A green report on my very ungreen trip to Tunisia

March 13, 2009

Sorry for the extended absence, folks — I’ve been away on vacation, and there’s not much in the way of high-speed wireless in rural Tunisia.

Yep, that’s where I was. Nefta, Tunisia. Far, far, FAR away from Toronto, Canada. Now, I realize some of you will take the fact that I flew all the way to North Africa for a 10-day trip as reason enough not to keep reading this blog. I know it’s hypocritical of me to make claims of being an environmentalist and then proceed to spew over 20 hours’ worth of carbon into the atmosphere for pleasure’s sake. And I don’t really have any solid defense for this argument. All I can say is that there are hundreds of things I’m willing to do in the name of protecting and respecting the Earth, but right now, restraining my air travel isn’t one of them, and this out of nothing but complete selfishness on my part — I have a strong desire to see the world (that I’m polluting) first-hand, to experience what it feels like to be caught in a sandstorm, bottle-feed a baby camel, walk around a date plantation at dusk, and so on.

Anyway, that’s the only rationale I can give you, so for those still reading, here are a few photos and accompanying captions that address some of the green and not-so-green goings on in Tunisia, home of Star Wars, the Sahara Desert, date farming, Berber tribes and dromedary love.

OiLibya Gas Station in Tozeur

OiLibya Gas Station in Tozeur

As my boyfriend commented upon seeing this: “Well, at least they’re honest about it.” This was in Tozeur, where we picked up our rental cars (the most compact, fuel-efficient ones I could find; plus, there were four of us to each car). Filling up a tank costs about 40 dinars, which is $35 Canadian, which is pretty cheap. I don’t know about you, but whenever I saw this sign, I kept shaking my head and saying “Oy, Libya”…

A baby camel in Matmâta, a typical troglodyte village

A baby camel in Matmâta, a typical troglodyte village

How cute overload is this? Can you see his little milk moustache, too? I had just fed this guy some milk from a bottle and wanted to bury my face in his fluffy hump and snuggle him forever. Camels are everywhere in this country and are used for transportation, tourism and unfortunately food. What’s reassuring, though, is that they’re treated well — all the camels I saw looked well-fed and happy.

Environment Mouse

Environment Mouse

Readers, meet Environment Mouse. This cartoon rodent with enormous ears (“Qu’est-ce que c’est la souris avec les grandes oreilles?” my French-speaking friend inquired of a cab driver one day, which led us to the answer) is Tunisia’s green mascot. He doesn’t do much, other than adorn garbage cans, but we still love him.

An organic date farmer

An organic date farmer

My friend Rob snapped this photo of an organic date farmer at a plantation just outside Tozeur. We originally wanted to visit a date factory but ended up getting semi-lost; then, just as we pulled into a driveway to turn around and go home, we stumbled upon a small house and this man, who turned out to be the owner of all the palm trees around us. He gladly showed us around and explained why it was so important to grow these things organically — for instance, all dates have insects in them when harvested, but conventional methods include extracting these with toxic gases while the organic process involves freezing them. We got to eat dates fresh off the stem with no glucose coating, and the farmer even gave me my own palm tree seedling to plant at home (unfortunately, I wasn’t going to take a chance with Canada Customs, so I left it behind for the dude at Avis to take care of). I’m planning on writing more about this for my Sense & Sustainability column at the Post (this week’s story was on garburators, by the way), so watch out for it!

greenland

Flying over Greenland

And finally, here’s a snapshot from the flight back, where we flew over Greenland and, yes, there was a very direct and somewhat ironic connection between the plane I was in and the icebergs that were melting down below. But as depressing as that may be, it’s still beautiful.

That’s it for now; stay tuned!

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Lending a pushing hand (Day 357)…

February 20, 2008

a pushing hand

OK, confession time: You see that little tagline up there, underneath the Green as a Thistle banner? That bit where it says I’m gonna try to be green without being smug about it?

Well, I have to say, the past few days I’ve been sitting here listening to the sound of car tires spinning (I’m back in the city, by the way, after some technical difficulties); and while a more earnest environmentalist might hear such a noise and think, “Oh no! All that pollution going up in the air for nothing! I better run out and give that poor driver a push!” (Earnest people speak with a lot of exclamation points, by the way), I’ve been quite content to sit inside, minding my own car-free business, shaking my head back and forth and tsk tsk tsk-ing that if only people would stop driving cars, we wouldn’t have this problem.

But this isn’t right. I’ve been stuck in that situation and I know how frustrating it is — not to mention the embarrassment that’s suffered as everyone walks by on the sidewalk, staring pitifully as you attempt to gas, brake, gas, brake, gas, brake, rocking back and forth to no avail as the exhaust pipe spews toxic fumes all around. It sucks. Period.

So now, instead of judging, I’m going to put my coat on, go out there and help push these poor folks out. If it’s a Hummer, I’m not gonna lie — there may be some purposeful hestitation. But most people on my street drive Volvos and Volkswagens, so it should be just fine.

Photo pushed all the way from rachsnedic on Flickr


A flower on my gas pedal (Day 262)…

November 17, 2007

Of all the changes I’ve made so far, the one I have the least regrets about is selling my car. However, there are always occasions when four wheels are essential — like when I need to pick someone up from the airport or transport something huge and bulky back to my apartment — so in these cases, I most often rent a Zipcar.

Unfortunately, like most people, I have a few bad driving habits. I’ll try to dodge traffic by shooting up side streets and back alleys; I’ll pull out and around someone turning left instead of just waiting for them to go; I’ll fiddle with the radio and drink my coffee while consulting a map and trying to steer all at once; I’m not above giving someone the finger if they piss me off; and I almost always end up going over the speed limit.

OK, so that’s more than a few. Anyway, I’ve resolved to change my ways in the name of green whenever I rent a Zipcar because the last thing I need is to get into an accident and have them give me the boot. Also, especially when it comes to the speed, I’m going to make sure I stay light on the gas pedal and accelerate slowly, then coast towards a traffic light if I see that it’s red — this will use less fuel, which translates into cleaner air.

If you haven’t already seen this cute video, There’s a Flower in My Pedal, check it out here. It’s a very soothing stop-motion kind of work by a local filmmaker, and I think it nicely encapsulates my new approach to driving. From now on, at least metaphorically speaking, there’ll be a flower on my gas pedal, reminding me to take it easy and stop to smell the roses.