Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Exciting Announcement

This will be old news to some, but in September I accepted a job at Robert College, Istanbul. RC is a top tier university prep school on 65 wooded acres overlooking the Bosphorus, just 15 minutes from the heart of Taksim, the old heart of Istanbul. The school, with a population of about 1,000 day and boarding students, accepts only Turkey's top achievers. I will be taking over as Head Librarian in mid-August, and living on campus as does most of the staff. Although I have been happy in Tunisia,  I am very excited about taking on this new challenge and exploring a new culture. Hear the food's great, too!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Hallowe'en Tunisian Style

Sunday it rained again - if anything, harder than last week. (See pictures and movie below.) The water running down my street was level with the sidewalk and the storm drains we bubbling up like fountains. At about 7 pm, I heard a rousing, repeated rendition of something that sounded very much like Trick or Treat. I opened the door to find this intrepid band of youngsters merrily going door to door. Never mind that it was the 30th. Never mind that no one had any candy. It was fun! I ran in and got the a chocolate bar - I keep them for such emergencies - and they happily divided it up. No fear of pins or poison.
Libby greets her favourite boy, Yusef

The Living Dead at my gate

Monday, October 24, 2011

Proud voters

To prevent repeat voting, people had to dip their middle fingers into ink when they cast their ballots. Here are some pictures of Tunisian staff members "showing their colours" the day after the election.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Election Day - Oct. 23, 2011

This video is the best "get out the vote"campaign I have ever seen. For those, like Paige, who witnessed the fall of Ben Ali, it is goose-bump making stuff.

Election day was very calm. It's was beautiful, warm sunny day, and there was a large voter turnout. Ennadha, the Islamic party, is predicting a win, and we can only hope that that is not the case. We must also hope that should they not win, they will be exemplary losers. Rumours are flying, but they are just that - rumours.

I went out with my camera this afternoon to catch a bit of the action. Earlier in the day, people had lined up for two hours and more to cast their ballots, but Sunday lunch is sacrosanct family time in Tunisia, so I didn't witness that.

To prevent anyone from voting twice, every person had to dip their index fingertip in semi-permanent ink before leaving the polling place. It will be a badge of honour tomorrow, I am sure.
Rym with Papito's drawing, titled "For my children."

Short lunch hour lineup in La Marsa.

Proud group of friends

Proud couple - she wearing her "Dégage" - Get out! - t-shirt

Three handsome types on their way to vote.
Hedy our head guard proudly giving me the finger!

On this evening's news, a BBC reporter asked a man standing in line who he thought would win. "We all win," he said. "We win because we're here voting, and because we don't already know who is going to win." Perfect answer.


OK so it's nothing compared to Bangkok, but when it rains in Tunis, it rains hard!

My road, or my river?

 There is a wall at the end of my street separating my neighbourhood from the next. During heavy rains, it used to fall down, so now there's escape drainage. I've seen it worse, but this was bad!

Notice the level of the water on that car's tires. This is a highway!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Eid is coming again!

Today this week's flyer announces the big moment. Yes, sheep are once again on sale in the parking lot of our biggest shopping mall! Hooray! Now I can buy my sacrifice when I finish picking up that Gucci bag I've been eying.

Oh look! Here comes one now!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Day trip to Kelibia

The Fortress of Kelibia
Three hours' drive to the south, on the tip of the Cap Bon, lies the town of Kelibia. Towering over its clear turquoise and indigo waters, looms a Punic fort built  in the 4th century and later used by the Romans, Arabs, and French and Germans as one after the other, they tried to control this country.  Now The fortress is now the property of the Tunisian National Guard.

Phillipe, Suren and Mouna

Our Mediterranean playground

Ah, if only he were 20 years older...

My colleagues Phillipe, Suren and Mouna just popped in for lunch at a delightful seaside restaurant appropriately named "Les Pieds dans l'Eau", feet in the water. We swam between each course. Magnifique!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Week One 2011

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been back in Tunisia for over a week already. I am struck again and again by what a beautiful country this is. The Mediterranean is just a gorgeous in real life as it is in pictures, and this time, I've got a car to get to the beach. And the people are wonderful as well. Perhaps a bit intimidating looking at first, with their dark, serious faces. But when they smile, which they do so easily, it's like the sun has come out. A few words of Arabic - and believe me, that's all I've got - is enough to break down the barrier.
As you might imagine, Libby was delighted to see me. She's keeping pretty close when I'm in the house, too, and seems more biddable. I haven't taken her to the beach yet, because it's Ramadan and it just doesn't seem like the right thing to do, culturally. For one thing, people are more observant at this time, and Islam is anti-dog. For another, the beaches are full of people trying to keep cool during the day at this time when they are not allowed to drink during the day. Sometimes they can be a bit grouchy too because they are fasting. I'll wait another ten days before I take my furry friend with me.

New teacher orientation has gone very well. People are very pleased with how they've been treated and supported, as well they should be! Last night was the first meal any of them has had to cook. The rest of us have taken turns hosting dinners every night, and the school has provided breakfast and lunch in the library every day. That will continue Monday and Tuesday as well. Friday noon, we headed off for a day in Hammamet, staying at the Laico Hotel. It's a beautiful hotel, made to look like a cruise ship inside. Having never been on a cruise ship, I cannot comment on the success of this, but it certainly was beautiful.

I gave a library services introduction on Friday morning, and got very positive feedback from that. It feels really good to be able to offer service this year right from the beginning. The first few months of last year were taken up with learning what I was dealing with in terms of resources, space and time, and I really wasn't on my game until after Christmas. This feels so much better.
I've just come back from the market. Figs and run down your chin peaches are in season. Yum. And I got a few sardines for the grill tonight. Tomorrow night, we're going downtown for the Iftar meal at El Walima and a tour of the Medina by our Arabic teacher Dorsaf. The next night, the Director and his wife are hosting dinner. No cooking for me until Wednesday at least!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Lunar Eclipse

I saw a stunning full lunar eclipse last night. Picture this: long palm-lined avenue, an illuminated mosque in the distance, a full moon hanging in the sky just to the right of the tower, gradually turning from silver to red to black, to red and back to silver as the earth's shadow passed over it. Breath-taking. Wish I had a really good camera and a tripod so I could capture such moments.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Happy Mother's Day!

Sunday is Mother's Day in Tunisia. Here's what's on offer from Promogro under the heading "Bonne Fête Maman": panty liners, pads, overnight pads, toilet paper, tissues, maxi pads, purse-sized tissues, more tissues, cotton balls and disposable diapers. Paige, if you ever buy me any of the above for Mother's Day, I WILL disown you!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Windy, with a chance of sand

I had a new experience when I logged on to my iGoogle home page this morning. One of my widgets is a weather watch that. I have set to Victoria and Tunis. When I'm about to travel, I add other cities as needed. The standard icons appear. Fluffy clouds, golden suns, snow flakes, slanting lines for rain. Today, I saw one that was new to me.  Good fun.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Life in North Africa - post revolution

I've had a couple of people express concerns for my safety, and thought this was probably the best way to communicate to the larger group.

As you undoubtedly know, Tunisia was the first country in the Arab world to experience a popular uprising against their dictatorial and corrupt president. Led by the country's youth, this did so with amazing courage, literally putting their lives on the line for democracy. I was in Dubai, giving a session at a workshop there, having left Paige here in Tunis. She is the one who lived through the sounds of machine-gun fire, the constant passage of helicopters with searchlights, the smoke. I went through a different kind of hell at a distance.

Tunisia had the great good fortune to have a president who was a coward and who fled the country after four days of rioting, other members of "the clan" having taken to their heels even earlier. (The worst of those Belhassen Trabelsi, is now living high in Montreal, where he had taken out residency papers four years earlier.) Once The Family was gone, the primary goal of the protesters was accomplished, and Tunisians basically went back to work. (This is a bit of an exaggeration, but I don't have time to write up the whole process of a country discovering how to strike, for example. These will be tales told over a beer in the summer.)

One example of the kind of courage we saw here occurred January 12, two days before  Ben Ali closed Tunisian air space and took off. Six Family members showed up at the Tunis airport and demanded places on a flight to Leon. The flight was fully booked, but that didn't matter. The airline chief was called and six people lost their seats to make room for the Trabelsi's. When the pilot heard who had just boarded his plane, he refused to take off.  He told the chief that if "those people" were on his plane, he was leaving the cockpit. Which he did. His main concern was for the safety of his passengers. He knew that many of the Trabelsi's had warrants against them in Europe, that they must therefore have boarded the plane with weapons to make the pilot to fly to some other country. He wasn't going to put his passengers at risk so he refused to fly. The Trabelsi's were subsequently arrested and are still being held in the army barracks quite near my school. The audio link at the bottom of this article is a really good one.

Mubarak stood up to the will of his people longer in Egypt, and therefore the violence went on longer. He stayed in his country and is now in jail. In contrast, Tunisia's president and horror of a wife now live in Saudi, a country where they cut of the hands of children who steal food, but that shelters large-scale criminals like Ben Ali without batting an eye. Syria's willingness to massacre its own people because they want a voice makes me weep.

Libya is horrifying, with their mad dictator killing his own people with his considerable expertise and delirium. Estimated death toll is now 30,000, with perhaps triple that wounded. About 13,000 people seeking refuge stream across the Tunisian border every week. All are sheltered, fed and treated, some in camps, but mostly in people's homes. Italy, a country of 60 million, was horrified to have a few thousand Tunisians  arrive in Lampedousa; tiny third world Tunisia has taken in hundreds of thousands. (I understand Lampedousa's pain. Almost all of the Tunisians who fled there are criminals, and they now outnumber the residents. That said, listen to this from a home-owner who gave a whole floor of his house to refugees in southern Tunisia. “If there is something to eat, we will eat it together. If there is nothing to eat, we will have nothing together.”

This week, Gadhafi has been shelling the Tunisian border town of Dhuheiba, killing not only Libyan rebels, but Tunisian citizens. The Tunisian military seems to be putting up with it, either withdrawing or simply escorting people back to their side of the border. I don't quite get it. Can you imaging what the US would do if a civil rebellion in Mexico spilled into Texas, killing a few US citizens?

And of course, a horrible event occurred in Morocco yesterday. An Islamic extremist - and they represent a tiny minority of Muslims - blew himself up in one of the most famous tourist cafés in Marrakesh. I feel surrounded by madmen and today can't wait to get home. That said, the area where I live and work is very quiet and secure, so I do not fear for my safety. It's just stressful to live in this environment.

Mostly I feel privileged to have been here and witnessed first hand this country's first steps toward democracy, and to see the inspiration they have given to all the dictatorships in the region. It will be a long, hard struggle, but a good one. Inshallah.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

This week's news.

On February 20, 60 Minutes did an excellent piece on the Tunisian revolution. It's called The Spark and taking the 13 minutes to watch it will give you a good deal of information on how and why the revolution happened.

Last Sunday, February 20, this news broadcast was made of a horde in one of the President's homes in Sidi Bou Said, less than ten minutes from where I live. The actual piece was about twice this long, but I didn't think I'd burden you with the full nine minutes of film with Arabic narration. It shocked Tunisians. The safes were hidden behind walls of fake books, some of them Korans. There were several floor to ceiling safes filled with tight bundles of Euros, Swiss francs, USD, TDN, Another floor to ceiling concealed safe held boxes and boxes of gems and jewelery, There was a case of false documents, and another of various alcohols.

This is only the tip of the iceberg - probably get-away money that they didn't have time to get to. But it's nothing compared to what they syphoned out of the country every year at the expense of their own people. If you feel like watching the whole thing here it is.

Monday, February 14, 2011

How are things, you ask?

I don't think I know. My sense of Tunisia's stability depends entirely on whom I talk to. Every weekend, there is something bad going on in the south, and last Wednesday, there was an "interesting" event at our local mall. The employees struck because the mall reduced their hours from 8 to 6 and reduced the value of their meal tickets as well. The mall food court is too expensive for its employees, and they don't get enough time to go home, so it represented a real hardship. Well, in the middle of the walkout, "bad elements integrated themselves" into the crowd and tried to get back into the mall to loot. (Many people are of the opinion that these "bad elements" that keep popping up are part of Leila Trabelsi's militia, whom she continues to pay from her hideout in Libya. Who knows?) Anyway, there is a tank and armed soldiers in the mall parking lot, a new fixture, so these ne'er-do-wells did not go unnoticed. Shots were fired into the air to change their minds.

You see, I wouldn't have liked that if I had been there. I don't like hearing live ammunition while I park my car to do the groceries. The good news is that the mall employees got their hours and meal tickets restored. The bad news is that all the malls and large intersections and beaches and and and have tanks on them with armed soldiers. I am not getting used to that, and have trouble - unlike the Tunisians - associating their presence with security. Plus, they take up about 8 parking spots. ;-)

The downfall of Mubarek in Egypt helps a lot. There's no going back now. Eyes are trained on Algeria now. Tunisians are justifiably proud of what they started in this tiny country. What the US military couldn't accomplish in Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan in two huge wars and hundreds of millions of dollars, the youth of Tunisia brought about in a week. Amazing times.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Just got home from my first day back at school. We are the first to re-open in Tunis, but are on a limited day (9-2) until the US Embassy tells us otherwise. I kind of like it. No school buses yet, so only those students whose parents can drive them can attend. Parents were made welcome to stay all day if they wanted to, and I had several in the library - a good chance to talk about books and reading. Apparently, we had 60% in attendance.

Took Paige to the airport at noon for her 2pm flight. No problems. She'll miss her connection from Paris because her original 9 am flight was cancelled, but they'll put her up somewhere for the night and she also knows several people there if she's stuck. She won't get into Victoria til 7:30 pm Friday, poor thing.

I took a different way home today, and saw three burned out vehicles at the side of the road. The Ben Alis and Trebelsis owned every car dealership and auto plant in the country, so new cars became targets of the revolution. People broke in to dealerships, took a car, drove it til the gas ran out, and then stripped it for parts before setting fire to whatever was left. Why not just steal the car, you ask? May I remind you that with all possible documentation, it took four and a half months for me to be able to drive my car here. There is no way a Tunisian could drive a car without plates, or get plates for a stolen car. Best to take those shiny wheels and rims and put them on your Fiesta.

Anyway, all is calm. Last night was the second in a row without low-flying helicopters or gunshots - or so say the people who were here to experience it. I'm guessing that Monday will be school as usual with a full schedule, but maybe without extra-curricular activities. I am very impressed with the service provided by the American Embassy, and disappointed at the Canadian equivalent. For example, the US had a town hall meeting on Tuesday so that everyone could voice concerns and listen to experts. The US just announced that ATMs were eating off-shore cards in an attempt to foil the Ben Ali/Trabelsis from taking out their money, and advised expats to go into the bank to make transactions. I would have lost my card today if I hadn't been part of the American School. The Canadian Embassador's children go to our school, for heaven's sake!

Not as bad as the French, however, and I do love the downward comparison model. Six mothers and their children were isolated by a sniper inside the French School here. The army came to the rescue, but since the school is officially on French territory, they could not move in without the OK of the French Ambassador. That approval did not come in until 10 am the following day. The youngest child was 2. Can you imagine keeping those children low, away from windows and quiet for 15 hours?! Not I.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

This is not Dubai!

The contrast between ultra-modern Dubai and developing Tunisia was quite apparent on my way to work this morning.
Sheep are still grazing on the sidewalks...

...taking the right of way on the roads

...and ignoring barricades.

Barricades? Wait a moment. Lots changed in the five days I was away, as well you know. Here are some now common sights.
  1. Tanks are everywhere.

2.  Most residential streets are barricaded. At night, a member of a loose neighbourhood watch checks every car that goes in.
My neighbourhood added three more men to their security patrols and has a roster of people who each take a night per week to be extra vigilant.

Paige and the Tank

While I cooked our last dinner, Rym, the neighbour across the street took Paige out to have her picture taken on the tank outside our fanciest shopping mall. No other tanks were allowing photo ops. Note the roses from a grateful people.
Souvenir of Tunisia

Most of the tanks we saw had some sort of floral tribute on them.

Roses or not, these things are scary

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Monoprix of Carthage

This used to be my favourite grocery store. It carried this great fresh strawberry juice, had a reasonable deli counter, good parking and was just the right size. Unfortunately, it belonged to the Trabelsis and was looted and burned. As you can see, it will be quite some time before anyone shops here.

Home at last!

Went to bed at 11 and had to get up at 1:15 in order to be at the airport the requisite two hours ahead. Checked the website just before I left to make sure there were no surprises. The Tunisair computers were down, so we all stood in line for about an hour. When I got to the counter, the rep told me the flight would be delayed six hours. Rats! I could have had a normal night's sleep!

Anyway, all's well that ends. Home in one piece hugging my girl who is the greatest trooper in the world!

More delays

Last night, the school managed to fine me a flight back to Tunis on Tunisair. I got up at 1:15am after what I am trying to convince myself was a refreshing nap. Got to the airport the required two hours ahead of the 4 am departure only to find that Tunisair's computers were down. By the time they could handle check-in they were predicting a six-hour delay. That means I'll get to school about an hour after the day's meetings are over. any further delay puts me in danger of driving after curfew, in which case I would have to spend the night on the airport floor. Yuck!

One thing I'm not and that's bored!

Have you hugged someone dear to you today?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Beautiful malls

Seriously. Beautiful malls. Nothing for me to buy because all the shops are Fendi, Versace, Armani and the ilk. Still, interesting to see how the other half lives. (The places were largely empty, in fact. Dubai is still recovering from the recession.)
This bathroom is not in a five-star hotel; just a shopping mall

Stained glass pyramid ceiling

Gold hieroglyph pillar

The dark side - burqa fashion shop