Djerba, Tunisia trip – 21. Hara Kebira, Jewish school, soap and TV repair shops

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At the bottom of Hamout Souk, Djerba is a road junction and this field with large cacti.   On the other side of here is the community of Hara Kebira.

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DSCF1364I chatted to this man and asked to take pictures.  As I love repairing things, I am intrigued by someone who still fixes TVs, where most CRT TV has vanished from western living rooms, along with analogue UHF transmission.

In the same street as the Jewish school, and the TV repairman was this corner shop which had these bottles.   From the faded ‘Perfumery’ text above, It looks like someone makes homemade soap, reusing old water bottles.

DSCF1360 1024Some excited Jewish children came out of their school around the corner going back home for the Sabbath.

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I saw what I think is a smaller synagogue, and also this tall building which has a door at the bottom which is not real, but actually is painted on.

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There was a kosher sandwich shop called Brik Ishak which I thought might be open before the Sabbath (I’m here on an early Friday) but its already closed.   A flood of Jewish kids ran out of the school to buy some toys for sale from an outside street vendor.  But this little scooter van has in Hebrew a message about ‘Yelidim’ (children in Hebrew) so probably advertising a kindergarten.

Walking around seeing Jewish homes had a few more surprises left…

1. Plans – 2. French Connection – 3. My hotel in Djerba – 4. El Griba synagogue outside – 5. El Griba synagogue inside – 6. Markets – 7. Christianity in Tunisia – 8. Ferry to mainland Tunisia – 9. Getting to Matmata, Tunisia – 10. Sidi Idris Hotel New Hope Star Wars filmset – 11. Secrets I learnt about the famous Matmata Star Wars set – 12. Cave homes for would-be Jedis – 13. More what you don’t see in Star Wars at Hotel Sidi Idris – 14. How hospitable is Sidi Idris? – 15. ATM machines and drought – 16. Matmata Nouvelle (New Matmata) – 17. Tunisian butchers and fisherman – 18. Libyan and Algerian neighbours – 19. Jewellery businesses in Djerba – 20. Tunisia and Israel relations – 21. Hara Kebira, Jewish school, soap and TV repair shops – 22. Jewish community of Hara Kebira – 23. Going home

Djerba, Tunisia trip – 20. Tunisia and Israel relations

So its no secret like most Arabic countries Tunisia doesn’t recognise Israel – well for the most part.  Ok – now I have to talk about some of the ugly parts of this nation afraid.

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Support for Arab Palestine is not hard to see on at least 4 bits of graffiti I saw out there.  Not for any other Arab country like Iraq or Syria which has far more problems.

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Seeing the top two pictures were not really a surprise but this particular one made me upset for several reasons.

  • Christ is being picked up by Mary who has blue hair (?)
  • This has been twisted into a weird political thing as Palestine and Tunisia, which were two places that didn’t exist during the time of Jesus.  Islam, Mohammed and the Koran didn’t exist till later as well, although Arab people (Ishmaelites) were mentioned in the book of Genesis, who are smart and business savvy travelling and trading goods which of course they are still today.
  • Jesus’ body is free of any lacerations and blood, the not so clear circular drawing with the Palestine flag on the right shows blood.   You couldn’t really twist this any more.
  • Right next to here was animals for sale which are treated cruelly.   Many people on the political left in the western world are often attracted to jump on the Palestine bandwagon maybe vegans and animal lovers, but probably don’t have much clue how animals are treated in an Arab Palestine or any other Arab nation.  I saw chickens with their legs tied together for sale, and someone picking up a rabbit by its ears.  Israel has a much better treatment of animals and has a large number of vegetarian/vegan folks and concern for animal welfare.

IMG_20191117_100004158 1024On the other hand, more encouragingly; many Israelis come to the Djerba to celebrate the holiday of Lag B’Omer in the small island Jewish community.

Tunisian Jews don’t really show flags of Israel or Zionism as this would almost certainly cause a lot of upset, so likely to just have quiet discreet respect of the Jewish state.

So Israeli visits seem to be tolerated only in small numbers for the purpose of tourism.

However, this story I saw concerned me just before I left for Djerba.
https://www.israeltoday.co.il/read/new-president-of-tunisia-elected-for-his-hatred-of-israel/

I’d imagine that the Jews who have left Tunisia (100,000 in 1956 and 1,000 in 2019) have done so for either the reason of a 1. A stronger and wider sense of community, or 2. Fulfil religious goals of being in their land of their ancestors, 3. May have endured anti-semitism in some towns and may have had to pay Jizya tax for non-Muslims or even 4. Just purely for better future with jobs, homes and education.

Tourism books paint a picture of Tunisia as an example of tolerance of Jewish/Muslim relations in an Arab country, whereas relations might seem good in some degree, there are the familiar conflicts we see elsewhere.

My thinking as a Christian with many Jewish friends, and lover of the bible, is eventually all of the Jews in Tunisia will eventually pack up and leave one day.   The bible gives me a true picture of past and present for Jews and Gentiles alike, rather than a pathetic Banksy-wannabe painting a blue-haired Mary.

1. Plans – 2. French Connection – 3. My hotel in Djerba – 4. El Griba synagogue outside – 5. El Griba synagogue inside – 6. Markets – 7. Christianity in Tunisia – 8. Ferry to mainland Tunisia – 9. Getting to Matmata, Tunisia – 10. Sidi Idris Hotel New Hope Star Wars filmset – 11. Secrets I learnt about the famous Matmata Star Wars set – 12. Cave homes for would-be Jedis – 13. More what you don’t see in Star Wars at Hotel Sidi Idris – 14. How hospitable is Sidi Idris? – 15. ATM machines and drought – 16. Matmata Nouvelle (New Matmata) – 17. Tunisian butchers and fisherman – 18. Libyan and Algerian neighbours – 19. Jewellery businesses in Djerba – 20. Tunisia and Israel relations – 21. Hara Kebira, Jewish school, soap and TV repair shops – 22. Jewish community of Hara Kebira – 23. Going home

Djerba, Tunisia trip – 19. Jewellery businesses in Djerba

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DSCF1103 1024So after getting the big bus from Matmata via Gabes, I am back onto Djerba island.   So apart from the synagogue, I wanted to take a closer look at the Jewish community.

There are quite a few jewellery stores in Hamout Souk part of Djerba, and some are Muslim and some are Jewish.    On a Saturday you can see which ones are closed, and some have the owners names as Ahmen, Mohammed, Simon, Rene, Sion, or Jonathan.

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This Jewish owned shop has common types of jewellery, rings, bracelets and necklaces, new and antique, but also Jewish implements like menorahs (candlestick used for the Sabbath lighting) and seder plates and other things.

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I asked about this strange piece of machinery.  It’s actually a device to widen rings to them a bigger size.

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DSCF1110 1024Actually, though I think this place is my favourite and makes creative use of the Arabesque designs of these sorts of buildings that seem part of Tunisia’s character.

Apparently, Bitan is a common Tunisian Jewish name and means small house in Hebrew!

So both this and the other Jewish shop had a Muslim guy on the counter running the business while the owner is away.

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The ceiling of this place is absolutely amazing, combining lots of languages and a mixture of flowers and Jewish and North Africa symbols.

DSCF1109 1024Jewish organisations around the world like Chabad (which originates from New York) and Breslov (from Ukraine) often provide calenders to remember religious holidays on them.   This one I was here was in a shop, but at the bottom has +216… which is the telephone code for Tunisia, so it seems the tiny Tunisian Jewish community make their own teaching materials.

There are some other Jewish symbols which seem different from what I have seen in Israel or Europe on tomorrow’s post.

1. Plans – 2. French Connection – 3. My hotel in Djerba – 4. El Griba synagogue outside – 5. El Griba synagogue inside – 6. Markets – 7. Christianity in Tunisia – 8. Ferry to mainland Tunisia – 9. Getting to Matmata, Tunisia – 10. Sidi Idris Hotel New Hope Star Wars filmset – 11. Secrets I learnt about the famous Matmata Star Wars set – 12. Cave homes for would-be Jedis – 13. More what you don’t see in Star Wars at Hotel Sidi Idris – 14. How hospitable is Sidi Idris? – 15. ATM machines and drought – 16. Matmata Nouvelle (New Matmata) – 17. Tunisian butchers and fisherman – 18. Libyan and Algerian neighbours – 19. Jewellery businesses in Djerba – 20. Tunisia and Israel relations – 21. Hara Kebira, Jewish school, soap and TV repair shops – 22. Jewish community of Hara Kebira – 23. Going home

Djerba, Tunisia trip – 18. Libyan and Algerian neighbours

You can see the south-east corner of the island of Djerba connects to the mainland, so you can drive all the way there from Libya which is 300-400km, to do business here, this is a poorer country, but more stable than Libya which the UK home office say is a no-go place for tourism.   The outer radius of Tunisia is not safe also.

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So I’m in the main centre of Hamout Souk, in the Island of Djerba, Tunisia, but these flags are from a different African nation, actually one next door – Algeria.

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The women’s dresses look nice, and I really like these big metal teapots.

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IMG_20200103_225945038 1024A lot of these are handicrafts from Berber/Amazigh people, the original inhabitants of North Africa.  The three-pointed symmetrical symbol is part of their culture.

The best thing about this particular market is that everything is labelled and cheap, no need to barter.

I got this nice tagine.  I’m glad it survived the journey home, as want to try and do some cooking with it.  I see a lot of cars from Libya, as the licence plates are different, and I did a google translate of the words into Arabic and it matched what I saw.

1. Plans – 2. French Connection – 3. My hotel in Djerba – 4. El Griba synagogue outside – 5. El Griba synagogue inside – 6. Markets – 7. Christianity in Tunisia – 8. Ferry to mainland Tunisia – 9. Getting to Matmata, Tunisia – 10. Sidi Idris Hotel New Hope Star Wars filmset – 11. Secrets I learnt about the famous Matmata Star Wars set – 12. Cave homes for would-be Jedis – 13. More what you don’t see in Star Wars at Hotel Sidi Idris – 14. How hospitable is Sidi Idris? – 15. ATM machines and drought – 16. Matmata Nouvelle (New Matmata) – 17. Tunisian butchers and fisherman – 18. Libyan and Algerian neighbours – 19. Jewellery businesses in Djerba – 20. Tunisia and Israel relations – 21. Hara Kebira, Jewish school, soap and TV repair shops – 22. Jewish community of Hara Kebira – 23. Going home

Djerba, Tunisia trip – 17. Tunisian butchers and fisherman

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These butchers have cages of chickens, some have a couple of rabbits and a duck.

The animals are still walking around and you pick the one you want and they take it around the back and slaughter it and give it to you in a bag.  Probably quite shocking to western society, but not a whole lot different.

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Also fishing is a big thing in Djerba.  There are thousands of these clay pots here, these are used to catch octopus who are tempted to climb inside.

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There are these pirate ships that take tourists around during the summer season.

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IMG_20191123_133830797 1024This is the main fish market here in the Souk in Djerba.   It’s as simple as a tiled ceramic counter where the fish are displayed without any kind of packaging.    A “National office of fish” is quite an odd statement for this market.

Just around the corner from here, I got to have some grilled tilapia, some feral cars patrol round here which reminded me of the ones in Jerusalem.  The fish was really good, but I gave the cats the head and the tail pieces.

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Yes, this is a real bull.   He looks big enough to easily pull this sign out of the ground.  I suspect livestock offered for sale like this, might have been doped to make them easier to deal with.

1. Plans – 2. French Connection – 3. My hotel in Djerba – 4. El Griba synagogue outside – 5. El Griba synagogue inside – 6. Markets – 7. Christianity in Tunisia – 8. Ferry to mainland Tunisia – 9. Getting to Matmata, Tunisia – 10. Sidi Idris Hotel New Hope Star Wars filmset – 11. Secrets I learnt about the famous Matmata Star Wars set – 12. Cave homes for would-be Jedis – 13. More what you don’t see in Star Wars at Hotel Sidi Idris – 14. How hospitable is Sidi Idris? – 15. ATM machines and drought – 16. Matmata Nouvelle (New Matmata) – 17. Tunisian butchers and fisherman – 18. Libyan and Algerian neighbours – 19. Jewellery businesses in Djerba – 20. Tunisia and Israel relations – 21. Hara Kebira, Jewish school, soap and TV repair shops – 22. Jewish community of Hara Kebira – 23. Going home

Djerba, Tunisia trip – 16. Matmata Nouvelle (New Matmata)

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So when the father and son van driver took me here, there was two towns of the same name, so actually Matmata has just 3,000 people living in it.  15km north is “new Matmata” I was confused why this would be.

I ended up going here unintentionally.    A big stupid mistake which should have been obvious visiting a small African town – I ran out of cash.   No one here really takes cards apart from some stores selling larger-ticket items (like carpets) to tourists.

Matamata itself has two ATM machines in the high street – both of them were broken.   A local guide offered me for a price to drive me to the newer Nouvelle Matmata to use another (the only one) ATM which would only let me take out 150 Dinars, and only accepted one of my three cards.   This was enough money to pay him his fee, my last night at Sidi Idris and my transport back to Djerba, whilst he tried to sell me another guided tour. (I declined)

The story behind New Matmata is this, the traditional town does not have reliable sources of water.   Therefore in recent years the modern town has the water supply, but people living in more conventional types of homes and well, its a bit dull.    

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Cue all of the “its not as good as the original” analogies.

There is a huge amount of rubbish lying around on the outskirts of the modern Matmata, mostly plastic.   We could gather up some of the overly enthusiastic eco-warriors who want to get arrested in London, bring them over and help them clear up here maybe.   Another thing I don’t quite understand, is there are a lot of abandoned wrecks of cars lying around, something that would fetch money for scrap in the UK, but I don’t see any metal recycling happening.

My guide who drove there had excellent English and told me that that New Matmata has better access to water infrastructure, therefore farming is easier to do here.   This is more of a built up traditional small town.  Tunisian people seem more hopeful with the new president after some instability in recent years.

pano41 1024matmata holes 1024Ok, so back to the old Republic old Matmata, hanging out in the evening and looking at the sun going down is another wonderful experience here.  You can see children playing and chickens wandering around, and the town has plenty of date palms and olive trees.

pano25 1024One more night at Chateaux de Skywalker, sorry I mean Sidi Idris.

IMG_20191121_094110017 1024Matmata’s bus station.  I got chatting to a couple who are from Canada and Australia, this was one of the first conversations I’ve had with other foreigners here.

The bus is a huge coach that goes all the way back to Djerba on the ferry via the city of Gabes.   Its also fun watching the blacksmiths across the square work while waiting for the bus.

1. Plans – 2. French Connection – 3. My hotel in Djerba – 4. El Griba synagogue outside – 5. El Griba synagogue inside – 6. Markets – 7. Christianity in Tunisia – 8. Ferry to mainland Tunisia – 9. Getting to Matmata, Tunisia – 10. Sidi Idris Hotel New Hope Star Wars filmset – 11. Secrets I learnt about the famous Matmata Star Wars set – 12. Cave homes for would-be Jedis – 13. More what you don’t see in Star Wars at Hotel Sidi Idris – 14. How hospitable is Sidi Idris? – 15. ATM machines and drought – 16. Matmata Nouvelle (New Matmata) – 17. Tunisian butchers and fisherman – 18. Libyan and Algerian neighbours – 19. Jewellery businesses in Djerba – 20. Tunisia and Israel relations – 21. Hara Kebira, Jewish school, soap and TV repair shops – 22. Jewish community of Hara Kebira – 23. Going home

 

Djerba, Tunisia trip – 15. ATM machines and drought

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Well, its November, but still looks like it hasn’t rained in a while, this fountain isn’t working.  Also, there are no tourists at the moment at this time of the year, but the climate is pleasant which is why I came now.

When some British tourists were killed British tourists in 2015, European visitors stopped coming to this north African nation.    When terror attacks in Europe started to happen regularly instead, I could justify to myself and my friends and family I’d like to visit here.

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Here’s where I made a big mistake.   I ran out of money.   I thought I had another 100 dinars on me.  The Sidi Idris hotel is cash only and doesn’t take cards.   Nor does anyone else in the village.   There are two ATM machines and both of them are out of service.   I went into the one and only bank in the village.  I prayed hard.   One of the locals helped me out.

DSCF1296 1024Here’s one very old and tiny mosque in Matmata, and a more modern one.    The below one has a cemetery with some recent (less than 20 years ago) graves in it.  The big hole looks scary until I looked and there is nothing except garbage in it.

As far as I know, there are no Jews or Christians in here or nearby.

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This is from the nearby city of Gabes.   The river is empty.   No rain for a long long time.

1. Plans – 2. French Connection – 3. My hotel in Djerba – 4. El Griba synagogue outside – 5. El Griba synagogue inside – 6. Markets – 7. Christianity in Tunisia – 8. Ferry to mainland Tunisia – 9. Getting to Matmata, Tunisia – 10. Sidi Idris Hotel New Hope Star Wars filmset – 11. Secrets I learnt about the famous Matmata Star Wars set – 12. Cave homes for would-be Jedis – 13. More what you don’t see in Star Wars at Hotel Sidi Idris – 14. How hospitable is Sidi Idris? – 15. ATM machines and drought – 16. Matmata Nouvelle (New Matmata) – 17. Tunisian butchers and fisherman – 18. Libyan and Algerian neighbours – 19. Jewellery businesses in Djerba – 20. Tunisia and Israel relations – 21. Hara Kebira, Jewish school, soap and TV repair shops – 22. Jewish community of Hara Kebira – 23. Going home

Djerba, Tunisia trip – 14. How hospitable is Sidi Idris?

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Actually, very!  I love this place, it is completely unique!

This is the reception counter at the hotel.  The wifi only works up to a few metres away from here…

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Folks here are proud of their Berber culture, this is the alphabet of the Tamazigh language which is native to North Africa long before Islam existed and Arabic was introduced.

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IMG_20191119_144423405 1024Dinner fit for a Jedi.   Breakfast is French bread and jam and coffee.   An evening meal is couscous, beef, carrots and other veg, a cheese omelette thing and salad.   Its mostly the same thing each evening, pretty similar to Morocco food in a lot of ways.

Or you can eat in Luke’s actual dining room as well.

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Not the Mos Eisley bar, as that’s back on Djerba Island.  Therefore you can bring your droids.   This small cave bar is pretty good, local beer is 3 Dinar (90p) and they do spirits too.   Although this is a Muslim country, quite a few people do drink.

Talking of such, the doorways are a little short and there are a lot of steps, therefore Sidi Idriss may not be suitable for Wookies or Droids.

Regardless if you are a Star Wars fan or not, this is a great place to stay if you are looking for something a bit different than a side of a motorway chain hotel.

1. Plans – 2. French Connection – 3. My hotel in Djerba – 4. El Griba synagogue outside – 5. El Griba synagogue inside – 6. Markets – 7. Christianity in Tunisia – 8. Ferry to mainland Tunisia – 9. Getting to Matmata, Tunisia – 10. Sidi Idris Hotel New Hope Star Wars filmset – 11. Secrets I learnt about the famous Matmata Star Wars set – 12. Cave homes for would-be Jedis – 13. More what you don’t see in Star Wars at Hotel Sidi Idris – 14. How hospitable is Sidi Idris? – 15. ATM machines and drought – 16. Matmata Nouvelle (New Matmata) – 17. Tunisian butchers and fisherman – 18. Libyan and Algerian neighbours – 19. Jewellery businesses in Djerba – 20. Tunisia and Israel relations – 21. Hara Kebira, Jewish school, soap and TV repair shops – 22. Jewish community of Hara Kebira – 23. Going home

Djerba, Tunisia trip – 13. More what you don’t see in Star Wars at Hotel Sidi Idris

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This looks also better at night as you have a clear view of the stars with no light pollution as we are in rural Africa.

From the top-down, you can see the five holes where the Sidi Idris cave hotel is;

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This was my room!   The double bed is really nice and much better than the simple mattress I had in Djerba.   Also, the fact you are in a cave makes the temperature just exactly right, outside in the evening (In November) I needed a hoody on, as it does get a bit chilly.

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The fan room, well I’m not sure what to call it.  This close to the main courtyard has some photos of the original 1977 shooting, but a few other things like a Japanese couple who got married here.    None of the pictures is any better than anything you would find in a local science fiction shop.

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This room full of mostly rubbish is in the closed-off area which was being repaired.   Apart from the stale bread that was here, this strange wardrobe thing interested me.   Is this where Luke keeps his power converters?

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One of the other courtyards has some different rooms here, I guess you could sleep here, but you would need to hall yourself the steps with the ropes to access these.

1. Plans – 2. French Connection – 3. My hotel in Djerba – 4. El Griba synagogue outside – 5. El Griba synagogue inside – 6. Markets – 7. Christianity in Tunisia – 8. Ferry to mainland Tunisia – 9. Getting to Matmata, Tunisia – 10. Sidi Idris Hotel New Hope Star Wars filmset – 11. Secrets I learnt about the famous Matmata Star Wars set – 12. Cave homes for would-be Jedis – 13. More what you don’t see in Star Wars at Hotel Sidi Idris – 14. How hospitable is Sidi Idris? – 15. ATM machines and drought – 16. Matmata Nouvelle (New Matmata) – 17. Tunisian butchers and fisherman – 18. Libyan and Algerian neighbours – 19. Jewellery businesses in Djerba – 20. Tunisia and Israel relations – 21. Hara Kebira, Jewish school, soap and TV repair shops – 22. Jewish community of Hara Kebira – 23. Going home

Djerba, Tunisia trip – 12. Cave homes for would-be Jedis

If you have seen Star Wars 9 Return of Skywalker – which came out in December 2019, and you should – ignore the naysayers you will enjoy it, you would have seen Rey returned to Luke’s childhood home only to find it an abandoned mess, and that loads of soil had fallen into the courtyard.

Thankfully this is not the case as it’s in excellent condition, but the same couldn’t be said for the neighbouring cave homes.

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This one appears to be only lived in by animals, there are others in a far poorer condition which have the walls collapsed.

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Here’s a house which is being refurbed!   think of the wonderful geek parties you could have here!!  Even do a bit of Cosplay dressing up if it’s not scorching hot!

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The bedrooms look done.   The front entrance isn’t yet.

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The “hallway”  which is a tunnel from the outside to the courtyard hole is done, and walls recently rendered and very nice it looks too.   I’m not sure how they came up with this painted or burnt on effects, but some of the tunnels in Sidi Driss looks very similar.   This one has the symbols of Islam, Christianity, Judaism and Berber culture.   I’m guessing this will be rented out, and want to show peace and love to everyone I think.

1. Plans – 2. French Connection – 3. My hotel in Djerba – 4. El Griba synagogue outside – 5. El Griba synagogue inside – 6. Markets – 7. Christianity in Tunisia – 8. Ferry to mainland Tunisia – 9. Getting to Matmata, Tunisia – 10. Sidi Idris Hotel New Hope Star Wars filmset – 11. Secrets I learnt about the famous Matmata Star Wars set – 12. Cave homes for would-be Jedis – 13. More what you don’t see in Star Wars at Hotel Sidi Idris – 14. How hospitable is Sidi Idris? – 15. ATM machines and drought – 16. Matmata Nouvelle (New Matmata) – 17. Tunisian butchers and fisherman – 18. Libyan and Algerian neighbours – 19. Jewellery businesses in Djerba – 20. Tunisia and Israel relations – 21. Hara Kebira, Jewish school, soap and TV repair shops – 22. Jewish community of Hara Kebira – 23. Going home