. I met another woman from Texas who served in the foreign service or a few years, but eventually became fed up with the bureaucratic system and is now working for an NGO in Tunisia.
The day also included a lunch and after cooking for myself for the past few weeks it was nice to eat some Tunisian food again(for those of you who are wondering why I have been cooking for myself, it is because I decided to move into an apartment for ISP so I could have a quite place to work on my project). There was lots of couscous, various Tunisian salads, some tangine, and of course lots of bread. I made sure to fill up on all the salads and sides since I knew the main course would include meat.
We spent a little over four hours there. It was a great way to spend a beautiful sunny Saturday. I am definitely planning on attending more events with InterNations in the future and continuing some of the connections I made today.