Something Good

Auteur: Lynn Lessard

I have been back in Canada for about a month now, and I’ve realized that I hardly talk about my experience in Tunisia. Partly, that’s because when somebody asks you how your trip went, you know that, really, they’re just being polite. And partly, it’s because I haven’t a clue how to describe the experience “in a nutshell.” I can’t even wrap my own head around the incredible three months I just had, so how can I convey that experience to someone else in a thirty-second spiel? Where do I even start?

My work? Challenging and immense learning experience. The food? Incredible! Think spicy, Mediterranean, harissa, tuna, olives, etc. The weather? 40+ and sticky! My host family and friends? My favourite part – loving, loveable and missed! My travels? Carthage, Bizerte, Hammamet, Monastir, Sousse, can’t get enough! The people? Most warm and welcoming you’ll ever know. Post-revolution politics? Slow, complicated, tense, and hopeful.

But I’ve noticed that all everyone really wants to hear about is the bad. I respond briefly, and then they dig for it: “Are women treated horribly there? Did you have to cover your hair?” “Are they allowed to drink alcohol?” “Do people eat with their hands?” “Are the streets really dirty?” “Do they cut off your hand if you steal?” (okay, no one actually asked me that last one!)…

And the truth is that there are a lot of negative aspects of my experience living in Tunisia. At times, I couldn’t stand to “wait another 10 minutes” (= 1 hour) or to hear another car honk its horn. But none of those aspects take away from the fact that I had an incredible stay. In fact, no experience is perfect and memorable without its downfalls or, as another intern put it, your “highest highs and lowest lows.” Then again, whatever you interpret as “bad” may not be the same for the person next to you, anyway.

In any case, I so badly don’t want to enforce negative stereotypes that I intentionally leave out the “bad” details most of the time. I know that if I mention one bad thing, it’s what many people will remember and repeat.

So, allow me to respond to the many general concerns people have about a country like Tunisia:

Sure, the situation of women is different than it is here. On a world-scale, it’s actually very good. It definitely isn’t much worse than the objectification of women in the streets of Ottawa, or the overuse of terms like “slut” or “whore” in the west. Tunisian women today can choose to wear a headscarf or a veil, just like they could here (although a year and a half ago, Tunisians weren’t actually allowed to wear either in government offices or universities).

There are less bars than we have here (unless of course you go to a touristy area), but there are way more cafés. And I’m not talking about Tim Hortons. I’m talking about outdoor cafés with character – in the narrow streets of the medina (old city), the busy sidewalks of Avenue Habib Bourguiba, the hilltop sea view of Sidi Bou Said, or a grassy terrace with cushions for seats and blankets for rooftops. And you can spend hours there, sipping coffee or mint tea and enjoying company buzzed only on caffeine (it is possible!). Pay for your tea, and maybe a shisha, and spend hours there without question.

You can order a bowl of ojja merguez and sit around a table with a group of friends (or strangers, if you wanted to), scooping it onto bread with your fingers and enjoying the incredible taste. You can make a meal a truly social activity. You can eat as much as you want and instead of being called a pig, you’ll be told “saha” (good health).

And sure, there is garbage in the streets of Tunis in a somewhat organized chaos. But only 45-minutes away, there is the village of Metline, where you can take a hike through fields, farms, forests, beaches, mountains and rocks – all within the scope of a few hours and along a breathtaking Mediterranean coast.

On a Ramadan night, you can watch kids play and set off fire crackers in the streets. Find the right place, and you can enjoy the beat of the Tunisian darbuka, and you can dare try moving your hips, hands and heart like a Tunisian.

On any night, you can eat fresh brik in La Goulette or bambaloni uphill in Sidi Bou Said.

The point is, I have become very doubtful that there is any more “bad” in Tunisia than there is in Canada. Not to undermine the serious problems that exist in Tunisia, but the “good” that does exist, from my experience, is so genuine and so novel that it stands above any frustrations that I may have dealt with.

There is something good to hear about every place in the world.


2 commentaires ↓

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