This is the title of an article in the Huffington Post by travel writer Judie Fein (h/t to Frank Adler for sending), on a trip she took to Tunisia this spring. She thus begins
It’s safe to guess that you are not booking travel right now to the Middle East or North Africa. Your eyeballs are probably exploding from scenes of riot, devastation, repression, shooting, looting, murder, mayhem and burning. You’d much rather frolic on a beach, sample new foods, swim, sun, sleep and pursue your own personal peace. Right? About a month ago, my husband Paul and I were en route to Tunisia, which was largely calm and peaceful, to see what the revolution was like on the ground. In my experience, there is media, and then there is reality. Reality, for me, means traveling around the country, meeting a lot of people, listening to what they have to say, asking questions, and trying to get below the surface. We were just about to board a Tunis Air flight when I got a frantic email telling me that riots had broken out in Tunis, the main avenue where we had booked a hotel room was shut down under military guard, and we would have no access to our hotel. I took a deep breath, walked onto the plane, and, when the door had closed behind me, I calmly put my seat in the upright position, made sure my tray table was properly stored, and then felt a surge of panic. It was nighttime and we had nowhere to go once we reached Tunisia. What happened then was extraordinary.
She goes on to describe the marvelous time they had in Tunisia and the generosity and kindness of the Tunisian people. Read the whole thing, particularly if you have any thought of visiting the country. Tunisia is suffering economically with the collapse of tourism—on which its economy so heavily depends—since the January revolution. But there is no reason whatever for foreigners to be avoiding the place. Fein’s story made me think of a Polish couple in their mid-late 20s I met on the Tunis tramway in May, who happened to be sitting in front of me. They were hippie-ish in their dress and appearance, which is not too common there, spoke neither French nor Arabic, knew nothing about that part of the world before arriving there two weeks earlier, and didn’t know what to expect. They gushed about what a great time they had had and how nice people were, of the number of homes they had been invited in to while traveling in the interior of the country. These stories are not out of the ordinary, either in Tunisia or elsewhere in the Arab world.
On the subject of revolutionary travel, here are some photos I took of the “revolutionary” side of things during my trip to Tunisia in late April-early May. This one is of the two-day conference I attended in Yasmine Hammamet, that I posted on at the time. The freedom of tone was total. No one hesitated to say what was on his or her mind, or had the slighest fear that there could be mukhabarat agents in the room. Given what Tunisia had been prior to January 14th, this was quite extraordinary.
And then there was this keynote speaker, whom I also posted on during the event.
Arnaud Montebourg was another keynoter (he told me he liked my talk, BTW…).
Here’s a trashed villa in Hammamet, which had been inhabited by a member of the Trabelsi family.
And political graffiti on the villa’s wall.
“Long live the people, long live Tunisia”
The Hammamet cemetery. Not related to current political events but political nonetheless (and of interest to Italians).
This is Avenue de Paris in downtown Tunis. The sidewalks in the city center are lined with hawkers and peddlers (marchands ambulants), which was impossible before January 14th, when they would have been immediately chased away by the police. This is one of the downsides of the revolution: the relative absence of the state and decline of public order. Downtown Tunis now looks like Barbès in Paris. And the plethora of hawkers is a sign of high unemployment and the desperate condition of a part of the population.
Avenue Habib Bourguiba in midday.
Rue de Marseille, just off Bourguiba.
The Ministry of Interior, on Avenue Bourguiba. The mere idea of taking photos of this was inconceivable before January 14th. One would have been arrested within 15 seconds, taken into detention, and with camera confiscated bien entendu. This time, after a minute or two, a soldier wagged his finger at me from a distance, indicating that photos were not allowed and that I should continue on my merry way.
There are military vehicles in the middle of the boulevard. Passers-by stop and chat with the soldiers.
And one can take close-up photos of the vehicles. Try doing that in Algeria or Syria. Hah!
At the eastern end of Avenue Bourguiba, the ex-Place du 7 novembre 1987 (date of Ben Ali’s seizure of power)—all indications effaced—, now renamed the Place du 14 janvier 2011.
The HQ of the now banned RCD, empty and guarded by soldiers. Is the tallest building in central Tunis.
Early that evening we came across a group of men on Avenue Bourguiba who were spontaneously debating politics. One of them was defending Ennahda, but also let it be known that he was drunk… (my friend—who is an activist in the FDTL—is listening in…)
A talk by Ahmed Ben Salah before a small group of political activists. He’s 85-years old but can go on for hours—about the past, of course—and without skipping a beat (we left after two and he was nowhere near finished).
The Place de la Kasbah, where large rallies and sit-ins have been held. The police have now blocked off the main entrance into the Medina and with barbed wire.
Merchants in the Medina are hurting. Business is not good.
Back in downtown Tunis on Sunday morning we stumbled across this demo, by an association of diplômés-chomeurs (unemployed university graduates).
Sunday afternoon in La Marsa…
…in the most interesting company of this well-known film maker and playwright, and a founding member of the new civic association L’Initiative citoyenne.
Finally, the spanking new HQ of Ennahda, in downtown Tunis, on the corner of Rue d’Angleterre & Rue El Jazira.
Don’t worry, they don’t take up the whole building. Just a floor or two.
Is Ennahda the future of Tunisia? Let’s hope not.
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