After dark


Ksar Ghilane

This may seem like an odd music video, but there's a story behind it.

Back in the early eighties when I was working for Uncle Sugar, I spent some time in the Tunisian desert training and being trained. We stayed in an old French Foreign Legion concern a couple of miles south of the oasis shown in the above video, and every morning we would run there and then wash off in the springs (it's the only genuine oasis in the country).

About the third day we were there, my buddy Yorgy (Yorgenstern) decided to set up a sick-call, which is an impromptu clinic. He was a damned good medic, and only a couple of inches short of a PA certification. And aside from being one of my best friends, he was also my translator, since I can barely speak English, much less French or Arabic. So when he asked me to help him with the clinic, all I could really do was growl a little bit.

What you see in the video above is a well-developed tourist attraction. Back then, not so much. It was mostly Bedu families, who had an incredible skill at making themselves invisible. I thought there were maybe fifty people living there, but it turned out to be at least three hundred. And most of them had never seen a doctor.

The first day, we saw about 25 people, most of them young men (proving their bravery). One guy that couldn't have been over twenty years old showed up with a molar that has some weird growth on the side, almost like the tooth was growing its own tooth. The kid was in a lot of pain, so that bad boy had to come out. We tried to give him novacaine, but he waved it off vehemently. Knowing it was going to hurt like hell, we sat him down in a chair with his back to a window, put his arms outside the window, then slid it down snugly. I won't say the tooth came out willingly, but it came out.

After we stopped (most of) the bleeding and gave him a couple of hits of novacaine (bravery will only get you so far), he was happy as hell, and ran off to show everybody while there was still some blood present for cool points.

The next morning, there were 90-100 people lined up, which earned Yorgy a couple more growls. But that was mostly show. I'm sure there's a few doctors/PAs/nurses reading this who will understand what I'm about to say: There's a look in somebody's eyes, when they put aside their pride and place their trust in you; not in the system, or technology, or the profession. They're looking at you, and their eyes are saying, "please help me". It's both frightening and thrilling at the same time, especially when you don't even speak the same language.

We worked like eighteen hours a day for five days, puttin' stuff in and taking stuff out. But that was a thousand times more fulfilling than catching rays on a beach somewhere.

Thank you for your service


I loved the video, especially the music. While watching it I was sure that Ksar Ghilane had changed a lot since you were there. It's kind of sad to see a proud people catering to tourists like that.

We saw similar touristic places last April when we passed within 30 miles of Ksar Ghilane on the way from Tatouine to Douz, Qbili and Gafsa, where I served for 3 years in the Peace Corps so long ago and where I finally reunited with my beloved former student, Ali Zaabouti.

I'm very sad about yesterday's riots in Tunis and just hope that the forces of darkness can be pushed back there. Fundamentalists, whether theirs or ours, are frightening and dangerous to civilization. And back to politics we are forced to go....

-- ge

Besta é tu se você não viver nesse mundo

I'm sad, too

I can only hope people understand, the vast majority of Tunisians are not extremists. I spent a lot of time with guys who were too poor to buy their way out of being conscripted into the military, and most of them were either not religious or didn't wear it on their sleeve.

And by the way, thanks for your service, too. If we spent more money on Peace Corps initiatives and less on the war machine, we might not have to worry about Molotov cocktails so much.