Somewhere in there I lost myself, I tipped into the darkness that comes around every now and again, pays a visit without invitation, overstays its welcome. The darkness of old would shock me into submission, steamroll me to the point of immobility. And, looking for something to blame, I’d get lost in arguments with myself about the origins of my own depression – circumstance, coincidence, fate, dumb luck, or my own mistakes and missteps. I’d resisted the shadows as best I could, thinking I could hold them back. Once I realized I could not, I opened the doors and welcomed them: Let’s have a go, let’s make our way down the stairs, and sit for a while in the darkness at the bottom.
Time passes, and there you are doing things you didn’t know were possible: harvesting tomatoes; meeting ministers; winning the trust of neighbors; chatting with cargo ship crew from New Jersey at the Berbera port; stripping down to bathing suits on a Somali beach, guarded by baby camels and soldiers with AK-47s. You made it, and the story no longer writes itself; you’ll have to put pen to paper and craft the day anew each morning. Here’s to relentless adventure.
An advantage of visiting a place more than once is that you’re no longer hostage to its sensations, or to its beauty. The second, third, tenth times around you might avoid being bowled over by the aromas and flavors, tingly with the aura of the landscape; you’re likely have your wits about you, and that means you can make reasonable decisions about where to go, how to eat, and what to leave with. I found myself in this delightful situation in Tunis. I’d been just enough times to know exactly what I wanted to eat, where I wanted to visit, and I had designs to package loads of good stuff to take home with me.
Sure, this is about the sweets: the chewy, the crispy, the honey-soaked, the ones you buy from your guy, the one to whom you trust your most saccharine indulgences. But this is also an ode to them: The Sweetsmen.
An excerpt from a recent email between close friends: In all honesty I’m terrified, and my confidence is shaken to the core. Nevertheless, I can’t deny the everyday gifts: the kindnesses, the peach cobbler, the call to prayer and the hypnotic, beautiful dikhr that pours out from the mosques on special occasions; the birds in the morning; the cool floors of my house; the farmer who insisted on giving me two giant, leafy heads of lettuce for free. I try to compose my days of those gifts, building out the time like the homes here that are indefinitely under construction. And of mindfulness, and of quiet and gratitude as well. Not easy, but worth it still. Photos from Tunisia’s striking Sidi Bou Said
Bazin, in all its sartorial glory: billowing swaths of starchy, stiff fabric, to make any regular person seem instantly regal (and, in the hot season, suspiciously insulated). Bazin is an Instant-Royalty sort of trick that nudges the back of your mind with thoughts like “Where’s he going?” “Who could she be?” and “What a handsome couple they make!” I hadn’t been to a bazin atelier previously, though I’d seen the flags of fabric clipped to clotheslines and flapping in the breeze from afar. A friend asked me to take a few family photos at just such a spot; It was a brilliant idea, and played beautifully in photographs. Here are a a few, mostly from the “B-roll.” Bazin is a Malian specialty, and ateliers pop up throughout the city and on its edges, inside markets, in back alleys, and in cramped residential neighborhoods. The women who dye work hard, bent at the waist over buckets of dark liquid, creating something akin to the most impressive tie-dye job you’ve ever seen, yielding a dignified stretch of fabric with haute …