Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A camel and a well (Sunday, May 9)

After another long-ish louage ride, we found ourselves in Kairouan, the fourth holiest city in
Islam after Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem. It is home to the Grand Mosque, a beautiful site which is the largest mosque in all of Africa.

In the nearby medina, it also is home to a camel and a well.

The well, Bir Barouta, is hidden in the winding streets of the medina. It's a pilgrimage site for Muslims, as it is believed to be linked to the holy Zem-Zem well in Mecca. We read in the guidebook that the site was a little tacky and touristy, with a camel at the center of it. We imagined a stuffed animal camel, maybe, or some neon-lit camel perched on top of the well.

After climbing up a steep, short staircase, we found the well, and a camel. Like, a real camel. A big 7-foot camel dressed in dozens of scarves, harnessed to the wheel on the well and tended to by the well keeper. The well operates with a series of pulleys that are turned as the camel walks in a circle, bringing up cups of water that pilgrims drink and wash with while trying to keep a safe distance from the camel. Which is of course impossible, because, you know, it is a giant animal and you are standing with it in a well.

We have video of this amazing feat, but Tunisia blocks YouTube. So for now, pictures will have to suffice.