I’m at the office, chatting with Roger and Christy. They’re talking about the strangers who chat you up in an airplane. We are all seasoned travelers working in multiple time zones who go to the airport like we’re going to Target.
When I didn’t join in to roll my eyes about this unforgivable offense, Roger and Christy turned to me. “I’m the one who talks to her seatmates,” I admitted.
A decade later, I was in the airport in St. Louis, just after Trump was elected, feeling miserable in my own country, my own home town. I looked around and everyone looked like a Trump voter: suburban, white. I felt the whole state was against me and against everything good the U.S. had managed to accomplish to date.
Sitting next to me in the departure lounge was a white woman, a fellow traveler, youngish, a mother if I’m remembering correctly. We struck up a conversation. I never asked if she voted for Trump but we ended up exchanging contact information. The lesson is, one can get over one’s assumptions and prejudices but it helps if you’re naturally inclined to talk to people and, in the best of cases, to listen to them.
She wrote this week to say hello, out of nowhere, and one of her questions was, What kind of nature do you get to see in Tunis?
Nature in Tunis: flora
I tried to describe bougainvillea in an email to her and realized description would never do. Yesterday’s walk was therefore a picture-taking walk.
Bougainvillea is an explosion of color, against the backdrop of the white buildings with blue doors and gates. There are multiple colors, sometimes with the bushes interlaced along a long fence. Other times it is trained to form hedges, or even shady parking places. Or it’s just untrimmed and untamed.
There are lots of other flowers too – like these little target-shaped ones where the lightest colors in the center gradually get brighter and darker towards the outside of the petals.
And there are cactus, bamboo, and palm trees, the latter lining the boardwalk at Marsa Plage – the beach.
Other “nature” can surely be interpreted to mean “more cat pictures, please.” Sure – happy to oblige!
Of course I can’t be content until I’ve given out all the cat food in the baggie in my pocket. I don’t think they like the cheap brand I buy, though, as some cats here turned up their little noses at it.
And here we are, taking masks off outside – so bold!
And the sea
The overwhelming facet of nature here is the beach, the water, the wide sea. I’ve heard it said that on a clear day, from the northern-most tip of Tunisia on Cap Bon, you can see Sicily, which is about 25 miles away across the Mediterranean. I’ve not been there to test this theory but I wonder if visibility is especially good these days.
That airport pal
I hope she likes these pictures. I wonder if it sparks wanderlust for her, to see a funny new place like this, one she maybe has never considered visiting before. (I certainly had never contemplated it before Ramon and I came here.)
I also wondered how much we could have in common when her first email said the Bible could be comforting in this time of coronavirus. (Just to point out how outside my normal life this is, I searched “Bible” in my email and hers is literally the only email that contains the word.) I didn’t know how to respond.
So I wrote back to her, about seeking my own peace through meditation, and she replied, and we’ve had a nice conversation. It reminds me what a loss it is to judge someone who’s different from you, and write them off. I happened to read this today:
The tragedy in the lives of most of us is that we go through life walking down a high-walled lane with people of our own kind, the same economic situation, the same national background and education and religious outlook. And beyond those walls, all humanity lies, unknown and unseen, and untouched by our restricted and impoverished lives. -Florence Luscomb, architect and suffragist (1887-1985)
The personal is political
But it isn’t easy these days. I might easily have written off her first email because I saw the Bible reference and thought, “Nah, not for me – she must be one of those religious crazies.” We’ve got a parallel pandemic of intolerance and of making the other into the devil. It’s not difficult to harden ourselves against others: our president and his family, his advisors, Republican senators – supported as they are by evangelical Christian leadership – they’ve all behaved abominably. Conspiracy theories are spreading (I’m convinced the troll farms are involved) that make government into the bad actor, just when we most need coordinated action against a common threat. This is a political ploy, run by politicians and lobbyists, who simply want the reins of government in GOP hands – however much Trump’s reign of horror twists and distorts what the GOP used to stand for.
When we finally have something we can and should share across these infernal lines, we are instead being riven even further. It is the last thing we need.