by Nancy Brashears
I have been a SERVAS host for more than forty years and have hosted more than 200 visitors. I am also an avid traveler but have not used SERVAS for the majority of my travels. Instead, I travel with a company that does all the planning and hard work. Their philosophy is “Learning and Discovery” and they provide multiple opportunities to visit local homes and families for conversation and food. We also have candid discussions with locals regarding controversial topics that are relevant to the area we are visiting.
My most recent trip was to Algeria and Tunisia. In Algeria, we learned about Algeria’s history, their prolonged struggle for independence from France and their current situation of high unemployment. In Algiers, we had opportunities to talk with locals as we walked through the Casbah, had lunch in a local home, and listened to a Muslim woman speak about women’s rights and women’s issues in Algeria. Before arriving in Constantine, we drove to Djemila where we visited the museum and the amazing Roman ruins. When we arrived in Constantine, we traversed the famous bridges and scenic bluffs and toured Tiddis, the archeological site of an ancient Roman town built in the 3rd century. We also visited the Mosque Emir Abdelkader, one of the world’s largest mosques. It’s prayer hall holds 10,000 people!
Author standing in front of Roman ruins in Djemila, Algeria
The next two weeks were spent in Tunisia. While in Tunis, we had a discussion with some local women who are actively working to change the contentious issue of inheritance laws where women inherit only half of what men inherit. We also visited ancient Dougga, the best-preserved Roman city in North Africa. A highlight was the day we spent visiting a farm family, touring their fields of olive and pomegranate trees, helping to make lunch and enjoying an afternoon meal full of conversation and laughter with the farmer, his wife and two young adult sons. Other highlights included enjoying a Berber meal prepared by two Berber sisters, a stay in a tent camp in the Sahara, and a camel ride. Near the village of Matmata, where Star Wars was filmed, we stopped at a small snack shop and listened to a young Berber woman who told us about the Berber language. It is not a written language and is not taught in the schools, only at home.
In Tozeur, we viewed the lush oasis of date palms and fruit trees. In Kairouan we visited the Grand Mosque and spent time meeting with an imam for a very intimate and interesting conversation. We also enjoyed another home hosted meal with an extended family. The camaraderie and laughter were abundant! The ruins of El Djem with its massive amphitheater and spectacular views was fabulous! Our final destination was the small village of Sisi Bou Said where we enjoyed views of the Mediterranean Sea and the ancient city of Carthage.
If you are interested in more information, feel free to contact me.