Monday, October 19, 2015

A Day in Tunisia

On a typical day in Tunisia, I head out in the morning for class. Sometimes I'll split a cab with a few other students from my program, but last Friday (when I took the pictures for this post, I walked). It takes about a half an hour to get from my house to the SIT building in Sidi Bou Said. 

I walk by the stadium in La Marsa, down a lovely residential street with lots of palm trees, by several cats...

Then, I go down a few other streets, this time with many flowers growing over the sides of walls (a sure sign that you're approaching Sidi Bou Said!) and a mosque... the Sidi Bou Said park and a large statue of a mouse with massive ears (possibly a recycling symbol; it's often found on water bottles)

... And into Sidi Bou! The SIT door is always happy to see us.

In the mornings, we usually have a lecture from a local academic, member of an NGO, or businessperson. We're currently in the middle of a seminar on Youth, Media, and Social Movementa, and on Friday we were visited by a woman who works on minority rights in Tunisia, particularly for Amazighs, Jews, blacks, and the LGBT community. 

After the lecture, we were off to our weekly dance my classmates are pretending to dance before our teacher arrived...

...and demonstrating some of what we learned last week! 

For lunch, I usually walk to the grocery store and come back to cook in SIT.

After lunch, we have 2-3 hours of Arabic class. Usually at night I head home and spend time with my host family, but on Friday we all stayed late at SIT to watch the Democratic Debate and cook dinner together. 

Mm, Tounsi-Tex-Mex!

Friday, October 16, 2015

SIT Tunisia Polyglot Blog

As part of our language curriculum, we're required to write weekly blogs for the rest of the semester in our target language (French or Arabic, though a few beginning Arabic students are writing in English). If you're interested in looking at a communal blog about our activities here in Tunisia, including jokes and words of the week, it can be found here

Friday, October 9, 2015

Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet--Nobel Peace Prize Winner!

As many of you may have heard, this morning the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet. The Quartet is a conglomerate of of four major organizations in Tunisia--the General Labor Union, which is an umbrella group for all Tunisian workers which was formed during French colonial rule and has played a significant role in society since the fight for independence, the Entrepreneurs' Union, which pulls together the creative spirit of Tunisians and contributes significantly to economic growth in Tunisia, the Bar Association of Tunisia, representing legal scholars and practitioners, and the Tunisian League of Human Rights, which gained momentum after the 2011 Jasmine Revolution, a movement based on the restoration of the dignity of the Tunisian people. 

In 2011, the Jasmine Revolution kicked off the Arab Spring in Tunisia. Rather than just demanding a governmental turnover, Tunisians included in their protests a request to create a new constitution and to completely reevaluate the methods of governance. As such, the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) was elected in October of 2011, assigned with the duty of writing a new constitution. Efforts reached a stalemate, and by May of 2013 Tunisia appeared to be moving toward a civil war based on sectarian and partisan lines. Politicians were assassinated; theaters and art exhibits were attacked; and Sufi shrines, bars, and brothels were destroyed by extremists. In a response to this growing crisis, between May and July of 2013 the Quartet formed a "National Dialogue Conference" in which all members of the NCA were brought together to discuss a "road map for democratic transition." The conference broke apart for a few months but was renewed in October with the full participation of all political parties. By January of 2014, the final draft of the Tunisian Constitution had been approved. Without the Quartet's leadership and insistence in holding the NCA accountable, partisan differences within would likely have caused the collapse of all constitution-writing efforts. 

Not only did the Quartet hold the NCA together, it encouraged the members to work together to create solutions and compromises.This is why the Tunisian constitution, and one reason why Tunisian democracy, has so far been successful. It truly combines the interests of all of the Tunisian people, because they were all represented significantly in the creation of the constitution. Not only did all political parties have the ability to participate wholly within the creation of the constitution, but all of the organizations in the Quartet were also able to ensure the representation of their members to create a holistic, functional constitution up to international standards for democracy.

As a Tunisian friend of mine told me today, "[The Quartet] was the only thing that saved us from becoming like Libya, Egypt, Yemen and Syria." 

I cannot think of a more worthy association to receive such an esteemed award. Tunisia is certainly not without its share of governmental and societal problems, but without the Quartet, Tunisia would surely not be the well-functioning state that it is. 

P.S. Want to hear our program director talk on NPR about the prize and Tunisian society? Listen onwards!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Northern Excursion

Asalama! Sorry it's been a few days since I've written; after Eid we went on a week-long trip and then had a large exam today, but here's an update about all that's happened this week. Our first excursion focused primarily on northern historical and archaeological sites. 

Our first stop was Dougga, one of the best-preserved Roman historical sites in the world. Tunisia is home to over 22,000 Roman sites, ranging from tiny homesteads (which are often visible from the window of a car as you drive by) to Carthage. Dougga is on the bigger end of these sites, with impeccably preserved buildings. Of about 35 hectares, only 5 are excavated, and yet the site is still truly impressive. Combine that with truly beautiful weather, and here are some amazing pictures.

The incredible Dougga Amphitheater, which can hold 7000 people! It's truly an incredible work of architecture. 

On stage! Rather, on the backdrop of the amphitheater. 

This is either a brothel or a hostel--Dougga was a city inhabited by travelers who would have mostly been single men, so either explanation works well and archaeologists are unsure about the true purpose of this building. 

This is the incredible view from Dougga! The surrounding area is lush farmland, and was known of as the breadbasket of Rome. 

Our esteemed leader, Mounir, telling us of the high likelihood that Julius Caesar walked by this particular olive tree given its ancient age and proximity to Dougga's most important buildings. 

Temple to Juno

Here is our whole group on the steps of the incredible temple to Jupiter! I'm a little out of breath in it as I had a ten-second sprint up the steps to make the picture after putting my camera on an auto-timer.

Public toilets!
After Dougga, we headed onwards to El Kaf, a city of 150,00 located in the northwestern mountains. We had a chance to walk around the medina and see the kasbah, but I thought that the most interesting part of El Kaf was the variety of street art. 

This is the Kasbah, at the top of the mountain in El Kaf. It's surrounded by the medina, and below that are the more modern quarters of the city. 

Here's some incredible post-revolutionary street art.

There's also a lot of interesting tagging which has been done by Amazigh (Berber, although this is a fairly offensive word with the same root as "barbarian") artists. Under the Ben Ali regime, any allegiances to groups other than the state were suppressed, and after the revolution, tags such as this began to appear, reclaiming the identity. I found this to be a particularly interesting aspect of shifting identities in a post-revolutionary Tunisia. One of our classes, Youth, Media, and Social Movements, examines self-identifications such as these and I am looking forward to further study of the subject of Amazigh identity in Tunisia in the next few weeks. 

The next day, we had a chance to visit the glorious Althibourous, a Roman municipality an hour and half from El Kaf and about 45 minutes from the nearest town with more than a few thousand people. Although a tourist site, we were the first group to visit in a very long time, as was evidenced by the gate, which had rusted shut. 
Lily with our driver, Bilel.

Casual conversation in Althibourous. Good thing Bilel is the one paying the most attention!


Best seat in the house aka a Roman pillar!

Later than day the rest of my group got to visit an organic farm near El Kaf which I hear was truly fantastic, but alas! I had a bout of an illness which we all had at some point during the trip and thus stayed in bed for the afternoon and evening.

The next morning I was back on my feet and we were back on the road, this time bound for Tabarka, a city in the northwest corner of Tunisia on the Mediterranean. On our way, we stopped at an extraordinarily eclectic restaurant in the woods which was reminiscent of a Texan barbecue joint, with Frank Sinatra playing on full blast in the background whilst we dined on Tunisian cuisine. While there, we had the opportunity to meet with the leaders of an incredible cooperative of women who make soap which is then distributed by major cosmetic companies in France and Canada. The cooperative used to include men as well as women, but as one of them said, the women kicked them out a few years ago and since then the organization has become more efficient and trustworthy. 

Tabarka itself is a beautiful seaside town, home to a fort built by Genovese pirates which was so sturdy that the Ottomans were unable to penetrate its defenses for quite a long time. 
Beautiful Tabarka as a storm rolls in!

Genovese Pirate Fort

Tabarka is home to a yearly jazz festival which draws artists from around the world. This mural celebrates people from the USA, Tunisia, and South Africa as well as many others! Thought of you when I saw this, Nellie! 

After Tabarka we were off to Bizerte, a seaside city in northeastern Tunisia, known for its fish and incredible beaches.While there, we got to visit a really cool NGO called It's Up to You to Change Bizerte, which is a youth group which began post-revolution with a Facebook-advertised city-wide cleanup. It has since then evolved into a cultural, social, and environmental organization dedicated to bettering the lives of everyone in Bizerte, and has inspired the creation of a variety of other organizations elsewhere in Tunisia. 

I also had a chance to hang out with Majd, who spent a year in Beloit on the YES program! Ironically, it was the same year I was in Oman and so before last week we only met once before on Skype (and it was 5am my time, and the National Honor Society initiation, but that's a story for another time). It was truly fantastic to get to spend time with him and get to know him in person.

Here's the incredible Bizerte harbor!

Truly, this was an incredible excursion. With its end, we're halfway through the coursework aspect of the program (the last five weeks are dedicated to independent study projects).