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Monday, February 07, 2011


by Terry S. Johnson

    Douz, Tunisia                              

We arrived by bus and walked along
the walled graveyard to the main market,
amazed that an oasis town would have
such a desolate cemetery. We saw graves
marked not by the white carved stones
of more prosperous outposts but by pieces
of brick, small rocks, dead branches, rags.

We had come for an overnight in the desert,
two hours by camel each way. Mohammed
and Islam, our Berber guides, led our group
to the camp. After a dinner of couscous, they
beat homemade drums and sang ancient
songs of weddings, camel races, births.
They taught us to ululate, and we danced
to the stars, howling, then slept under
a thick woven tent open to the cool night.

Next morning, they made a fire from mere
palm fronds, cooked fresh bread in the ashes,
the dough covered with sand. On the way back,
they pointed to their shacks on the outskirts.
Their children must go to school now. So
they eke out a living by teaching us feckless
foreigners to balance on the precarious rumps
of strange animals and to build miraculous fires.

Two months after our trip, the revolution
began. We imagine the huge posters of Ben Ali
scraped off thousands of walls, wonder how
Mohamed and Islam can support their families
in such chaos, wonder how many new bricks
have been gently placed in the cemetery.

Terry S. Johnson has explored careers as a newspaper advertising clerk, a library assistant and a professional harpsichordist before serving as a public school elementary teacher for over twenty-five years.  She recently earned her M.F.A in Writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and now enjoys a flexible schedule of writing, studying Italian and practicing yoga.  Her work has appeared in The Peregrine, The Berkshire Review and The Women’s Times.