Wednesday, January 26, 2005


I went with my colleague Paul, all of the other teachers having decided to stay in Libya for Eid. My students had told me that the shared taxis to the border left from the back of Al Rashid St., so we headed that way at 10 on Wednesday morning. I should explain that ‘shared taxis’ are estate cars or minibuses. Despite their name they tend to have set routes and are more like a bus than a taxi. We asked a driver where the taxi to the border would leave from, but before we could go a few yards there were several offers of lifts in private cars. One lad wanted a 100 dinars, but we haggled and agreed 70 – about £30.

He drove very fast, and called in at several filling stations. When we got over the border we realised he was smuggling petrol. Ah well, it’s a living. The whole trip to Djerba took about four hours. Our petrol moving friend took us to a small hotel: the Al Said, whose owner he appeared to know. Now he tried to bump the cost of the trip to 90 dinars, but we settled on 80, and he agreed to come and collect us on Saturday at midday.

The weather now became most severe. And we couldn’t reasonably go far on the Thursday – it was blowing a gale and raining heavily. So we ate and drank in a local restaurant. Maybe it was the weather, maybe the bleakness that goes with a holiday resort out of season, or maybe the depressing effect of too much alcohol, but I couldn’t say we had a brilliant time.

We went to a hotel one evening where all the guests were French. A man came in and showed lizards off. Then he produced a cobra from a basket. I couldn’t say he ‘charmed’ it, he more sort of prodded and poked it so that it would stand up, a little bit, and wave its head around. It was a load of shite, really.
Another man came in with a bag and a couple of swords, but left without attempting any manner of performance. I was just as pleased: I doubt if a sword-swallower would have cleared the general gloominess.

The weather improved on the Friday, and we went for a walk, and saw a fox. I noticed that the palm trees were planted in clumps of three or four, and that nobody seemed to have bothered harvesting the dates, which lay in a carpet at the base of the palms.

The smuggler didn’t show up on Saturday. Fortunately, we were offered a lift by three Tripolitians who’d been staying in the hotel. They took us all the way home and refused our offer to pay them. This hospitality cheered me no end, and compensated for the petrol man’s shenanigans.

Frankly, it wasn’t much of a break. At least I’ve seen Tunisia first hand. My poor liver was pleased to return to the alcohol free land of Libya, mind.
Djerba claims to be the Island of the Sirens referred to in the Odyssey. Hmm. Bronze by gold afar, indeed.