In 1989, my mother and father, then 59 and 61, joined the Peace Corps and were sent to Tunisia to work on a poultry husbandry project. For the training period, July- September, they were based in Hergla, a fishing village on the Bay of Hammamet.
On some of my recent visits to my parents, I’ve been reading some of the letters my mother (and a few my father) wrote that I saved. They took Arabic lessons and my mother, always a quick language learner, still sprinkles her conversations with Arabic expressions, that she says, have no English equivalents.
Just a couple years older than I am now, my parents joined an organization mostly associated with younger people. Before the Internet, Skype, and inexpensive telephone plans, the world seemed much larger and they seemed so far away. My own sons – the only grandchildren they had at the time—were 4 and 2.
Intrigued by the letters, I asked my mother to write about some of their experiences that I’ll share in a couple of posts. I’ll also include some excerpts from a few letters. Welcome, guest writer, Barbara W. Klein.
In Tunisia, we shared a villa, (a single story house) with two Tunisian teachers and two other Peace Corps volunteers. Since I’m an early riser, I usually put up the coffee. Our coffee maker looked like my four -cup percolator but it didn’t have a stem. The basket fit closer to the bottom of the pot. Lattifa, one of the teachers, told me that the coffee should be steamed. I put the ground coffee in the basket, the water in the bottom of the pot, and brought the water to a boil. Much to my surprise, the water remained clear. I experimented by pouring the hot water through the grounds and “Voila!”; I had perfect drip style coffee. That is probably the way the pot was supposed to work, or maybe I should have poured cold water over the coffee grounds. Since our only cups were about the size of a three ounce juice glass, and since the coffee was the strong Tunisian style, there was enough to serve six. During our entire training “Stage”, pronounced “stahge”, I used the drip method for coffee. It worked, but still wasn’t as good as the percolator.
One morning, at class, our young language teacher, Kais, remarked that he heard that I make great coffee. To be appreciated by a local, made my day!
…”Everyday living is a new adventure. I’m learning to improvise. There’s a three -burner range that sits on the counter and no oven. I inverted a baking pan over the burner and baked a cake….We’re living without phones, cars, cornflakes, Chinese food, rye bread, washing machines and hot water. What your father misses most is a newspaper. If people are coming from Tunis they bring him a day old International Herald Tribune. We wash our clothes by stamping on them in a bucket and hang everything on the porch to dry. The toilets are a hole in the ground; we have to squat.”