• Lada Matyášová

Re-GREEN your future, Europe against desertification

On 20th - 27th October 2019, a Re-GREEN your future youth exchange took place in the Tunisian city of diesel in the middle of the Sahara Desert. It focused on the problem of desertification and nature conservation in general, and what we from Europe and Tunisia can do about it. For me, it was also the last youth exchange I had ever attended as a participant, because on the way back I celebrated its thirty-first birthday, a border I could no longer travel to. But even more I enjoyed it. My trip to Tunisia was difficult because I had to sleep in Prague at the airport and what we will talk about is that the seats are not pleasant. But somehow, I survived. I have been inspired by several books at small book exchange shelf, such as the title One Turtle After Another by John Green or Lagom, the Swedish way of life by Göran Everdahl. The journey through Frankfurt did not last so long, and at around eleven o'clock I was at a crowded airport in the Tunisian capital Tunis. It was hot outside, so we didn't want much. But because we had to wait four hours for everyone to come, so the organizers could take us by bus, we took a short walk to a nearby lake with an ancient fortress in the middle. The bus was supposed to leave at 3 pm, but an hour later we were waiting for a Turkish group that could not get out of the labyrinth of a not well-marked airport. Eventually they did it and we go. Before us was a seven-hour bus journey across the country, and across the desert, to Nafta in the southwest. It was a hard way, which I fortunately slept. We arrived at the hotel after midnight and still served us some excessively greasy pasta with chicken. Vegetarians were given only a salad and a piece of tomato, poor people. I fell into the bed without unpacking and woke up in the morning.

The first day began with a Ukrainian group led by name games and ice-breaking games. Although we have repeated our names several times, but because we were thirty-five, nobody remembered much. Especially for our people, the names in Arabic, that is, all Turks and Tunisians, were like one big tongue-breaker. And it turned out that the organizers do not even have sticky papers to make labels for T-shirts, so until the end of the project most of the other names were a mystery to us. But the following games were fun and put us together. I still don't know why we had to sort by the size of my shoes. Why would this knowledge ever be good to me? In the evening, the first of the cultural presentations was held - the home team from Tunisia. They invited local musicians with drums and feasted on the evening very sweet treats, and mainly danced oriental dances. Absolutely great for me. I even learned some new moves there. Great!

The next day we led the program for the Czech Republic. We first focused on the presentation of the realities of natural realities about nature and sources of energy in each of the participating countries (ie Germany, Turkey, Tunisia, Portugal, Spain, Ukraine, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic), and then focused on what we do for nature, at the community and state level, e.g. trends in a society.

Despite the lunch break, the desert had a break since it was raining. But that couldn't stop us from going to the palm oasis. But coconuts were not grown here, as anyone might think, but dates. They can only be harvested from trees when they reach eighty years of age. But the plants (not trees) need to be pollinated by hand to make the woodpeckers edible. Natural pollination leads to the hybridization of fruits, which are subsequently inedible. For one hundred female plants (they have a yellow flower) then only one male (white flower) is enough. We could also taste fresh palm juice, smoke hash (dried flower) or taste the just mentioned dates. Our journey then continued horse-drawn carriages throughout the city, until we arrived at another local oasis, but unfortunately, we could not get there due to time. For that, we walked through the centre back to the hotel and tasted local fried sweets on the way and explored that the sign on the road signs looks like two people in a kayak. In the evening we had a presentation of Bulgaria and Portugal, where we could try Bulgarian dance, listen to their "music of the Universe" and taste Rakia.

The following day we tried theatre improvisation on various topics related to nature conservation. For example, one group played a scene of buying pets in the market where a buyer chose a cow instead of a sheep, but it died because he did not have enough water to drink for it, and then he went hungry. Others played a poor Palestinian family trying to get out of the country but could not because of the fortified and soldier-protected borders. We also saw the scene of two forest-destroying vandals that were stopped by a group of activists and handed over to the police. Finally, the establishment of a forest fire by the negligence of the youth at an outdoor party, which then had to deal with it itself to get out of the precarious situation of the burning stand itself. In the afternoon we set out on a long-awaited trip to the Sahara Desert. First, we visited the famous locality of the oasis Chabika, where we went through a beautiful spring surrounded by mountains flowing through rocky terrain. Then they went to the Tamerza Valley, where Tunisia meets Algeria. Our next journey then led us to the vast plains of the Sahara, where it looked as if our jeep drivers had done well in the dunes, driving us up and down and around. In this little adventure, we also saw many camels and adrenaline rushed quickly into our heads. We stopped somewhere in the middle for a few pictures, but we went on fast again to see the village from the movie Star Wars in the light. She was beautiful. And not only that. I could take a picture with a live scorpion, cobra and bitch. Uuuu! Whoever wanted to ride a camel or barrels rolled down the dunes. And then we all watched the sunset together. It was beautiful!

Our presentation of Czech pub culture and Spanish flamenco ended the whole day.

The next day, we focused on combating stereotypes through an activity in which we selected eight passengers in a submarine after a nuclear disaster, and devoted ourselves to the Global Development Goals by copying the facts from each goal from their website. After noon we went with the Czech group to see the local medina, the centre and the old town at the same time, but it seemed to us shabby and unattractive. In the afternoon we created campaigns for our invented climate projects. My group created the idea of ​​a shared bike repair shop and bike rental. The Ukrainians presented us with their quiz and several wedding games.

The next day the program oversaw the Portuguese, who invented for us the cleaning of the neighbourhood from garbage, because this is perhaps the biggest problem. There is practically no waste collection (no one has ever heard of recycling), and so the garbage is rolled everywhere. Exactly how they fall off their hands or throw them out of the car. So, we collected perhaps fifteen bags of waste in half an hour. At the same time, we also wanted to do something nice for the surroundings of the hotel, so we planted five trees that were given to us by the local government. It was an uplifting feeling. Another task was to create something out of the garbage that we find around. So one group built a toy boat made of cans, the other a sculpture of a cyclist and a palm tree, and we created a playground for children on a local square outside the hotel. And we haven't even managed to finish our presentation of ideas, and curious individuals have downloaded to try out tennis with crushed PET bottles, basketball with a toilet bowl, or a ball throw into a tin tower. In the afternoon we had a visit to a local cafe where we could have a local Turkish coffee or green tea. And during which a poured football match between the participants and the local youth was unleashed on the nearby pitch. No one counted points, so I don't know who won, but everyone had a great time. Just a pity that when the sun went down we were attacked by omnipresent mosquitoes, so we had to go back to the hotel quickly. In the evening there was a presentation of the German team, and since it was our last night in Nefta, we also invited a local DJ to play some dance songs.

The next day we had to move from Nefta back to Tunis. With a small stop in Tozeur, for souvenirs and architecture, and a lunch break in Quafsa. We arrived in Tunis in the evening. We just stayed at the local youth hostel (the most disgusting place I have ever experienced as accommodation) and went to dinner. After dinner there was a ceremony of giving out YouthPass and saying goodbye to all present. Some of them were flying home at night. In the evening we went to town to have a glass of beer with them. But this turned out to be a big deal in the Arab country. We walked around and asked the locals where we could find a place to pour us alcohol. They eventually sent us to a hotel where one glass of beer was appallingly expensive. But on the other hand, it was very nice there, so why not.

In the morning, we had breakfast and went with others to explore the Sidi Bou Said district. It is a picturesque neighbourhood full of white painted houses with blue roofs, doors and shutters, which looks like a fairy tale. Of course, it was teeming with tourists, merchants of all kinds and all sorts of weird things, but it was so beautiful. And those views of the sea and the misty mountains in the distance. Beautiful!

However, we said goodbye to noon and quickly moved back to the hostel where we picked up things. We booked an apartment with a Czech group in a remote area of ​​La Marsa, so we needed to move there at the agreed time. The apartment was beautiful, with two bedrooms and bathrooms (ie with two toilets, which later turned out to be a very practical detail).

In the afternoon we set out to explore the ancient Carthage. The feeling of having your feet tread for two thousand years of history is priceless. To see how people lived at that time, as people had culture and customs. Splendour. In the afternoon we went around many excavations and other monuments in the Carthage area, because this is not just one location, and we were not surprised at how large the city was then. In the evening we just stopped for a small dinner and continued to rest on the apartment. We had a lot of sneakers all day.

It was raining the next morning. And so much. But we decided to escape it and headed north to Ichkeul National Park. So we first took a tour bus to Bizerte, from where we took a local lauvage transport, wich is a transit of six to eight places, only going to the given direction, when it full, so you can even wait there for hours to catch enought people to go. When we got off at the gate of the park, we found that we were still quite far from the centre of the park, Mount Jebel. But we managed to hitchhike a couple of Tunisians man and an Italian woman, who squeezed the three of us to the back of their car, next to the Tunisian mother-in-law. She didn't look very enthusiastic, but she had no choice. Mrs. Italian wife beloved our Hašlerky at the spot, so she was very nice to us. When we finally set off and ran through a flock of sheep and goats, that were grazing in the middle of the road, we were stopping again. At the guards shed, where we had to sign to the porter, that we are entering the park. For free. Just for him to know about us. But we were still very far away, so we packed ourselves into a small car again and went on for another four kilometres to the parking lot. Here we thanked our rescuers and said goodbye to them. The aunt did not look for some great walking speed, but we wanted to go through the park.

We despised the eco-museum, which was at the same time occupied by a horde of young children on a school trip and set out straight on Mount Jebel along the "nature trail". Well, there was no sign posted the way, and all the informative sign there was just one at the very beginning, which promised us to see bisons and flamingos. But nothing like that has happened. However, in addition to the breath-taking views, we saw few cows, few cow shits and mistakenly scarred hummingbirds and dragonflies. And we saw as well some ants, that we fed with leftover bread and watched their pilgrimage to the anthill and back. Surprisingly, we were about to hit a grandfather in the middle of nowhere on the trail, who appeared from the plants on the path in front of us, and a large, well-choked cave appeared behind him. Was that the cowherd of those cows? Who knows.

Unfortunately, we did not have enough time to pass the whole mountain because we wanted to get back to the capital in the light. We turned around and walked back to the parking lot. But there were almost no cars there, and those, that were there, had one no drivers around. We had no other choice but to walk on foot to the guard's shed. Along the way we passed several very bushmen, almost nomadic-looking shelters where people lived with their animals. It was beautiful, so they probably didn't mind living in a national park, in this very basic conditions. Simply punk. We finally reached the shed, where the man wanted to chat with us in French. Then, with the help of a translator, we explained to him that we needed a taxi, so he called us one. And then he was so surprised that we had snow in winter in the Czech Republic. But he was very nice, even though he didn't check out who we were and if we were all (according to the list), but before we left, he gave us some kind of rock. Why not? It was the most expensive taxi trip here, but at least a taxi driver drove us to the nearest village of Manzil Bourguiba. Here, after sixteen miles in our legs, we finally breathed out, had some coffee and tea, and then we caught a lauvage to Tunis.

We got there with dimming. I just took the subway, or rather the over ground, to the centre. They found a local fast food and had dinner. So very spicy spaghetti and a mixture of meat and chips on the grill. And they went back to the apartment. In the evening, we only dealt with organizational things regarding departure and money, etc. At five in the morning the friends left. I got up at nine o'clock, cleaned up after us, and at noon I also moved to the airport. I was waiting for a long journey through Frankfurt to Vienna and then by bus to Brno. Here I slept and only the next morning I got to Šumperk by train. It was a long journey. Even more colourful because I caught Pharaoh's vengeance on Friday afternoon and I ate nothing until I got home (except one slice of toast bread on Sunday and another Monday night), which was the longest hunger I had ever had in my life. But I also lost four kilograms, eh.

Mashala, mashala, as they say in Tunisia. Even so, it was beautiful, great and Sahara definitely has its charm. I therefore thank the German organization Internationaler kultureller Jugend Austausch e.V. (IkJA e.V.) for the project, the Tunisian Association Solidarite Echange et Developpement and Mr Mounir for hosting and organizing the project on the ground. And I would like to thank the association Cesta rozvoje, z.s. for sending me and my partners. It was a truly legendary experience. And, of course, I must not forget the Erasmus + program, to which I owe my financial contribution. Thank you very much.

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