Saddle up your camel and head for the oasis for
an unforgettable date with Gary. by Gary Parker, 4 Barrens Close, Woking, Surrey Chamaerops No.16, published online 23-08-2002
Sand, sun, blue sky and Date palms
If palm enthusiasts were asked to name their favourite
palm, it would be fair to say that not many would name the 'true'
Date palm, Phoenix dactylifera. Nevertheless, the date palm is one
of the world's most important palm species. While on holiday in
Tunisia, my wife, Jo, and I decided to visit a remote oasis in the
Sahara desert, to experience date palms en masse and to learn how
dates are grown.
Tozeur is the largest oasis in Tunisia, situated
where the Sahara reaches up into the virtually uninhabited southern
half of the country. We flew south from the Tunisian capital, Tunis,
over hundreds of kilometres of semi-desert, and landed on a featureless,
sand-swept plain that represents Tozeur's airport. The flatness
was broken only by two huge Boeing 747s with peeling khaki paintwork
and sand drifts building up around them. Apparently they belonged
to the Iraqi air force, which had left them there when the Gulf
War began and had so far failed to return for them. Already, they
appeared too sandblasted to ever take to the skies again.
Tozeur has the feel of an islamicised version of
an American Wild West frontier town. Simple mud-brick houses line
dusty streets filled with old men on donkeys and young men on mopeds.
Families of goats lie in the shade, surveying the activity. Six
times a day, wailing songs issue from the minaret, which is by law
the tallest building in town, to summon the townsfolk to the mosque
for prayer. Women are seldom seen, because a strict form of Islam
is favoured in these remote regions, virtually confining women to
the home. When women do appear, they are totally covered in black
fabric, like children playing ghosts, except that even eyeholes
would be considered immodest. Presumably they can see through the
fabric to some extent.