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Directory Of Year 1991, Issue 10
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Souvenirs From Tunisia

Year:1991 Issue:10


Author: GUO LI

Release Date:1991-10-20

Page: 18

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While perusing through an anthology of poems by Xie Pinru, an experienced reporter and prolific poet whom I met during my stay in Tunisia in 1986-1987, my attention was caught by the following verses:

“Oh Tunisia, how I love you,

The most brilliant pearl of the Mediterranean.

At your side,

I have spent five springs and five autumns and

Remembrances past, like an inexhaustible fountain

Quench my soul.

Despite the distance that separates us,

Despite the times gone by,

Affinity between us remains intact.”

I am charmed by the poet’s love for Tunisia, which I share with him despite our different professions. I also love Tunisia. Not only for its beautiful landscapes, but also for its smiling, honest, courteous and kind people. All this left me with a deep impression.

A flood of souvenirs often come back to my mind....

It was in 1986. I was spending a very agreeable day with a Chinese staking team checking the markers on the road to Beja-Ain Draham in northwest Tunisia, at the edge of a dense forest of cork-oaks. That day, temperatures had soared to 47 degrees Centigrade by noon, as an exceptional heat wave befell the country. The sun was scorching; even in the shade, the wind kept us sweating. The few beverages we had brought with us were warm and didn’t quench our thirst. We felt like we were the only leaving souls on this vast expanse where the only perceptible noise was the gentle rustling of the oaks’ leaves. Suddenly, we heard footsteps, and soon saw an old man and a boy walk towards us with two huge watermelons and a basket of bread. After observing us for quite some time, the old man had come to offer us something to eat and drink, out of sheer kindness.

I understood his generosity only after his introductory words: “I wish to express my best wishes to you all in the name of the local inhabitants. We are happy to see you Chinese help us build a new road in our region. We have heard about you. You fear neither difficulties nor sacrifices, but your work is always well done. If you were not motivated by true friendship, you would surely be spending your time by the seaside.”

Another time, in the dead of winter, we were riding along the “seven sheiks track,” when, half-way up a slope in a dense forest of cork-oaks, snow blocked our way. We started walking in snow 20 cm deep, searching for a place to spend the night. After trudging three hours guided only by the moonlight and the barking of dogs, we reached a small village. It was past midnight.

We were at once warmly welcomed by a family who took us in for the night. Upon learning that we had not eaten, they hurried to prepare a meal. They killed and cooked a chicken especially for us.

The snow stopped in the early hours of dawn. The whole forest had become velvety white and the sky a clean blue. On the way to recover our abandoned car, we saw a bulldozer from our company sent out to fetch us. During the night, a young villager had gone all the way to our work site to tell our colleagues that we were safe and sound. He had walked on the snowed-in track, across the forest, regardless of the danger.

The Chinese chief engineer and governor of Beja at the road construction site. GUO LI

The Chinese chief engineer and governor of Beja at the road construction site. GUO LI

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