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Tunis, June 19, 2013

8:30AM Youssef picked me up from El Mouradi Africa hotel heading towards La Médina, the ancient town built by the Turks during their reign in Tunisia. Sitting right in the city center of Tunis, La Médina is still the administrative center of the city and a must-see tourist attraction. We enter from what I was told the Sea Gate for boats in ancient time. It is now the main entrance coming from the main avenue in Tunis, Habib Bourguiba, named after the first president of The Republic of Tunisia.

As I am eager passing the gate heading into the hustle bustle souk, a policeman comes out from nowhere and stops us. Oh dear! Can’t recall I’ve done anything out of the norms apart from the fact that I am the only Asian girl in this exotic Mediterranean town. The policeman obviously asks Youssef a few questions in Arabic and Youssef seems to try and explain hard. I only learn later that he’s been asked about his residence, his job, and definitely why he is here with a foreigner. “It’s got nothing to do with you”, explains Youssef. “After the revolution in 2010-2011, security is tightened and the police does random check for the safety of foreigners.” Fair enough! At least it’s a release that I’m not in trouble. But then again, inchallah! As arabic people put it, “Leave it with God!” and hopefully you’re in good hands.

Today is my lucky day and I get to see La Médina as an insider. Khaled, one of the major architects responsible for preserving the medina, is meeting us for coffee before showing us some of his work. As we wait for Khaled to make his appearance, Youssef and I settle at a corner cafe in the souk for Turkish coffee and “thé de bondok”, a traditional Tunisian mint tea served sweet with pinenuts on top. Religious music plays loud in the background. Shisha smoke fills the air. An artist- looking guy quietly sips his tea, all eyes on the morning paper.

Khaled finally arrives. He must know the medina like the back of his hands. He navigates through the medina maze at ease, stopping at times to say hello to the residents of this recently-planned to become the cultural and artictic district for the city of Tunis. One after another, he shows me a school, a museum, a boutique hotel, a community center, an art gallery, and even his own home. My jaws drop. There’s a reason why all the ancient houses carry narrow entrances and tiny windows. They don’t want to be seen. They don’t want attention, not like the modern bigger, better showing off of today’s era. But once you are inside, you’re in a totally different world where people live and breathe art. The artisanal hand-carving decor, the magnificently painted ceramics, the twisted walkways, the surprising outdoor centered garden…, I am totally lost! I would never want to walk back out if I don’t have to.

Every good thing comes to an end. We bid adieu as Khaked asks me when he would see me again. Inchallah! Leave it with God though I know I would somehow find my way back, just to sit down with history in its most artistic form.

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