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

Dubai Architecture

I have often lamented that our society has all the materials, machinery and technology in the world at its disposal, yet persists in building slight variations on the rectangle for people to live and work in. Not in Dubai. The architecture is simply stunning.

Burj Dubai had to be renamed the Burj Khalifa when Abu Dhabi gave Dubaii a $10 billion bailout. It's almost twice as tall as the Tapei 101

Add caption

A modern take on the Arch de Triomphe

Twenty years ago, this was all just sand.

A mosque

Another mosque
The air quality leaves a lot to be desired, though. Those grey skies were mostly smog.


It looks like I've got a flight out of here tomorrow morning! If all goes well, I'll be back on Tunisian soil at 7:45 tomorrow morning, and hugging Paige half an hour later. Inshallah.

Dear Friends

Thanks to all of you who have written to ask after my safety. I am far too safe, as a matter of fact. I came to Dubai last Wednesday to give a session at a workshop. I had committed to doing so in November when I believed Paige was only staying in Tunis until Dec. 28. Then she got a new return flight for Jan 20. I was quite sad to leave her on her own, especially so close to the end of her stay with me, and offered to take her with me. She thought she’d rather stay home, take care of Libby and work on her university applications. I made sure that all this Year's new teachers and all those who live in my neighbourhood were alerted to keep her company while I was away.

Anyone who was paying attention knew about the protests and suicides in the middle and north west of the country, but there wasn't a whisper of anything going on in Tunis.  I got on the plane and all he'll broke loose. Now I am stranded in Dubai (without a functioning credit card!) and Paige is stuck in Tunis where I believe the banks are closed. She says our area feels completely safe and that they have brought in some pretty beefy looking security guards. She does not feel personally threatened, thank God. On the other hand, she can smell the smoke from burning buildings and hear intermittent gunshots all day and all night. As you can imagine, I am going out of my mind. The Canadian Embassy is not evacuating citizens the way the Europeans are. They do, however send out a daily bulletin, which is reassuring but not helpful. I’ve tried to contact them several times to no avail.

The situation is "fluid", which I’ve learned is code for chaotic. I had dinner with a man from Egypt the night before last, and he told me the whole Arab world, his country in particular, is watching and taking notes. There is not doubt in my mind but that Tunisia has started the dominos of these corrupt regimes falling. It is a dangerous, but necessary thing. I would be more cheerful if my girl wasn't in the midst of it.

It would be easier for me if those who are interested kept up with events via my blog or FaceBook. I am getting buried in emails.

Much love,


P.S. Tell at least one person you love them today and every day. Life is less certain than we think.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

How about some good news?

For the past three days, I have been in Dubai attending and speaking at an iFollett workshop. They have Larry Gilbert (aka the Destiny Doctor), Britten Follett (great, great grand daughter of the founder of Follett) and Doug Johnson (internationally renouned speaker and creator of the Blue Skunk blog). I've attended some wonderful sessions put on by these people - in fact, I'm in one now!  Doug's topic this morning is Changed by Still Critical. This would have been enough, but because I'm a presenter, I've wined and dined with these people. It's been a real kick.

Tunisia's Timeline

I found this very informative and easy to follow. Thought you might, too. The BBC's chronology of key events:

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Today's Update from my Director

It has certainly been an historic last 24 hours and the political demonstrations appear to have subsided with the departure of the president. I have been informed that the military is now moving into Tunis to take control of security in place of the police. If you have been out today, you will have seen green uniformed soldiers with tanks, etc in place of the usual blue suited police. They have now placed army in front of supermarkets, banks, etc and are gradually expanding to regain control.

There are still a great many looters out trying to take advantage of the void in police control. In response many neighborhoods have organized their own security possies to protect their homes and businesses from the looters. That being the case, you are advised to remain at home and to keep a low profile until the situation is under better control.

There is a curfew set for this evening from 5 PM until 7 AM tomorrow. Please follow this since I believe the military plans to enforce it very strictly.

There was a rumor today that the city water supply had been poisoned and was not drinkable. This rumor is false. The water has been tested and remains safe for your use.

Given that virtually all of the larger grocery stores have been burned and or closed (owned by the former president's family), you will need to find groceries in the smaller neighborhood stores which are now opening in the mornings for a few hours. Please try to stock up on supplies when you can locate them. Please let me know if you are short of food and unable to locate supplies. We also have some dinar cash available if you are short of cash. Please call me early tomorrow if I can help with this.

Although the situation is fluid and uncertain, I was told this afternoon that no expat or expat homes had been harmed. With the political demonstations over and that battle won, it is now a question of the military dealing with those who would like to take criminal advantage of the police void. Let's hope that this happens relatively quickly and that we can resume our normal existence. I will be in contact tomorrow...stay safe.



Sleep has always been my way of dealing with stress, and I have napped my way through the last two weekends. It is a testimony to how calm things are here that today I am up, have played with the dog on the beach, made banada muffins, hemmed my bedroom curtains (bought in October!) and am posting to my blog.

First, I offer you these photos of some of the more tasteful windows in the Dubai gold souk.

Evelyn shows off the Guiness World Record for largest gold ring. 64 kilos of the stuff!

Living in Interesting Times

Thanks to all of you for checking in on me. I am in Dubai to give a workshop, and Paige is in Tunis. Being apart is very hard, as you can imagine. Our neighbourhood is safe, and colleagues and neighours are taking good care of her. She has suddenly become a very good communicator. I’m not really worried for her safety. That said, they closed Tunisian airspace after the president fled, so I can’t go home and I can’t get Paige out. I doubt that the closure will last very long. I am betting the chaos will last a while longer. Ben Ali’s departure has created a power/security vacuum that human nature will fill as it often does – with bad behaviour.

The prime minister has stepped up, but he is such a puppet that I didn’t know until this morning that Tunisia had a PM and I had never heard his name. He won’t last either, because he is too close to the Ben Ali family and people are too angry to tolerate anyone with those links.

What is bothering me as much as anything is that I am here in Dubai while history is being made in Tunisia. I’m missing too much here!

It is interesting to be watching a hugely significant use of social networking. FaceBook was blocked by the Ben Ali regime until a couple of years ago when his daughter wanted an account. What the girls want, the girls get. (You Tube is still blocked. Guess she wasn’t in to videos.) This revolution was almost completely organized via Facebook and SMS messages. Ben Ali closed all schools and universities on Monday, using a strategy to keep people from fomenting change that worked twenty years ago. All it did was enrage people while giving both students and teachers ample time and space to organize using their social networking apps. Perfect.

I’ll keep you posted on events whenever I hear anything. In the meantime, the English Al Jezeera is a good source for information from this part of the world.

Much love.


Thursday, January 6, 2011


Yesterday, Paige and I drove to Dougga, an ancient Roman town located about an hour's drive northwest of Tunis. I say an hour's drive because that is a reasonable amount of time for a person to take to cover the 90 or so kilometres between the two points. Signage here is very poor, and traffic is ridiculous. It took us two hours to find our way out of Tunis. Once on the highway, it was a piece of cake, but having failed to navigate our way around the city, we were forced to go through it, and that is a rich experience indeed. I wish I could say we did better on the way home, but we hit the city at rush hour, and it turns out there are no signs at all saying "To Karen's House" when you try to go home.

It is, therefore, a very high recommendation of Dougga that the trip was worth every bit of the stress of getting there and back. I'll go again with my next visitors. Dougga is the best preserved example of an Afro-Roman town in existence. Covering 65 hectares, it would take at least three hours to walk the whole town.

Two of twelve seats on the communal toilet

The theatre has amazing acoustics. There is a classic theatre festival here every July.

A small part of the town. It really wouldn't take much to make this habitable

The settlement was built on a steep hillside, looking down over what is still very fertile farmland. There are numerous springs on site, making it ideal for both security and comfort. Walking around we saw temples, public baths, the amphitheatre, a market, public cisterns and fountains, houses, shops, andmuch we didn't understand.
Paige in front of the Capitol
If you are interested in learning more about Dougga, I would recommend the UNESCO site at http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/794