Thursday, April 20, 2006

Mahd's Guide to the World, Part 9: North Africa

Sorry for the lack of updates: we're busy preparing for a housewarming party, which of course means that we're taking care of the 2,183 things we've been putting off since we moved in. In the course of our preparations, I am now a certified woodworker and electrician, and I would be a painter too, if I had any ability in that arena.

North Africa is a series of nations that border the Mediterranean Ocean. They are few in number, which makes them perfect for me to use them as a cop-out for a larger section of the world. The entire area is most famous for being the battleground in which German forces battled the Allies for control of Middle Eastern oil. Fortunately, since then, nobody has ever fought wars over the control of that resource.


When you talk about places like Egypt, it's kind of strange to imagine people living there today. It was one of the first great civilizations of the world, but it's hard not to imagine people riding around in chariots and wearing funky eye makeup when you think of the place. Regardless, the country is home to many grand and spectacular and crumbling structures. The latter is not criticism- I can't buy a wristwatch that lasts more than 5 years anymore. The pyramids have been around for a few thousand. That's quality craftsmanship you don't find anymore.

Egypt could be considered part of the Middle East, as it does occassionally threaten Israel which is apparently requisite for being in that club. But for the most part, they disassociate themselves from that group of ragamuffins and try to put on a more civilized face.

Egypt is usually paired with the Nile river, which is it's lifeblood. One interesting thing I discovered: Don't go in the Nile river. Well, go in if you want malaria or yellow fever or some scary worm-based disease called bilharzia.

In general, Egypt is a great place to go- you are relatively well protected from being killed by murderous sociopaths, so long as you stay inside the air-conditioned tour bus and never, ever make eye contact with anyone.


Oh, Libya. You used to be a real bad guy. In the 1980's, apart from the Soviets you were one of the great menaces of our time. We even bombed you, to show how much we actually thought of you.

Today, you are barely on our radar screen. Like Northern Ireland or New York, people can say they went to your country and the yokels back home will be amazed that you made it back home alive. But Libya has become a reformed schoolboy- Gaddafi may still be a ruthless dictator, but he's trying to make amends. Look at his face: how can you stay mad at that face?

Most of the cities in Libya are along the coast, which makes sense since the rest of the country is a barren, trackless part of the Sahara where people are swallowed alive by the swirling sands. The one city in the area is called "Al Jawf", which roughly translates to "Damn there's a lot of sand here". Despite this, no sand castle building competitions have been held there.


Tunisia is a small country by the standards of the other North African nations. Much has happened here, though. It is thought to be the homeland of Carthage, a great trading nation before the Romans came and sewed the ground with salt. That may seem harsh, but it's what the Romans do- they stop by, have a drink, defile the land so nothing may ever grow there again, say their good-day and move on.

Parts of the movie Star Wars were filmed here. Travellers expecting to find unique collectables to sell on eBay will undoubtedly be let down, but you can probably fake something- those dorks will buy anything.

Like most of the countries lying on the Mediterranean, the seaside-dwelling people live in a beautiful climate full of well-manicured tourists and lounging. More inland, you can find all the people who do the real work, as well as all the ruins and culture. But screw that, the seaside has waiters who will bring you icy drinks, so stay away from the interior.


Let us be clear- the civil war is over. The country is secure. As long as you stay out of the southwest and northeast of the country, you'll be fine. Oh, and avoid the northwest. And southeast. And you really shouldn't stay too long in the center of the nation; that would be a mistake.

It's not as if this danger is new to the area. The region was once known as the Barbary Coast, and was full of pirates who liked to enslave people, but generally Christians. Once the French came in, it didn't so much quiet things down as give them a target to focus on. Finally, the nation was granted independence and could have peace. Or not. Let's just wrap up this whole discussion by dispensing with the normal coups, revolutions and civil wars and get to the present, where an uneasy peace exists between factions.

Truly, this is a traveller's paradise.


Morocco is one of the friendliest of the North African countries- by friendly I mean that they are happy to take your money. These people learned long ago that they are strange and unfamiliar to most European and American travellers, and so can extort them gleefully.

The nation boasts amazing advances, such as "tolerance for women" and "protecting children". That's pretty impressive for a monarchy, when most of them are more concerned with how to gild the rest of their immense palaces.

The best way to get to Morocco is to travel to Gibraltar, then take a big running jump off into the ocean. Your pants might get wet, but in a few minutes, you'll be in Tangiers. Alternatively, you can hang glide across.

The only way to leave the country is by rushing out to a waiting plane, where you shoot someone dead before taking off to the sounds of La Marseillaise...


At 6:08 PM, Blogger ChickyBabe said...

Your description of Morocco took me on a trip down memory lane with Gibraltar, Tangiers, the Med...

I always wanted to visit Tunisia and lounge around with le beau monde sipping a cool drink.

At 12:08 AM, Blogger Scorpy said...

Classic mate! LOL. I've been waiting for the next installment...I just saw a Doco by Michael Palin, of Monty Python fame, on the Sahara and he toured thru most of these countries and you are pretty close to the mark...LOL

At 2:20 AM, Blogger chica bonita said...

i used to know someone from tunisia and he said the phase of life over there is slowwwwww. like literally slowwwwwwwwwwwwww. interesting. i'd love to live there someday. since i'm contantly procrastinating. unless we're talking about retail therapy of course.

p.s: how was the housewarming party? did you help mrs mahd to clean up after that?


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