The No. 1 attraction among Muslims in Kairouan is Bi'r Barouta, which westerners, to judge by electronic travelogues, despise. There are campaigns to keep travelers from visiting the place.
It's definitely a weird attraction... and I found it so odd to be visiting it while the news is full of talk about Michael Vick and animal cruelty. (The Atlanta Falcons star has pleaded guilty this week to supporting dog-fighting and killing under-performing dogs.)
Bi'r Barouta is essentially a well, supposedly the very well that once discovered in ancient times was the basis for Kairouan. How it was discovered is a matter of legend with many variations all involving magic and destiny. But anyway, around the water source an inn was established and grew, and then more and more shops and rooms were added and today the well is in a carpet shop in the middle of a market.
That's not the controversy. The trouble is the way water is pulled up out of the well. They use a camel. It's harnessed to a water wheel, decorated with multi-colored scarves including one around the eyes to keep it calm and encouraged by a herder who hits the walls with a stick to go and stop. This turns the wheel to which jars are attached and water comes up and is collected in mugs. You taste the water (a little salty) and pose with the animal and put a dinar in the herder's bowl.
There are more stories about this drink. One book says it means you'll come back to Kairouan, another that is a drink of redemption with religious significance.
Westerners decry the poor quality of life for the camel, although I don't know that life in the Sahara or in Saudi Arabia eating poison feed (2,000 camels are dead in the Kingdom this week from the bad food) is better. If I spoke Arabic I would have asked 1. how they get this giant beast in and out of the well room through all the little stores and up the stairs and 2. how are the animal's bathroom needs taken care of.
More mysteries to go along with the source of water in the desert.