Tunisia has been going through interesting times lately. I lived and worked there for a couple of years back in the 1980s, and I still keep in touch with some of the Tunisians I knew and worked with. They’re all okay so far; they’re posting on a daily basis on Facebook, and I wish my Arabic were better, because the videos and news stories are pretty interesting. I wish them, and all Tunisians, a prosperous and happy future.


I was there during the last few years of the presidency of Habib Bourguiba, the original President of the Tunisian Republic, le Combattant supreme. He was then in his eighties and very frail, but the country was stable and open (lots of coming and going to Europe; decent relations with most of the rest of the Arab world, with the exception of Libya – but in those days, no one got along with Libya; a broad and very effective educational system, which emphasized secondary education). It was, as we said in our office communications, “the crossroads of the Arab world.”



I lived in the old city, about two blocks from the Casbah. We were within hollering distance of two of the most famous and most beautiful of Tunis’s mosques, the Zeitouna and the Youssef Dey. Both had real muezzins who intoned the call to prayer five times a day (most mosques use recordings), but the muezzins in those two mosques managed it so they never faced one another as they circled their parapets. Sometimes we’d go up to our rooftop at sunset to listen to the muezzins and watch the lights come on all over the city.



I shared the medina apartment with a number of different people, all women. The elderly landlord was baffled by this, but refused to admit it. Naturally he deferred to me as the head of the household. All of my female housemates were referred to, politely, as “Madame.”


There was a good restaurant not far from the Zeitouna mosque, on one of the roofed streets in the Medina. During Ramadan (when you can’t eat while the sun is in the sky), we’d get a table around fifteen minutes before sundown and order harira, the thick wholesome traditional Ramadan soup. They’d serve it about five minutes before sundown. We (and all of the other diners in the restaurant) would toy with our spoons. Finally, faintly, we could hear the muezzin begin the sunset call from the Zeitouna mosque. After a minute or so, a little boy stationed down at the end of the street would frantically wave his arms, signalling to us that the call was completed, and we’d pick up our spoons and begin to eat.



My apartment had a very small balcony facing north. From there, we could see the summer thunderstorms lining up over the Mediterranean. They never came inland, but we saw the lightning flickering from the clouds at night.



One day in winter, there was a little sleet mixed in with the rain, and one of my Tunisian officemates turned to me as we watched the weather from the office window and asked: “Is this what snow is like?”



Toward the end of my time there, two of my friends drove me to an undisclosed destination. It turned out to be the very tip of Cap Blanc, the northernmost point of Africa, overlooking the Mediterranean. We watched the sun go down from there.



It was very beautiful.



Here’s hoping for a peaceful and happy outcome to the Jasmine Revolution.




About Loren Williams
Gay, partnered, living in Providence, working at a local university. Loves: books, movies, TV. Comments and recriminations can be sent to futureworld@cox.net.

One Response to Tunisia

  1. Noclegi says:

    Amazing post. Thx a lot. I will back here soon.

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