I was invited to Tunisia to participate in the 4th Oasis Road International Forum on Photography.
On the third day of the forum I awoke at dawn and looked out to see this beautiful pre-dawn sunrise. I took a quick picture from the window of my room and tried to go back to sleep. However, after a few minutes I was still wide awake and the dramatic cloud sunrise was still there, so I decided to get up and try and do some pictures from the sand dunes just outside the hotel.
Once outside I was confronted by a seven-foot high wall with no doors that prevented anyone from accessing the sand dunes a few yards away. Though disappointed, I saw this beautiful reflection in the hotel's swimming pool and was rewarded with an impactful image.
The trip to Tunisia and participation in the photo forum in the oasis community of Kebili proved to be like this morning's sunrise...surprising and rewarding.
Here are a few photos and thoughts on my visit to Tunisia's oasis community |
After a flight from Cairo, a few hours waiting in a Tunis restaurant for other participants to arrive and a seven hour minibus ride, we arrived in Kebili at midnight and were housed in a youth hostel for the night. I did not know what was planned for the four day photo forum, so I decided just to enjoy myself and go with the flow.
The next day was jammed packed with all sorts of visuals and impressions |
I've never seen a palm tree that is hollowed out in the middle. It was thriving and producing dates. The date harvest in Tunisia comes late in the season in November as opposed to most everywhere else when it takes place in October.
Great feeling in Old Kebili and the date palm orchard grove. So peaceful and quiet. Just the sounds of dates dropping and the breeze rustling the palm fonds.
The day ended at sunset after a spectacular traditional cultural display of horse acrobats, dancing and music.
Day Two | The Hot Springs
We started the day visiting a strange hot spring complex where hot water cascaded down an algae covered metal structure and over a series of steps that surrounded the hot spring and then into channels that led into the date palm groves.
As it turned out today was the day to visit these strange hot springs structures. After the second hot spring, I was like "not another one of these places." But in reality they are fascinating structures and though nobody seemed to know much about them, I was able to piece together their story and their relationship with the region and the date groves.
The oasis community that stretches 60 kilometers from Douz to Fatnassa is located along the lake shore line of the Chott el Djerid. Interspersed along the shore are these hot spring structures that obviously point to geo-thermal activity under the surface of the usually dry lake. The Kebili oasis region is very dry and extremely hot in the summer and gets only a little over three inches of rain annually - yet has one of the largest concentration of date palm groves in the Middle East.
What school teacher, Tawfik Ichbeh, and owner of 50 date trees told me is that the hot springs waters which are cooled somewhat by the cascading water is then channeled into the date palm groves to irrigate them. However, he pointed out that he believes many of his trees which are located close to the main irrigation canal benefit from the water, but are also negatively impacted by the warm temperatures that he claims damage the nutrients and creatures that contribute to the fertility of the earth.
Day Three | Tagine cook-off | Sand dunes
We spent about five hours in the date grove for the tagine cook-off, so I had plenty of time to wander around the date orchards.
Here are the date photos |
After the tagine cook-off, we headed to the edge of the Sahara Desert just as the sun was setting. Sunset in the desert is one of the most beautiful experiences especially if you are lucky to have clouds coating the sky. It is peaceful, expansive and tranquil. Very contemplative and after the sun sets and as it starts to darken it becomes a bit melancholy - but in a good way - for me.
Day Four | Awards ceremony and one last desert visit |
We first visited the Uqba Ibn Nafeh Mosque which is named after the Islamic conqueror of Africa and was apparently one of the holiest places. Only a few original remnants of the mosque remain and have been incorporated in the new structure.
Early afternoon, we all gathered at the Souk Lahad Community Center for the presentation of certificates and awards and judging of the photo contest. After the local and regional officials showed up, speeches were delivered and photos taken.
After four days together and even riding at one point with the students photographers in their bus - I was left behind :( - at one of the hot springs, I had gotten to know some of the aspiring photographers. There were four photographers, in particular, that showed lots of promise and all were finalists in the photo competition. It is encouraging that so many young people traveled some distance - most came from Tunis, over 500 kilometer away - to participate in the forum. I have been invited back to Tunisia to participate in another photo forum in El Kef in May 2022 and I look forward to seeing some of Oasis Road participants and hopefully some new faces as well.
I am very grateful to have been invited to the photo forum. It renewed my hope that editorial photography is still relevant and that there is a young generation that is embracing it with enthusiasm and talent.
Sahara Desert after sunset |
I just love camels. They are so strange looking and almost alway ornery. The panorama one kept grumpling at me and I was worried as I turned my back to pivot for the panorama that it might try and bit or kick me. It was tied up but I was close to the circle it had tramped down. After a number of tries, I finally managed one OK image.
Douz | the town |
Our last day before an all night minibus ride back to Tunis, was spent shopping and wandering around the town of Douz. I met shop merchants and bought a few gifts including a very cool and colorful wool open sweater-type jacket for myself.
Tunisia had been a trip. It has special meaning to me as I was born in Carthage and feel a certain affinity to the country. I have only made three trips here, but each time has been very special and rewarding. It's almost like a third home to me - California being first and Egypt second. No need to "go with the flow" as it is just a part of life in Tunisia.
Parting shots |