It’s funny that I don’t remember passing through Tozeur when I first came into Tunisia in the fall of 1972, crossing over the border from Algeria. However, I do remember the name Gafsa, for some reason, though the town itself was entirely forgettable. We had been travelling for days through the Sahara and it was great to stop in the town for fresh supplies of water and food, but we carried on and drove to the coastal town of Sfax where we parted company with the two German young men who had taken us on as travelling companions.
Splitting the cost of the gas four ways instead of two was a substantial saving for them, and an opportunity for Bronwyn and me to see more than just the coastal strip of northern Algeria. The names of the towns Gafsa and Sfax had stuck in my mind, probably because they seemed so exotic at the time. I didn’t really care about seeing Gafsa again, but Anil was eager to see the huge salt lakes in the region and it is necessary to drive through the town in order to head either north or east from Tozeur.
I was surprised to learn that our new friend, Amina was born and raised in Gafsa; born since I passed through there as she is just 33 years old. She talked of her hometown lovingly, and I was more than a little curious to see how it had changed in the intervening years. It now has a university, but it really just a utilitarian city providing services for the surrounding towns and the phosphate mine at nearby Metlaoui. Had we been travelling with Amina, it would have been wonderful to meet her family and some of her eight siblings, but she was hard at work back in Djerba, and we didn’t want to visit on our own.