Sunday, June 1, 2014

Tunis, week waahid

After I finished up my shopping at the vegetable stand and ate lunch, I went to find the offices of the Femmes Democrates. I took the metro and figured out how to get there. When I went to grab the metro, there was a group of three young guys hanging on the back of the last car hitching a ride. It's really easy to get on the actual metro without buying a ticket, so I don't know why they would hang on the back when they could get on for free. Anyways, I had an address I found online. I searched high and low for this office, to no avail. I asked so many people on the street, and everyone knew what I was talking about and knew the office was on Rue de la liberte, but finally a security guard directed me to the correct place. Before I found it though, I was walking aimlessly through the zoo gardens and a man came up and asked to walk with me. He was actually really nice and I felt almost bad telling him I was married when he invited me to have a coffee with him.

An actual straight queue for metro tickets, unbelievable... but believe it
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When I finally found the well-hidden office, the nice woman there told me I was at the wrong place, that this was the office for the domestic violence center but not the headquarters with the people I wanted to talk to. She hastily scribbled some directions on a post-it note. Since it was getting later in the afternoon and I had been walking for several hours, I called it a day and headed home.

I slept pretty terribly that night, still adjusting to the jet lag and sleeping alone without a toddler waking me up several times a night. The next day (May 28th) I woke up with an awful headache that was threatening to become a massive migraine. I drank a gallon of water, turned on an ASMR headache relief video, and settled back down to sleep it off. The cleaning woman was in the room working but I hardly noticed I was so out of it. I crawled out of bed around noon feeling much better and started off again to the find the office I was actually looking for. After a long metro ride, and then a long time walking aimlessly without my Google maps downloaded (I forgot to do this before I left home), I asked a police officer where I might find this certain street. At first he said he didn't know, then he said maybe it was down a certain way. I walked that way, then another way, then kept asking people and ended up back at the same street the police officer was standing on. Of course, that was the right street and I found the offices after a little while. The secretary/administrative person was super helpful and gave me lots of great materials and talked to me for a long time. Of course, her mixture of Frabic was incredibly difficult for me to understand, and all the materials are in French and Arabic, but it was a semi-success nonetheless. They were holding a meeting next door to where I was sitting, and I listened in on some of it, but couldn't understand much. She told me to come anytime to use their library and sent me home with two books to keep.

Thursday (May 29th), I woke up at noon, disoriented and confused. Was my phone back on Madison time and it was midnight there and 6 am here? I had gone to bed late (around 2 am) after a distressing phone call with my screaming/crying children ("mommy, come hooooome!") and there was a wedding outside, and if you know Middle Eastern weddings, ain't no one gonna sleep through that racket. Nonetheless, I don't know if I have EVER slept 10 hours straight. Especially since my host and her family were getting up, going to school, taking showers, and their front door opens really loudly and right by my room. I felt so great, so decided to make it a sightseeing day. I found the address of what I thought was a large souq, but after searching for a few hours I gave up. I stopped into a little sandwich shop and bought an egg sandwich... a warm, homemade pita filled with eggs, spicy sauce, lettuce, onions. It was delicious. And cost about 60 cents. Oh, and the metro happened to be broken that day, at one stop. Guess which one? The one I needed. So, instead of taking the metro all the way to the stop, everyone got off at the stop before and there was a mass exodus down the tracks to either your destination or to the stop after the broken one. Then on the way back, I had to do the same thing, walk back to where I got off. It wasn't terribly long, and the weather was perfect. Cloudy, a tad windy, and we even got some rain.

Mail your letters... at your own risk

On this metro, I sat next to three students who were traveling together and started talking to them. Two got off, but the third insisted on coming with me wherever I was going. I'm always wary of things like this, especially since we've had several weird encounters where money was demanded or Lulah's shoe's stolen or something like that. But she seemed sincere, and so I walked around the souq with her and purchased a soccer uniform for Atticus and a little outfit for Lulah to match the one we bought Atticus last year (the smallest size they had for the soccer uniforms was a four, I really wanted to buy her one because they are so cute but alas, maybe she can wear the Morocco one from last summer). I offered to buy my new friend, Amal, an ice cream or something for her help but she declined and said she loved hanging out with me. We walked down Avenue Habib Bourguiba back to the metro and she described the revolution from the eyes of someone who was there. She's only 19, but she has a lot of fervor about her. She said it was like the people were "one voice" (sout waahid). It was cool to walk down the streets with her as she told me about where she was standing and how many people were out and what it was like. She even took a picture for me in front of this Bab I can't remember the name of, and didn't even charge!

Friday (May 30th) was a late start and a meeting at the university close by with Madame Professeur Souad Halila, whom I met at a conference at UW-Madison in October. She is amazing, and such a character. Whoever thinks Arab women are oppressed has not sat in a room with this woman! She has a PhD from the US in English Literature and is simply the greatest. She was having a thesis meeting with four of her MA students (three students, one former student actually) and they were all discussing their research and getting feedback. They were eloquent, brilliant, feminist scholars and I had the greatest time talking to them and received so much great feedback from Tunisian scholars. One student, Emira, is doing a project nearly identical to mine for her thesis and we are going to share sources and pass our papers back and forth to read over. Another student is studying illegal immigration in Italy from Tunisia, and another homosexuality and child abuse accusations in the Catholic Church (though, he says, he does NOT support homosexuality). And they all spoke flawless English, which was helpful for me as my brain aches from trying to understand French and Arabic all the time.

That night, two American law students came to stay in the house I'm currently in as well, and on Saturday (May 31st) I went with them house hunting... international. The first place we saw was really nice, huge but unfurnished and on a weird thoroughfare street. They settled on a smaller apartment but located in a really great area called Sidi Bou Said. I think if we end up back here for a year of field work that is where I will want to live. There is a lot less traffic and trash, and though it still has a distinct Arab feel, it is definitely more European style. We went to a cafe and ate overpriced paninis (3 dinar!!!) and walked around a bit more.

Although we took a taxi to the area, we decided to train it back. We picked the time of day when high schoolers go... somewhere... and it was SO CROWDED. And full of obnoxious teenagers, who insisted on banging loudly on the sides of the cars, singing, and opening the doors to hang out of the train. Some guys almost got into a fight, but then they didn't. Later, we were walking to the metro after quite a while, and saw this same guy from the metro being dragged by a crowd, shirtless, into the police station. It was really disconcerting because he was on the train with us, and then at the same place in Tunis with us a long time later and being dragged violently into a police station. Probably just a weird coincidence, but we raced home as fast as we could, feeling a little shaken. On the train, I was groped for the first time, by a pubescent boy with acne being egged on by his friends. After a quick elbow to the stomach and an evil look, he stopped... but ugh.

As we walked closer to the clock tower, we noticed a large group of Tunisians gathered and staring at the top of it. Even though we are told that occasionally large gatherings of Tunisians on Habib Bourguiba Avenue sometimes end up as revolutionaries, we thought we would check it out. Turns out two men were at the top of the tower, with some kind of banner but no one could tell what they were doing up there so it remains a mystery.

After that crazy day, I only left my room today to eat and go to the bathroom. I spent most of my day Skyping with people, reading books, and doing laundry.



  1. I love reading about your adventures, and had so much to say, until I got to the "Turns out two men were at the top of the tower, with some kind of banner but no one could tell what they were doing up there so it remains a mystery." Remember that episode of Gilmore Girls with the loner from the hills and the banner on the top of the church tower?

    I'm also curious to know how your school goals have changed recently. Email me sometime. Love you!

    1. Yes yes yes! I was just laughing to myself about that GG episode!! hahahahaha!! :D

      Love your posts, Cait! Keep em coming.

      Sorry about being groped. :(

  2. I love reading about your adventures. You are amazing.