I had to leave Ohio to make this dream come true.
We were part of a small group a few years ago that spent two weeks touring the fascinating North African country of Tunisia. You learn a great deal when you go to a country that is very different from what you’re used to seeing and doing at home. In Tunisia, mosques are everywhere. Some dress western. Some dress traditional middle-eastern. You experience new foods. Those differences are a principal reason many people never seem to go anywhere. They’re afraid to try something new. On the other hand, my wife and I embrace a change in cultures. For us, it’s working pretty well so far as we have been to more than 50 countries.
An example of a different experience is that Tunisia was the first place I ever rode a camel. Not the last, but it was the first. Never once in Ohio have I climbed aboard a camel for a ride on the Ohio desert. But, fearless rookie that I was, I joined a band of hearty Americans that, one step at a time, set out to explore the mighty Sahara desert. Just as a contribution to travel trivia, the Sahara is the largest desert in the world and it includes parts of 10 African countries.
The Tunisian piece of the Sahara starts at the very bottom of the country where there are a couple of what I would call border towns. The country doesn’t stop there, but civilization does. You climb aboard a large beast, head south and immediately start traversing the up and down sandy terrain we have all seen in photographs. Within minutes from where you started small towns and people are out of sight. The camels just keep heading for the next up and down of the sand. You are as lost as you would be if somebody dropped you into a remote corner of the South Pole. Fortunately, there is a guide to keep everyone headed in the right direction. But, even if your guide succumbs to heat stroke, keep the faith - your camel knows his way home. Camels are not celebrated for their smarts, but in my experience they are at least as accomplished as the average fifth grader.
So, I learned a lot in Tunisia both about camels and about myself. Today, I am a very good camel rider - perhaps not world-class yet - but at least more worldly than I used to be. I conquered the mighty Sahara (AKA I survived the mighty Sahara). I went on to ride camels on a second trip to that region (Egypt), but we’ll talk about that another time.
Something else I learned in Tunisia is to not count out the progress North African and Middle Eastern countries have made to move forward within the boundaries of their cultures. For example, Tunisia was owned by the French until it was granted independence in 1964. At that time, there were 700 college students in Tunisia. When we were there in 2008, there were 365,000. Pretty impressive growth, don’t you think? In the capital of Tunis, you see students everywhere on their way to school. Traveling in groups, you cannot avoid noticing that some of the females wear burkas with faces covered and only small slits to see through, some are in conservative western outfits with a traditional Muslim scarf, and some wear mini-skirts like you would see in Paris. It would be a big mistake to ever count these folks out. There are a lot of very bright people in that part of the world and they work every day to balance their rich tradition with global change that can be very unsettling.
Tunisia is where the Arab Spring originated - a vast uprising just a few years ago of citizens who have been held back by their own leaders and who believe their time has come.
You might want to think about what you can do to expand your own experiences. There is a larger world out there for all of us. Go see it. Go experience it. Go talk to people who speak a different language. Break bread with Bedouin nomads at their desert home. And, if you just happen to be in the neighborhood, hop on a camel for a ride on the Sahara. Experiences like that have changed my world for the better...much better.
DY: In Just a Few Words is a blog that comes out when something needs to be said or every Tuesday - whichever comes first. Davis Young is a communications professional who adds 50+ years of experience and perspective to issues of the day. His emphasis in DY: In Just a Few Words will be humor (a touch of sarcasm here, a pinch of facetiousness there...). Once in a while, he will touch on something a bit more serious - but hopefully not too deep or depressing.
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