Time to leave Tunis….. Suddenly I started thinking of what I’m taking with me and, of what changed deep inside within me. I wouldn’t really tell you what changed as I didn’t really realize it yet. I just hope it’s for the good. I could give you some hints instead and you figure out what could have happened.
two years ago, walking into my hotel room shortly after my arrival, hungry, tired, opened the menu and chose lots and lots of dishes thinking I can eat their entire stock. Afterwards, I opened the door to find the waiter with a smiling face asking me if I was Egyptian, I go ”yup” then he goes “Om el donia, please remove 50% off the total price, I checked with my boss”.
Walking in the street on my way to work. I found her firmly pointing to the cars to stop so that I could cross the road then she gave me a nice smile, I smiled back in gratitude. She is beautifully firm and standing in control of the whole square. Not a single driver could disobey her firm smile while she’s pointing her finger with an un-negotiable order to stop.
Lunch time, in a restaurant. Moataz is in his late forties. He sat in front of me. He accused me of wasting it, but I didn’t, I swear I didn’t, it wasn’t there when I was born, it was lost before I came to life. They both died before I was born but he said it doesn’t need them to survive, it needs YOU to survive. “where did this beautiful singing go?” he said, “Egypt the great now listens to ruby and ihab tawfik after it listened to Om Kolthoum and Halim”. “It is not my fault” I go (could it be?) “I’m not responsible for what all the Egyptians do” (am I not?) “I just don’t listen to them”.
Drinks, in a pub. Hind Sabry is a young Tunisian actress. We were sitting with some other friends. I told her “Tunisians don’t like you because you speak with an Egyptian accent, they say you are ashamed of your origin, the government spent lots of money on you to represent the Tunisian version of the Arabic culture but you ran after fame and started acting only using Egyptian accent.” She goes “tell them to go o hell, at least I speak in Arabic, they speak in French in their own Tunisia to show how sophisticated they are”
At the office, Ahlem, my French professor said “What is this Arabic culture you are talking about, Tunisia is not an Arab country in the first place, we are a Mediterranean country, what we have in common with Italy is more than what we have in common with Libya or Algeria” I go “do you think the whole of Tunis is more Mediterranean than just the city of Alexandria?” she goes “no” , “I don’t think ya Ahlem that there is a Mediterranean culture, rather there are some Mediterranean properties that are in common between all the Mediterranean cultures or else Egypt would definitely be more Mediterranean than Tunisia whereas Egypt is an Arab country.”
At the office, Nabil affirms “Ahmed, Tunisians are anything but Arabs, we just speak Arabic.” …. “Nabil, looking back at history I find that the major contributors to the Tunisian race if we assume you are not Arabs are first the Phoenicians who built Carthage and those originally came from Lebanon and their descendants are known as the Ghassasna who are a branch of the Arabs and second the Berber who existed in very small numbers and are not a major contributor to the current Tunisian race, thirdly and most importantly are Beni Helal who conquered Tunisia and they represent the major contribution to the current race, forth are the Spanish Arabs who moved from Andalusia 600 years ago. Putting aside the Turks, Italians and French who moved to Tunisia, I don’t think you could deny the Arabic genes in you but maybe you could argue that you don’t feel Arab.”
Imed, my mentor…. “My older brother is a fan of Nasser, we have a big poster of him at home, he used to tell me about the times when they used to listen to his speeches in the radio and how they used to react to the speeches, he told me about the 1967 war and how people went to the streets and broke into the shops and bars of the Jews and started destroying everything. Most of the Jews left Tunisia then and those who stayed are now living in the Djerba island in the South and they have a monopoly of the jewelries trade, they started moving into land acquisitions.”
Mme. Fawzeya, the wife of my landlord Dr. Mounir Hannablia “I can understand the Egyptian accent very well ya Ahmed but I can’t speak it, my husband prevented me from using it and from watching Egyptian movies, even the kids are not allowed to watch them. Mohamed my son has the complete collection of (Ragol Al Mostaheel) and he had to collect it discretely without his father’s knowledge.”
Mokhtar, a work colleague “I saw the movie El Lemby, I am so shocked not just at the low quality of the movie and the acting but to the fact that the belly dancer was Egyptian talking with the Tunisian accent and was acting like a whore, is that how you represent Tunisian women?”
Olfa, a friend from the Leo Club “ Youth are much more active in Egypt and they have much more exposure to the outside world. You have much more opportunities to express your opinions and interact together. Our interests have greatly shifted towards sports and cheap culture, added to that the fact that we don’t have a real civil society reduced the chances of our youth to develop. I wish we could have your opportunities.”
Nabiha, our finance department secretary “Egypt, it is like a dream, it is the dream of every Tunisian to visit Egypt, we know it by heart through the movies and soap operas, it is part of our childhood and love stories.”
A Café, sitting with Hagar, a graphic designer and her dad is a one of the powerful elite ruling the country “I’ve been to Beirut, I didn’t like it, I generally don’t like the East, your countries are so dirty and not organized, honestly I prefer Paris.” She then added “you have lots of veiled girls as well and I totally resent the veil and how you treat women in the East.” … so I go “but Hagar, regardless of whether you resent veil or not, women in the East and specifically Egypt have the freedom to choose to wear it or not but here you don’t” … she goes angrily “who said we need them to choose, Tunisian are not qualified to choose yet, they go only by the stick and that’s how they should be treated”
Hagar Miladi, a friend who visited Egypt once with me “Ahmed, I have to be back from Egypt 3 days earlier than you and Hassan” …. “Why ya Hagar?” …. “Because I have to vote for the president” …. “What?? Do you really believe in the elections??” … “No I don’t but the democratic party called mama and told her she’s been nominated for the parliament and they won’t take her unless all of her family votes to the president and that’s why I have to be back… we have to vote for him or my mom won’t get into the parliament.”
Reda, the son of my new landlord “why should I be back, I am a very successful lawyer in France and there are very limited chances in Tunisia. It is true that the country needs qualified people to develop but …… “ silence.
AbdelBary Atwan, Editor in Chief of Al Kods Al Araby “ We need Egypt, we need this Giant to wake up and act.”
Lamia El Jouini, a friend “We are planning to either call our baby Ryan or Adam, both names could go as Arab and European, we do not want our boy to have any problems when migrating to Europe if it’s known that he is an Arab.”
A cheap restaurant, downtown, after paying the cahier did not have any change so he took a thick paper from in front of him (we use these papers to dry our hands after washing them) and he wrote on it “I hereby abide to either pay you or give you the value of 500 millimes in food. Siganture: Haj Mohamed. Tunis 10/05/2004”
The road to the beach, I got stopped by a policeman “You are not supposed to wear a t-shirt with Che’s photo on it, he was a dictator who encouraged youth to pursue violent acts.”
Anonymous, “I love your president, he is so funny, I try to listen to his speeches as much as I can, he speaks in the same way we usually see Egyptians talk in soap operas. You can’t tell he is a president, you could easily confuse him for a regular guy.”
The Egyptian Counselor in Tunisia “Egyptians are naturally attracted to four Arab countries Syria, Lebanon, Tunisia, and Morocco. We have a lot in common and we are the most educated among all the Arabs”
The Tunisian National Anthem
حماة الحمى يا حماة الحمى هلموا هلموا لمجد الوطن
لقد صرخت في عروقنا الدماء نموت نموت و يحيا الوطن
إذا الشعب يوما أراد الحياة فلابد أن يستجيب القدر
و لابد لليل أن ينجلي و لابد للقيد أن ينكسر