Gratitude: The root of the glow.

by Zachariah Cruz (United Kingdom (Great Britain))

I didn't expect to find Tunisia


My soul left my body. Just for a second. I felt it. I snapped backed into reality just before my adrenaline filled body collided into a dilapidated brick wall with nothing but broken glass on the ground. Seconds before I am about to start flying into oblivion, my skinny body found the force within itself and instinctively pushed down on the pedals immediately regaining control over myself and to Pauline, Rahma and Hanen I pass this near death experience off as a “sick” bicycle stunt. As I continue to ride my rental mountain bike with now enhanced control, “Next Lifetime” by Erykah Badu continues to play and we have finally arrived at Sidi Abdelaziz Beach. “I’m too small for this bike” was my first thought when ascending the bike but alas I severely rolled my eyes and decided to mount my infant body without whining like one. I managed to find the right equilibrium whilst cruising through the vintage toned streets of Tunis. I took a moment to check in with myself and absorb the uninterrupted panoramic views when Pauline stormed past me screaming “I feeel sooo freeeeee!” Squinting my eyes in the glaring sun, the two sisters were nowhere within sight. With the foliage draped streets empty of any speeding vehicles and heat exhausted pedestrians, I painfully accelerated to catch up to Pauline and join her in her feeling of freedom. Both quads numb from the pain, I lifted up my body in the position of an upward facing dog and took a wholesome breath of appreciation. Overwhelmed with feeling so liberated I was left speechless. I just smiled at Pauline and continued cruising until we all reunited at a congested traffic stop. “Guys! stay close and follow me!” yelled Hanen as she began to lead the way and we, like baby ducks, just followed. Maintaining our rapid velocity briefly, we pedalled together as the surroundings became louder and busier with locals. We broke off and started to gain momentum as there was a gradual but rocky slope downhill. To think I’d be able to ride my bike and avoid people was an exercise in blissful ignorance. I found myself frantically tapping my cracked iPhone to change the song to avert myself from the stares and glares from the locals. Unable to find the right song, I felt compelled and accidentally looked at a crowd of loud Tunisians sipping their tea and smoking their Marlboro’s - many of them dead in the eye. Never have I ever felt more discomfort. I was inspected from head to toe with interest and admiration cloaked in confusion. Perhaps it was my thick black curly hair. Perhaps it was my coconut oil infused brown skin. Or, maybe it was my eccentric neon purple shirt that matched my purple rental. It could have been a combination of the three or even none. The feeling of freedom and liberation was no longer present. I now felt oppression. Feeling oppressed for a moment lead me to produce more sweat than the sizzling 40-degree heat in Tunis that morning. But the feeling was short lived. My friends and I continued to cycle through the two-toned blue and white town of Sidi Bou Said. Whilst fighting my breath in the scorching heat, I waddled over to Rahma as she was chugging chilled water and emptying her bottle over her overworked face. “This view is to die for.” I breathed to Rahma as we gazed over the sun-kissed Mediterranean Sea to which she responded, “You haven’t seen anything yet.” Mounting our mountain bikes, we continued to spin our already fatigued legs and cycled down and through the small streets populous of mainly European Tourists. Rahma swiftly turned her head round and cheered “We’re almost here, hang on guys!” Making a sharp right turn, Rahma disappears from my sight once again. As I too, turn, I found myself glowing in a state of gratitude. The staggering view of the platinum sandy beach and shimmering blue ocean had me feeling enlightened beyond words. “I will be eternally grateful for this experience,” I mumbled to myself as I envisioned launching myself into the healing saltwater – My soul left my body.