A guardian angel, a town that’s not on the Internet, and Workaway [blog 3]

Daily Blog 3

I always wondered what my guardian angel would look like. Turns out he wears a yellow Lacrosse polo, Raybans, and has an aggressively gelled salad haircut. His name is Wahlel…

This is a weird little story, and I keep deleting shit, so I’m just gonna spit it out and keep it short, starting with last night:

Last night I’m in Hammamet, a beach town, and I’m looking up hotels for my upcoming destinations in Tunisia when I realize I cannot afford these hotels. $40 and $50/night. I’m just too poor for that. Plus I’m just gonna go sit on my ass and be lonely.

Then I remember my old friend, Workaway. Workaway.info is a work exchange website. I go on and see 7 hosts looking for volunteers in Tunisia. Only 1 of those hosts is looking for a volunteer immediately. I message them. This morning I wake up and they’ve messaged me back. They’re down. It’s a middle-age couple with a garden and some animals. The wife is Italian, husband Tunisian. English is iffy but they tell me to come to a town called Sidi Madien and call them from there. “Take the bus from Tunis and it is just before Medjez el Bab.” Sweet. A free place to stay and something to do for the next week other than strum my ukulele and go hiking alone.

So as I get on the train to Tunis, I’m wondering why they didn’t give me the address when I asked. In retrospect, I’m glad they didn’t, because if I had used Google Maps I might’ve ended up in a totally different place. Turns out, Sidi Madien is NOT ON THE INTERNET. Like, if you Google “Sidi Madien” you get a bunch of results, and they are all for the wrong Sidi Madien – there’s a mosque called Sidi Madien in the more well-known national park called, but it’s a solid 30 miles away.

Anyway, thankfully I’m not a slave to Google Maps — though certainly a fan — and I follow Cristina’s advice by taking the train to Tunis. I get off the train in Tunis and go to the bus station nearby. I get to the counter and say “Medjez el Bab” to the ticket guy. Right next to me, a man says “Medjez el Bab?” and before I know it he is buying a ticket for me and telling me to follow him. At least, I think he was telling me to follow him. I don’t speak French. Maybe he said something in English. I forget. It happened so fast. I just knew I trusted this man. This turned out to be Wahlel, my guardian angel, who is an actual angel man from the planet Angel Face.

Generally, if somebody does something for free for you, they’re trying to fuck you or fuck you over. Let’s be real here.

Wahlel was well dressed in his yellow polo. He was carrying an impressive-looking leather binder. I imagined there were business documents of some import within said binder. He was NOT a) grinning at me nor was he b) trying to guess where I was from, which are basically the go-to moves for scammers around the world.

So I followed this man onto the metro. I followed him off the metro to the bus station. We got in a collectivo taxi together with 3 other guys. We got off near Medjez el Bab. We got in another taxi to downtown Medjez el Bab. He asked for Cristina’s phone number. He called her, spoke some French, hung up. He hailed another taxi, got in the front, motioned for me to follow. “Sidi Madien,” he said. We drove through downtown. He turned to me. “This is Medjez el Bab,” he said.

At this point, I had not paid anything for the metro and 2 taxis. I was ready for the other shoe to drop. Actually I suspected he was just a nice guy, but I was still prepared for a scam.

We got out of the taxi in Sidi Madien. Wahlel pointed at the taxi driver. “Money.” I paid the taxi 7 Dinar ($3). So far, so good. Wahlel called Cristina and handed the phone to me. Wahlel then waited with me for Cristina to arrive. Before I left, I took out my wallet. “Money?”

“Just for return to Medjez el Bab,” he said.

I took out 10 Dinar ($4), he accepted, and he said if I ever needed anything to call him.

As I settled in at Cristina and her husband’s house/farm, I was wondering why this angelfaced man, Wahlel, was such a guardian angel… he went way out of way to help me, carried my backpack and ukulele, translated for me.

Later, my Workaway hosts were telling me at dinner how tourism has suffered so much in Tunisia in the last few years, mainly due to 2 terrorist attacks targeting foreigners – one at the famous Bardo museum and one on a beach resort near Sousse. And I think it’s clear that there are people in Tunisia trying to apologize for these attacks, trying to make foreigners feel welcome again. It’s the same reason why everyone I’ve talked to in Tunisia says the same thing when I tell them I’m American: “Welcome.” That is the go-to word for Tunisians to a foreigner like myself. “Welcome!”

Anyway, there’s probably something profound to be learned from all this, but I’m just psyched to have a free place to stay. Do the 7 dogs barking loudly outside bother me? Kind of. Have they been barking nonstop since the sun went down 3 hours ago? Absolutely. Am I still happy I came? Yes. Did I bring my earplugs? Never leave home without em.

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