In 1989, I took my first ever foreign holiday to Hammamet, in Tunisia, with my boyfriend, at the time. It was exciting, to say the least, to be going on holiday somewhere new and exotic.
The first few days we just explored Hammamet. We relaxed on the beach and took the obligatory camel ride. We even got dressed up, as Bedouins, to enjoy a traditional feast out in the desert. So far, so good.
One day, as we relaxed on the beach, a guy approached us. He asked if I had any European money, because, apparently, he could sell it on the black market for a higher price. Being a little naïve, I opened my purse and began rooting around for some change. Meanwhile, he was coming closer with a jacket over his arm which I hadn’t noticed. After a few minutes, we realised that he was going to try and snatch my purse and we chased him away.
Afterwards, we heard of the very same thing happening to others in the same resort. So we counted ourselves lucky that he didn’t manage to succeed.
A few days later, another guy came up to us selling oranges. When we told him we didn’t want any he ran off with my sunglasses which were lying on the sand. So, you can imagine, we were feeling a little bit hacked off with all this dishonesty. We asked ourselves:
“Why did we come here?”
“Why are people trying to steal from us all the time?”
So, in an attempt to forget about this and make the most out of what remained of our holiday, we took a trip to Tunis. The tour took us to the Medina, in Tunis, Carthage, to see the ancient ruins, and Sidi Bou Said, a beautiful seaside town with blue and white buildings. It would be a great day out. Or would it?
We got up for an early breakfast, excited at the idea of a day out of Hammamet. We met the tour bus and off we went. The journey took around an hour and we arrived in Tunis late morning. The bus dropped us at the Medina and the tour guide told us we had a couple of hours to explore.
The Medina is the old town of Tunis, which is a tourist attraction in itself. We went into the souk and wandered through its many alleyways, going this way and that. We saw stalls selling everything you can imagine. From jewellery and perfumes to books and kitchenware. It was full of colour, with traditional clothes and shoes, beautiful silks and blankets everywhere we looked. The smells of the fresh bread and spices found their way to our nostrils. We were so engrossed in all the hustle and bustle that we almost didn’t realise what happened next.
My boyfriend was carrying a backpack, and he suddenly turned to me, and said:
“I think someone has slashed my bag!”
So we stopped in our tracks and checked the bag. Sure enough, there was a rip in the bottom of it. Luckily, his wallet was in the inner pocket of the backpack, so it was still there. The alleyways were so narrow that there was no choice but to brush up against people on the way passed them. So a thief had taken advantage of that and tried to rob us. Again!
By this point, we had been in the souk for a while and thought it would be best to leave and find the bus again, so we could go to our next destination. So feeling a little dejected at all this thievery, we backtracked and made our way out.
The souk had many, many alleyways, all going in different directions, so it was very easy to get lost. And we did.
We tried to find the way out, and every time we thought we knew the way, we came to a dead end or ended up back where we had started. It was like a maze. And knowing little of the language, our attempts to ask someone were thwarted. Panic was rising. How were we to get out? We had a bus to meet. Would the bus wait? Surely the bus would wait.
The bus didn’t wait.
We eventually found our way out and, thoroughly relieved to be out in an open space again, we searched for the bus. There were lots of buses. One of them must have been ours. No. The bus had left. We were stranded in Tunis.
How could the bus have left us?
What were we to do?
Our earlier feeling of dejection had now turned into one of despair. And our faith in the Tunisian people had all but gone. People had tried to rob us three times, and now we had been left in Tunis by the bus tour. We sat for a moment, tried to calm down, and thought about what we were going to do.
A few minutes later, a Tunisian guy came up to us and asked what was wrong. He could obviously see we were a little agitated.
“Are you guys ok?” he said. His English was perfect.
We looked at him and, trying to keep calm, explained what had happened.
“I can’t believe this,” he said, “I am sorry you have experienced these things when you are visiting my country.”
“Don’t worry. I will take you to find the bus.”
We couldn’t conceive what he had just said to us.
“We can’t expect you to do that” we replied.
“It’s OK. I want to help you. But first I have to go home and get changed. You go to the mosaic museum and I will meet you outside in an hour.”
So, off he went and we made our way to the mosaic museum which was close by. All the time we were thinking There is no way he is going to come back! There is no way he is going to take us to find the bus!
How wrong we were.
We went to the mosaic museum and an hour later we were outside. As promised, the guy met us there and took us for lunch at a local café. We couldn’t believe how kind he was.
After lunch, we got into his car and we drove to Carthage, which was the next stop for the tour bus. The bus wasn’t there. So we had a quick look around. Then it was back in the car to Sidi Bou Said.
The bus was there.
We couldn’t thank this guy enough. We couldn’t believe this complete stranger had come to our rescue and taken time out of his day to help us.
We exchanged names and addresses with a promise of keeping in touch, which we did for a while. And now, 28 years later, even though I can’t remember his name, I will always remember his act of kindness towards us. People like that really do restore your faith in the world.