food / travel

After The Revolution, Tunisia Looks To Revive Tourism Of Sun, Sea And Desert Treks

Bypassed as a tourist site since the revolution, the southern Tunisian city of Douz looks to regain its hold as an entryway to the Sahara. The country's tourist industry as a whole has been hit hard by the political unrest.

Waiting to be sent (wallygrom)
Waiting to be sent (wallygrom)
Martine Picouët

DOUZ – It's 7 a.m. in the market of Douz, an oasis town in southern Tunisia. Merchants cloaked in their burnouses, a long hooded robe, have placed their wares on the ground: open bags of dates, couscous, fruit, vegetables, spices and dried fish.

The stores begin to open their doors as merchants hang wool carpets for sale outside. In the middle of Douz's square, the oldest of the merchants chat and drink mint tea. This square, adjacent to the cattle market, is a male-dominated world – women and children will arrive later.

For now, it is time for business. Potential customers browse the products, weighing, comparing, quietly negotiating. Transactions take place covertly, with cash passing from hand to hand, and in less than one hour, several horses, donkeys, chickens, goats, sheep and camels have changed owners.

More than a year after the Jasmine Revolution, only a dozen Germans and French tourists have come to hike and enjoy the winter sun. Busy with sewing the pointed, leather slippers common in North Africa, Mohammed, 55, doesn't understand why: "Where are the tourists?" he asks. "The French, Italians, Germans – why aren't they coming?"

Following the ouster of former President Ben Ali from power, the inhabitants of Douz, known as Mrazigians, are worried about the recovery of the tourism industry, which is the leading economic engine for the region, ahead of dates.

Nationally, the number of tourists over the past year has dropped by 40 percent, while revenue fell by 33 percent, according to the Tunisian National Tourism Office. "What are they afraid of?" asks Mohammed, who, like the majority of families in Douz, has long earned money by organizing camel rides and hikes through the desert for visitors.

France's foreign ministry still discourages French citizens from traveling to the eastern Sahara, south of Douz. "You can see that there is no danger," says Ali, who runs a small general store nearby.

Entry point to the Sahara

Mohammed, as do all his neighbors, counts on the harvesting of dates and the few foreign visitors to get by while waiting for the flocks of tourists to return to Douz, a starting point for numerous camel rides in the Tunisian Sahara.

This southern region is shaped by the wind, where the dunes seem to move at the whim of Aeolus. It does not compare with the grand deserts of Algeria or Mauritania, but it serves as an introduction to the Sahara. On this night, we sleep in a tent encampment after a day moving on foot and by camel through the hot sand.

After a night under the stars, we leave in the morning to go east toward Matmata, a first step toward the hilltop villages in Dahar, further south – remote sites that the Berbers fled to during the Arab invasions from the 7th to the 12th centuries.

Soon we leave the erg, the desert dunes, for the reg, the famous desert of stones and pebbles. On the asphalt road, there is little traffic with the exception of some sheep. "In the winter, people stay in their villages waiting for the rains of February and the arrival of spring in March," explains the guide, Dominique Harari.

The moment arrives to go back down to the valley to plant barley and feed the animals. "We see entire families pitching their tents and staying for three months on their plots of land," Harari says.

Meanwhile, we head by car to Tamezret, the last Berber village where Tamazight is still spoken, and Matmata, where amidst the lunar landscapes several scenes from Star Wars were filmed. Flanking the mountain and carved into it, the cave-like homes reinforce the feeling of something supernatural. Such a home is built around a well, with windowless rooms shooting off from it, whitewashed and transformed into bedrooms, kitchens, living rooms and pantries.

Last summer, Myriam and her husband dug through the earth to open up an extra room within the cave in order to accommodate travelers passing through. It is a Berber-style accomodation, where guests sit on colorful mats and taste traditional dishes such as lamb, pomegranates and Deglet Nour dates.

Further south toward Tataween, the landscape is home to the steepest ksours, the cave-like barns stacked on top off each other and dug into the top of the mountain. The ksours are comprised of a multitude of ghorfa, a Berber term for the vaulted rooms where grain is stored. These so-called fortresses served at one time as citadels, and in the event of conflict, inhabitants could find refuge there with their herds. Some ksours have since been converted to lodgings.

Read more from Le Monde in French

Photo - wallygrom

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Pro-life and Pro-abortion Rights Protests in Washington

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Håfa adai!*

Welcome to Thursday, where new Omicron findings arrive from South Africa, abortion rights are at risk at the U.S. Supreme Court and Tyrannosaurus rex has got some new competition. From Germany, we share the story of a landmark pharmacy turned sex toy museum.

[*Chamorro - Guam]

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🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• COVID update: South Africa reports a higher rate of reinfections from the Omicron variant than has been registered with the Beta and Delta variants, though researchers await further findings on the effects of the new strain. Meanwhile, the UK approves the use of a monoclonal therapy, known as sotrovimab, to treat those at high risk of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms.The approval comes as the British pharmaceutical company, GSK, separately announced the treatment has shown to “retain activity” against the Omicron variant. Down under, New Zealand’s reopening, slated for tomorrow is being criticized as posing risks to its under-vaccinated indigenous Maori.

• Supreme Court poised to gut abortion rights: The U.S. Supreme Court signaled a willingness to accept a Republican-backed Mississippi law that would bar abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, even in cases of rape or incest. A ruling, expected in June, may see millions of women lose abortion access, 50 years after it was recognized as a constitutional right in the landmark Roe v. Wade case.

• Macri charged in Argentine spying case: Argentina’s former president Mauricio Macri has been charged with ordering the secret services to spy on the family members of 44 sailors who died in a navy submarine sinking in 2017. The charge carries a sentence of three to ten years in prison. Macri, now an opposition leader, says the charges are politically motivated.

• WTA suspends China tournaments over Peng Shuai: The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) announced the immediate suspension of all tournaments in China due to concerns about the well-being of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, and the safety of other players. Peng disappeared from public view after accusing a top Chinese official of sexual assault.

• Michigan school shooting suspect to be charged as an adult: The 15-year-old student accused of killing four of his classmates and wounding seven other people in a Michigan High School will face charges of terrorism and first-degree murder. Authorities say the suspect had described wanting to attack the school in cellphone videos and a journal.

• Turkey replaces finance minister amid economic turmoil: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan appointed a strong supporter of his low-interest rate drive, Nureddin Nebati, as Turkey’s new finance minister.

• A battle axe for a tail: Chilean researchers announced the discovery of a newly identified dinosaur species with a completely unique feature from any other creatures that lived at that time: a flat, weaponized tail resembling a battle axe.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

South Korean daily Joong-ang Ilbo reports on the discovery of five Omicron cases in South Korea. The Asian nation has broken its daily record for overall coronavirus infections for a second day in a row with more than 5,200 new cases. The variant cases were linked to arrivals from Nigeria and prompted the government to tighten border controls.


#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

¥10,000

In the northeastern Chinese city of Harbin, a reward of 10,000 yuan ($1,570) will be given to anyone who volunteers to take a COVID-19 test and get a positive result, local authorities announced on Thursday on the social network app WeChat.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Why an iconic pharmacy is turning into a sex toy museum

The "New Pharmacy" was famous throughout the St. Pauli district of Hamburg for its history and its long-serving owner. Now the owner’s daughter is transforming it into a museum dedicated to the history of sex toys, linking it with the past "curing" purpose of the shop, reports Eva Eusterhus in German daily Die Welt.

💊 The story begins in autumn 2018, when 83-year-old Regis Genger stood at the counter of her pharmacy and realized that the time had come for her to retire. At least that is the first thing her daughter Anna Genger tells us when we meet, describing the turning point that has also shaped her life and that of her business partner Bianca Müllner. The two women want to create something new here, something that reflects the pharmacy's history and Hamburg's eclectic St. Pauli quarter (it houses both a red light district and the iconic Reeperbahn entertainment area) as well as their own interests.

🚨 Over the last few months, the pharmacy has been transformed into L'Apotheque, a venture that brings together art and business in St. Pauli's red light district. The back rooms will be used for art exhibitions, while the old pharmacy space will house a museum dedicated to the history of sex toys. Genger and Müllner want to show that desire has always existed and that people have always found inventive ways of maximizing pleasure, even in times when self-gratification was seen as unnatural and immoral, as a cause of deformities.

🏩 Genger and Müllner want the museum to show how the history of desire has changed over time. The art exhibitions, which will also center on the themes of physicality and sexuality, are intended to complement the exhibits. They are planning to put on window displays to give passers-by a taste of what is to come, for example, British artist Bronwen Parker-Rhodes's film Lovers, which offers a portrait of sex workers during lockdown.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

I would never point a gun at anyone and pull a trigger at them. Never.

— U.S. actor Alec Baldwin spoke to ABC News, his first interview since the accident that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the movie Rust last October. The actor said that although he was holding the gun he didn’t pull the trigger, adding that the bullet “wasn't even supposed to be on the property.”

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet and Jane Herbelin

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