“Where are your husbands?” asked the guard. It was the usual question, they never knew what to make of two women travelling with five young children but no men – or perhaps man, they assumed my friend Mary and I shared the same husband and our youngest two blond children did look rather like twins.
We had seen the Sahara, ridden camels and had a mind-expanding time in oases, and now we were in Southern Tunisia heading close to the Algerian border on the illustrious Red Lizard Train.
Actually all the glamour was on the outside: the train with its deep dark black and red exterior, the guards in dashing red uniforms and then the scenery with huge sandstone boulders and carved cliffs like an Indiana Jones set. ‘The Five’ settled themselves in like old pros and began another card school, gambling with bits of lizard skin and salt-crystals they’d collected. I took in the slow-rolling orange and yellow landscape until the inevitable call of nature came. Ladies in white robes pinched five-year-old Rosanna’s cheek and smiled with brown-gapped caverns as we walked down the train. They frightened her a little but she was getting used to it. The men offered sweets or dates and she had also learned that it was ok to take them - unlike at home - so as not to offend them.
The door was thick dark wood and ornately carved. We lifted the lid of the lavatory and there were the rails rushing beneath the pan! It took a lot of persuading to get her on the seat above the flying dust but eventually she rallied and we were able to make our way back to our seats where she offered dire warnings to the rest of the clan. We were all rather glad that we’d be sleeping in a hotel that night – maybe even one that had a proper bathroom!