An American’s Perspective on Tunisia and Turkey

By Randall Delaware

In the summer of 1982, after dropping out of college the previous fall, I decided to backpack Europe. My plans were to visit my Ohio Wesleyan University roommate in his home country of Tunisia and then to visit an older coworker from a summer job at a boys’ camp in New Hampshire, who had finished his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Yale and Columbia and become an American diplomat in Bulgaria.

After landing in Luxembourg and spending a few days at youth hostels, I took the
train south using my European Rail Pass, which I purchased for about $460 and
which provided me with unlimited first class passage for 2 months. Hopping on the train in Basel, Switzerland, I ended up in Palermo, Italy, on the island of Sicily, where I spent two nights with a very kind Italian family. I was introduced to their son by another American at the rail station. From there I boarded the ferry to Tunisia, having as my roommates three Tunisian policemen.
In Europe, one pays for a bed, not a room.

After arriving in Tunisia, I made contact with my college roommate, Jamel. His family lived on the main street of the nation’s capital. His family was very friendly. His sister was a flight attendant for Air France. Tunisia, formerly a French colony, still had
many bilingual Tunisians, able to converse in both Arabic and French. Jamel and his sister were trilingual, adding English to the mix. Tunisia was one of the most liberal of Muslim countries; therefore his sister wore blue jeans and blouses and no head scarf. Jamel’s mother, on the other hand, liked to
wear her head scarf. Working for the airlines and visiting the world, Jamel’s sister was very cosmopolitan.

After a few days with Jamel and his family,we attended a Muslim wedding, where the groom and the bride sat upon a dais and faced the guests while we listened to traditional music and drank tea. We also visited Carthage, where Hannibal, the great general who fought the Romans, was from. Then it was off to the holy city of Kairouan with another American whom I met on the ferry.


Sultanahmet Mosque in Istanbul, a view from 1982. Photo by Randall Delaware.

We visited a mosque and spent one night at a resort hotel, where we saw lots of German tourists. We split up and I took the train back to Tunis, where I became ill with headache and fever. Having no air conditioning and it being summer in Northern Africa, Jamel arranged for me to sleep and stay at his uncle’s apartment, which had air conditioning. Every day, Jamel brought me food and drink. I especially enjoyed an apple-flavored soft drink. Many bottles were consumed to quench my feverish thirst. After a few days, I purchased a flight to Marseilles, France — the cheapest destination available.

While on this three-month backpacking trek I visited Bulgaria, but because of war games with the Soviet Union, my friend Stuart and I changed our plans of visiting the Black Sea and decided to drive to Turkey. While in Turkey, we saw the Blue Mosque, visited the Royal Palace and saw the Crown Jewels and walked about at Ephesus and Pergamon. On our drive, we saw trains passing by with green-painted, American-made military tanks on flatcars. With diplomatic plates on Stuart’s Peugeot, we encountered many smiling faces and waving soldiers as we drove by. Turkey was N.A.T.O.’s defense against the Soviet Union.

The Turkish restaurants had servers in their pre-teens and early teens waiting on us. They were the most attentive waiters I’ve ever experienced in my life. The concern that everything met our expectations was written on their young faces. Finally, Stuart and I parted
company, with me taking the Ferry to Samos, Greece, before flying to Athens, and he driving north and northwest back to Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria.

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