By Susan Gene McCartney
November 14, 2008. Into Africa I fly on a one-way ticket. Journey through fourteen countries in
twenty-two months on local transportation. Learn. Rest. Change. A woman without advantage of
youth or money. The journey has many pieces. This is one.
November 21, 2008. Tozeur. Oasis in southwestern Tunisia on the northern edge of the Sahara.
A ringing morning. Egg blue sky. Gentle winter-desert breeze. Sweet day beckons. I check my wall mirror
Black trouser legs reach my ankle. Black tunic mutes hips. Fingers barely peep from long sleeves. Black scarf winds around head and neck. I turn my reflection. Slowly. Every inch of offensive skin concealed. Law of Islam obliged.
I walk out into this Berber outpost. Ramble down broad sand-packed Avenue Habib Bourguiba. Fine blinkered horses pull yellow and green carriages with wide tractor wheels. Turbaned drivers call, “Come ride!” My budget smiles sadly. Shakes its head.
At the age-old market I move in and out sun-glowed walls of lean-tos, tents, open-sided shacks. Scarves swirl. Dresses flash and sway. Silver jewelry and pointed slippers sparkle.
Merchants swathed in winter gray speak lyrical Berber language soft as a secret. Pots of smoking Frankincense ward off evil. A Desert Fox—tiny, big-eared albino—stands by his merchant master. Gapes huge pink eyes. Chess players bend to olive wood boards. Lizards skitter underneath.
Berber women wear traditional long-sleeved ankle-length scarlet togas pinned with gold amulets to blind the evil eye. Patchwork cloth winds around the scarlet. Gold hoop earrings dangle from colorful head wraps.
Fewer women wear black. Abayas cloak their bodies. Hijabs cover their heads. They examine and buy swirling swaying sparkling merchandise only worn in the privacy of their homes.
Market hierarchy is ruled by carved beige brick stores. Just beyond the entrance of a store tacked high on a wall I see The Perfect Dress. Royal blue, square neck, finely stitched outside seams. The hemline gorgeous inches of embroidered fringe.
I call through crams of merchandise. “Could someone help me, please?
Wait by the counter. “Hello?”
The Perfect Dress whispers. Gyrates blue fringe. A tall wooden ladder leans behind the counter. The dress is mine. I leave a pile of dinars.
In the privacy of my room, I sashay in blue fringe.
Gently pack the dress away for wear beyond the law of Islam.