David's Diary: Wednesday, January 22, 2003
Transportation in Monastir
Cars and Pedestrians Together
Our principle means of getting around is by foot. There are few sidewalks in Monastir, so we spend most of our time walking on the roads. The children have become quite unconcerned about how close they are to the cars and motorbikes.
Narrow Medina Archway
Throughout the Medina roads are narrow. In the picture above notice how the woman and her child hug the archway in the Medina wall as the large truck drives through. This archway leads to the market, so it is a regular route that we follow. Cars charge through the arch with barely a look so we have learned that we have to keep a sharp lookout before we enter the arch in case a car is just about to drive through.
Typical Tunisian Motorbike
There are far fewer cars per capita in Tunisia than in France, Canada, or the US. There are many more motor bikes. These bikes are not the powerful Japanese bikes that you see in Western Europe. Instead, they are contraptions cobbled together that look like a bicycle that someone has stuck an engine on. You often see riders pedaling to get their motors started.
Attitudes to safety are much different than in Canada. Notice in the picture above that not only is the little boy holding on to the handlebars, neither he nor his father are wearing helmets. In Monastir we never saw a motorcycle or bike rider wearing a helmet.
Taxies are Everywhere
When we have a lot of groceries or if it is really raining we end up taking taxies. Only about half the taxies have working meters. We have been around Monastir long enough to know what a taxi ride should cost. We are often asked for two or three times the going price. We have learned to just ignore what the taxi driver asks for and just give him what we know the ride was worth. This always results in some complaints, but the drivers know they are trying to overcharge us because we are Western and rarely put up much of a fight.
Pedestrians and Cars
The picture above shows one of the narrowest parts of the Medina. It is also one of the busiest streets for both cars and pedestrians. In more than one case, I've had my arm struck by the side mirror of a car trying to squeeze past me. Surprisingly, you do get used to it and after a few months in Monastir we share the street with a car without giving it a second thought.
Around the Ribat and the tourist part of town are a few horse-drawn carriages. The drivers ply their trade with the tourists. They give a short ride around the Medina and seem to be popular. They have learned that we are living in Monastir and not really tourists, so they don't bother us for rides as we walk by on our way to the market.
The wide variety of transportation still amazes us, but is a reflection of the economy in Tunisia. With much less disposable income, Tunisians have to make do with what they can. Whether it is by foot, bicycle, donkey, horse, motorcycle, taxi, or car, people do manage to make their way around town.