Friday, 19 September 2008


And if you want to know why there is a picture of an Ostrich here, you'll just have to read on...!

Hate to say anything good about Air France, but we actually managed to stage through Paris and arrived in Tunis, more or less on time, and with nearly all our luggage. There is now no way you can fly anywhere in North or West Africa by British Airways – really thoughtful business strategy that – for example now there’s three planefulls of Brits every day, direct to Marrakech, and Willie Walsh doesn’t think there’s any money in that.

From the man who organised the flawless opening of Terminal Five? Well, anyway, there it is, so Air France it has to be.

And Tunis is still 35 degrees even in the night, and of course deep into Ramadan, just to remind any non-muslims, that means not eating or drinking during the hours of daylight. Not drinking, even when it’s forty degrees plus at mid-day. So a certain degree of discomfort for all and sundry.

After doing the budget, and visiting the Education Bus – entertaining (and at the same time teaching) kids at the cultural centre in town during the summer holidays, we set off on the road north-east to Bou-salem.

This is the road the British Army fought its way down against the Deutsche Afrika Korps. All along the road are little green signs indicating Commonwealth War Graves cemeteries.

Immaculately kept, they chart the battles against General Von Arnim and the heavy price that had to be paid in young men’s lives. There are many graves of Black Watch soldiers, my old outfit, all the more tragic by the simple inscriptions on the plain stones - ‘Our only child’, ‘Farewell Daddy’, or ‘Aged 18 years’. And all killed in the last days of April and early May 1943 – it was all over on May the 8th.
Now, they really did have a degree of discomfort.

All a bit humbling and deflating as we continued visiting our three centres in the country. Bou-salem in the north, Kasserine in the dry, bleak middle, and Kebili down on the edge of the Sahara in the south.

We built a little hospital there in the sand of the palmerie – just half a dozen stables, and a classroom over the top of the surgery. And a pond of course – and boy, you should see the colours of the dragonflies. Oh, I nearly forgot, two ostriches as well. And before you ask, no, I’ve no idea how we end up with two ostriches. But I bet the eggs make a hell of a big omelette.

What a place this is. In the hotel we stay in in Douz, a village about ten miles further south, you look out of the window, across a little road, and that’s it. Sand. Miles and miles and miles of it. About two thousand in fact, of wonderful, rolling dunes before you hit the Niger River (remember that?) on the other side. Some beach.

And lots and lots of camels.

But of course all this comes at a price. Tourists. Thousands of them.
Working with the mobile clinic amongst the camels (mostly treating them for mange), we watch as streams of tourists – usually Italian or French, stream by for their ‘desert experience’. They appear to have to wear a brightly coloured tea-towel wrapped around their heads, and a stripy sort of cloak thing - makes them look like convicts on a chain gang. One can only imagine it’s meant to make them look like some kind of Arab warrior. But as most of them are fat, wearing trainers, baseball caps (yes, under the tea-towel), and smoking or chewing gum – it somewhat fails to capture the desired romance and mystery.

Oh, what a piece of work is man!

Jeremy Hulme

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