When I realized that I would be flying out of the Carthage International Airport, I knew that the Aeneas in me would have to pay a visit to Dido’s palace. The museum at the site of the ancient city was great, with a fun collection of coins and mosaics. Seeing the seventh-century BC Punic ruins layered with Roman and Vandal structures, all set on Byrsa Hill against the backdrop of modern Tunis, was impressive. Earlier in my trip, I had been thinking a lot about the impacts of modern globalization; being in Carthage, a crossroads of trade routes for centuries, reminded me that global exchange has been developing for a long time.

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Tunis was one of the most fascinating cities of my trip. Though I had previously read about the interaction between the traditional and French colonialist architectures in North Africa, Tunis was my first time seeing it in person. I loved the contrast between the wide Avenue de France, complete with its streetcars, embassies, and train station, and the winding streets of the Casbah. The ubiquitous portraits of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, especially adorning roundabouts, reminded me of the billboards of Daniel Ortega’s smiling face in Managua. Little did I know that the Tunisian signs would be torn down within a month. On the day I left the country, a vendor known as Mohamed Bouazizi lit himself on fire as a protest against the government, and the rest is history.

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Ferry to Africa

Many of the used European vehicles being resold in Northern Africa make their way across the Mediterranean by ropax (roll-on-roll-off passenger) ships. I decided it would only be fitting for my project that I follow suit. So I booked a ticket on the Grimaldi Lines Sorrento, which took me from Civitavecchia (the Port of Rome) to Tunis (with a stop in Palermo, Sicily).

When I bought my “deck passage” ticket, I didn’t realize that it meant I would be sleeping (or trying to) on the seating in the ship’s dining area. A number of nearby passengers were playing Arabic rap music from their cell phones until late in the night. The lack of sleep, however, was definitely worth the excellent people watching. In addition to the many Tunisians heading home, there was a group of Italian tourists who were taking a convoy of campers to Africa. A leader of the group, wearing a yellow rain jacket, was the spitting image of the Gorton’s Fisherman (he seemed jovial, but I didn’t trust him enough to snap a picture).

My closest neighbors were a group of three Algerian men. Working in a team, they made their living transporting cars from Europe to Algeria for resale there, crossing the Mediterranean about twice per month. On this trip, they were taking a Citro├źn Berlingo from Barcelona by ferry to Tunisia (via Rome), then driving through Tunisia to Algeria. In addition to Arabic and French, one of them spoke Italian, and another one (with whom I chatted) spoke Spanish. They graciously spent a few hours of the twenty-five hour trip teaching me some Arabic phrases (with definitions in Spanish – yes, my travel notebook has entries like “Salaam Aleikum = Hola” and “Chocron = Gracias”) to get me through Tunisia. We also shared meals and Dramamine (though I don’t have a history of seasickness, the trip got pretty choppy). Their hospitality was a great way to start my time in Africa.

I find it striking that less than two months later, a “biblical exodus” traveled in the opposite direction along the same route.

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