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An Interlude Regarding Coffee and Tea

This is the fourth in a series of blog posts from Rebecca Christianson, an Associate Professor of Applied Physics at Olin College who is in Tunisia as a Fulbright Specialist. She is blogging about her experiences while she is away.

This week has been extraordinarily busy. I have done three days of full-day faculty development workshops and two full days of student technical teaching. Then each evening, except for one when I needed to work on prep, I have gone out with Asma to explore the city and eat strange new foods and talk about Tunisia and the US. All of this while navigating a new place and new culture without speaking the languages. 

This kind of schedule requires large quantities of caffeine.  

As many of you know, I drink tea.  Lots and lots of tea. Back home, I usually drink tea either out of my large-size Yeti insulated mug or out of my extremely geeky half-liter Pyrex beaker mug.  In either case, I drink tea in large quantities.  I do not drink coffee.  When I was in graduate school, I attempted to drink coffee, because with my beamline research I had to keep such irregular hours that I figured I would function better if I could drink a concentrated caffeine source. However, despite the fact that I truly adore the smell of coffee, the taste is another matter. I just find it too bitter.

Now, however, I am in the Arabic world, and in the Arabic world coffee is a tremendously important part of their culture.  Arabic Coffee is such an important part of Arabic culture that it has been recognized by UNESCO as an “Intangible Cultural Heritage.” It seems everyone drinks coffee here. There is even an entire culture around coffee shops, most of which are reserved exclusively for use by men. If a woman wants to go to a coffee shop, she has to figure out which ones are co-ed, but more to come on that.  Tea is also very important, but it is served fancy in very small glasses, and mostly in the late afternoon and evening. 

I have become so reliant on my daily liter of tea in the morning that I am in the habit of carrying a few tea bags around in my bag with me at all times, so I can be assured of getting good tea no matter where I am.  This was a life saver for the first part of this week as I was overcoming jet lag while simultaneously running an extremely busy schedule, but it was bound to run out.  On Wednesday morning I drank my last cup of tea at my apartment before leaving for the day. It was a sad moment. 

During my two days teaching the students, I was at the other campus of Esprit.  There, the housekeeper who set up my room for me kindly brought me a bottle of water and a cup of Arabic coffee each day.  When in Tunis...do as the Tunisians...so I drank the coffee each day.  The coffee was extremely strong and potent, and I was caffeinated as I’ve never been caffeinated before.

I could get used to this!