Pocket Guide to North Africa

DavidChrisinger.com
By David Chrisinger
06 Jul 20

YOU are to do duty in North Africa as a soldier of the United States, and this guide book has been prepared to assist you in serving in a strange country as well as to give you a more complete understanding of why you are fighting there and to make your service a more worthwhile personal experience.

The “African booklet,” as Ernie called it, was a “neat little blue-backed affair. It had been written before we came here, and consequently was prefaced by the admission that ‘our welcome by the inhabitants is not known at this time.’”

“I might add that after several months of studying the situation,” Ernie continued, “I still don’t know what our welcome was.”

In addition to details of history, analysis of the North African peoples, and descriptions of geology, the pocket guide also listed numerous “Do’s and Don’ts” for soldiers to follow:

  • DON’T enter mosques.
  • Smoke or spit somewhere else—never in front of a mosque.
  • If you come near a mosque, look away and keep moving.
  • Avoid shrines or tombs in the country.
  • Discuss something else—never religion or women—with Moslems.
  • Keep silent when Moslems are praying, and don’t stare at them.
  • Don’t refer to the people as heathen; they are very religious.

I’m happy to say that when I was in Tunisia last December, I had no problem keeping my saliva in my mouth, nor was I tempted to label anyone a heathen. I did, however, enter a mosque—the Mosque Sidi Sahbi—with my guide, Yomna. Also known as the Mosque of the Barber, it was built over a mausoleum of Prophet Muhammad’s companion and barber Abou Zamaa. In addition to trimming the Prophet’s hair, Abou Samaa also performed ritual circumcisions.

After Yomna and I visited the Abou-Zamaa mausoleum, where Abou-Zomaa was draped in lime green cloth and protected by forest green metal lath, we saw a young boy dressed in religious garb walking slowly with the help of his mother. His legs were spread wide as he shuffled along to the sounds of clapping and cheering

Originally built in the 13th century, the Mosque Sidi Sahbi is a vast complex comprised of several large courts and Moorish-style minarets that rise high into the air. By far my favorite part was the interior of the mosque was its ornate cathedral. I could have stared for hours at the intricately designed mosaics above richly decorated stucco panels. My pictures of it don’t even begin to do it justice.

“He has just been circumcised,” Yomna whispered to me.

There were other rules that the pocket guide laid out, some of which I wish I had read before I left for Tunis, including:

  • Start eating only after your host has begun (wish I would have known about that one!).
  • Always tear your bread with your fingers—never cut it (broke that one, too!).
  • Don’t drink liquor in the presence of Moslems (I never even saw any liquor, thankfully).
  • When visiting, don’t overstay your welcome. The third glass of tea or coffee is the signal to go (again, would have been nice to know!).

The last couple pages of the pocket guide list several Arabic phrases that may come in handy while traveling in North Africa.

“Some Arabic sounds,” Ernie wrote, “were almost impossible for Americans to learn. For example, it said that ‘kh’ resembled the sound made when clearing the throat, and that ‘gh’ was a deep gurgling noise.

“If we were to sneeze, cough, whistle, choke, and hiccup all at once,” Ernie joked, “that would mean ‘I love you baby, meet me in front of Walgreen’s right after supper, and leave your veil at home.’”

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