Sousse, Tunisia, 12 September, 2008

Sousse is one of the larger towns in Tunisia and by far one of the most popular, both with Tunisians and Europeans, the latter of whom, riding the strength of the Pound, the Euro and recent Russian oil wealth, swarm the beaches throughout the summers. Tourism is Tunisia’s main source of income – unlike most North African countries, they’ve got no oil to offer – and thus Sousse is a hot-spot for employment for Tunisians. The wages are slim-pickings by Western standards, but jobs are difficult to come by here and are gobbled up eagerly.
One of Sousse’s main attractions is its Medina, the walled, original city that exists within the confines of the present city. Walking its scrambled maze of streets one gets lost, found, lost again and once more, tumbled about while hawkers push their wares: marbled stonework, serving platters, shoes, and plastic junk that could be found on Anywhere, Earth (one of the more woeful aspects of globalization is the degeneration of local products, leaving in its place plastic toy guns, plastic toys for children, and knock-off clothes aplenty). The space is tight: you’re brushing shoulders with your neighbors constantly, and after a street or two I was dripping with sweat (it was well over 100F during the day, and ridiculously humid to boot). There’s nothing tactful about the sales approaches – PUSH PUSH PUSH is the motto, and if you enter the streets you best be prepared to be grabbed, have your clothes tugged upon, your hands snagged, your ears yelled at, etc. Prices are as flexible as mercury, and there’s no doubting that the color of the purchaser’s skin changes prices by exponentials.
I can’t say that I enjoyed the experience – in fact, I haven’t enjoyed one souk or medina that I’ve been in yet. They’re interesting, but that’s about it for me: too tight, too jumbled, too smelly, too much junk. Additionally, Im not terribly excited at the prospect of bargaining and haggling over prices. If I take a cold-hearted approach, there’s something amusing in niggling to the last dinar – the process becomes a game, winning measured by the less you spend. But the reality is that this is someone’s income, someone’s material life-source, and that’s always in the back of my mind, and that’s simply not fun for me. I’d rather the price were simply fixed and I felt confident the person selling was earning a living wage. But then again, there’s a lot I suppose I’d prefer that simply won’t ever occur.

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