Mama Africa Welcoming me Home: Sfax, Tunisia

Hello

Hola

Aslema

I am writing to you from the motherland, Mama Africa. It has been a week since I’ve returned home, that is, the land where I was born. I left Tunisia as a baby and it took 27 years for me to be able to return. Yet when I arrived, this land didn’t feel strange to me. It’s like my body and my soul knew where I was. I was home.

To give some context, Tunisia is a small country in North Africa. While we may be small, there are approximately 11 million people here. The official languages are Arabic and French, often speaking a mix of both (think, Spanglish). Our indigenous descendants are the Amazigh, which ties our roots to neighboring countries such as Libya, Algeria, & Morocco.

While many people may not have heard of Tunisia, we unfortunately are known for the start of the Arab Spring in 2011. A set of protests which turned into a revolution. That of which the country is still healing from.

Despite the turbulent history, Tunisia is a relatively safe country to visit. The people are so welcoming, as is the Arab/North African culture. Often overlooked, Tunisia boasts ancient and modern beauties, we still have remnants of Roman culture such as El Djema, a coliseum comparable to that of Rome. We have beautiful coastal beach towns like Hammamet and Sousse, as well as desert landscapes and a handful of oasis’.

Hammamet, Tunisia

Returning home I saw my father, & met my siblings for the first time. For the first time, I actually looked like my family. Growing up in New York, I was always met with the “what are you” question, and never did look like the Cuban half of my family. But landing here I was one of them. I was never questioned, doubted, or denied my heritage simply because I don’t speak the language. A very different reaction than Arab kids in the States, or even Cubans on the island. I was never enough for either group back home.

This whole experience has been a healing process for me, one I waited a lifetime for. I’m not underestimating when I say my body knew I was home. I’ve adapted faster than any other trip abroad. The only thing that has been somewhat of a barrier is the language, but that hasn’t stopped me. Family bonds are stronger than any barrier, & my family has brought me in with open arms. Music, food, and dancing have bonded us and allowed us to share together.

I’ve also been able to share in celebrations while here. One being Eid idhha, the sacrifice holiday. Similar to the story in the Bible when Abraham was asked by God to sacrifice his only son, and his faithfulness rewarded. Each family sacrifices a sheep in honor of their faith, and then we eat!

Sacrifice of the sheep for Eid

I’ve learned so much about my hometown, Sfax. I’ve enjoyed our traditional dance, Sidi Monsour. I’ve over indulged in our food (and sweets, mm mlabbes)! This town is a working town, not very touristic, if at all. Sfaxiens are known for their dedication to their work. Despite the few “hot spots” for tourists, this town has it’s beauty and history, such as the walled Medina which was built between 849-851! It is one of the best preserved ancient cities in all of North Africa!

Entrance to the Medina, Sfax

This city, and country has such a rich and beautiful history that I am only scratching the surface of. This first week has been healing and energizing. Connecting with my culture and my family, learning so much about both! This has just been an introduction for me and for you of Tunisia, my hometown Sfax, and the journey home. I am so grateful for this opportunity to come home.

I invite you to check out my Instagram where I am sharing real time via my story, or my Tunisia highlights. I invite you to join me on this journey and learn along side me, as this adventure has only just begun! Goodbye for now, bislema!


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