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Recapping with TounesBledi

January 23, 2010 Leave a comment

At present I hate Sybel for making me work on Saturdays and all I want to do is die right now. I’m so stinkin tired, my knees ache from the crap weather and my lungs hurt from sheesha hotboxing. I actually think I might die from post-sheesha asphyxiation. God bless. 

Below is a really nice note I got from the radio-host this morning and is probably the only thing that is preventing me from killing Elyes slowly. 

Hey Sweet preeti , 
Me and the radio station we were so happy for having you in the show . you were such great person and profile for my radio show .
I thank you so much for coming we r gona meet soon inshallah and i’ll definitely wanna have you again for dinner or lunch at my house before you leave . keep in touch buddy 🙂 Ashraf

To listen to the broadcast, click here. (FYI: I don’t start until 50 minutes into the show. Forewarning: I sound ridiculous) 

For the website, click here


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Pourquoi la Tunisie

January 8, 2010 Leave a comment

Ci-joint est un article qui peut montre pourquoi j’avais choisi la Tunisie. Je voudrais aider les debats et changer les attitudes contre islam et immigration.

Bougie Encounters

December 19, 2009 1 comment

Today is my last day in Tunisia before I fly out to England tomorrow and spend the Christmas holidays with my British family. My mom’s side has had générations in Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda but the infamous Africanization policies of the 1970’s scattered them westward. The English speaking members went to London and the French speaking ones to Montreal.

This has clearly played a huge rôle in my immigrant family’s life story, but interestingly, it’s not one that’s discussed to often. I, myself, have had little interest in getting to know the history of thèse countries. At the bottom of my life-to-do list is watch « The Last King of Scotland » and at the top of my never-to-do list is visit those countries. I have zéro desire to die from a brain-eating parasite.

Which is why the event I attended last night, on the Islamic New Year, was so fascinating for me. I  recieved an invite to the African Developement Bank’s end of year party and fortunately, was able to find a last minute date for Fati so I could hog her for the last 48 hours I will be with her in Tunis. I am really glad we chose to go to El Mouradi for this party as opposed to our usual Biwa/Bouef sur le Toit nights. ( a blog on this soon to follow)

So last night’s évent opened with a Senegalese drum band and involved the most raunchly explicit male dancing I have ever seen. I am pretty sure it was inappropriate, however authentic it may have been. After, we all went to get food from the African buffet and it was a shark feeding frenzy where lines were mosh pits. Once we came out alive with a plate of African alimentaire, we were enterained by a parading of the African varieties to be found on the continent. It was actually quite amazing for me to see all the diversity. I admit, I am notoriously guilty of lumping all Africans together as one people.

The showcasing of Africa finally did away with this malaligned thinking. The head dresses, outfits, facial features, music and style of dancing were quite different from country to country, and more interesting for the ignorant American that I am, the same in certain countries which means you could see where the colonial powers messed up in drawing dividing boundaries.

To give a taste of the show : 1.) Ethopian music sounded like South Indian music and the dance was all in the shoulder blades 2.) Cote D’Ivoire was Jamaica revisited and played out in the bodacious bums 3.) Somalia/Djibouti was a cross between drunk-uncle-bhangra and monkey 4.) Tchad’s traditional music was incredible, Spain meets exotic jungle, and I am currently telecharging whatever I can find in hopes of coming across last night’s sampling.

When the North African invite to the piste was announced, I happily joined the ranks. While I wasn’t dressed traditionally, a long Greek gown with a pretty daring deep neck, neither were those who came to the floor . The only traditional outfits exhibited were those by two Berber women from the dessert which is why once amongst the crowd, I didn’t feel out of place and I didn’t feel foreign. My hand and hip motions blended right.

The evening was a really gréât eye opened to a reality I find so cloaked hère in Tunisia. I am in Africa, not the Middle East. The swathes of Africans living hère are made out to be an annomaly in Tunisia, as though they don’t bélong. Tonight I saw the interconnectivity of Tunisia to the rest of the continent and I loved it. ( Can’t say the same about the food though. Ill take Tunisian over Ghambian any day !)

I also loved the beauty I saw in person as opposed to National Geographic. I’ve have always found ebony black skin, gleaming white teeth and a mass of thick braids to be extaordinarily exotic.  For me, it’s a beauty I can’t quite comprehend and it mesmerizes me. I have never found the mélodies of the Arabia, the scents of India, or the khol covered eyes of the East to be anything extraordinary. I am currently listening to « Tabla Beat Science » and for me, it’s America. Which is why last night, dancing away to the slow staccato beats of African culture, I revelled in the exoticness of it all.

I also regretted dancing away the night before that. My unconditioned hamstrings hurt right now ! I went to « La Closerie » for a dinner with Hicham, a Moroccan tennis player who went to Columbia and worked for Citigroup before the inévitable hit. Sob story aside, I finally found a scrumptious salad ! After dinner, we went to the lounge side where a duet was jamming away acoustic interpretations of American 90’s music before the house music came on. Hicham introduced me to all his friends, a medley of modern. I am very fortunate to have had Tunisian expériences in the order I did. It started out with the traditional, closed minded village mentality and has moved progressively along a trajectory where I am now in the midst of refined professionals.

One of the guys I was talking with, a software engineer at HR Access who can’t get enough techno, had an interesting comment about democracy that I had found myself starting to believe long before I came to Tunisia. He said the Arab world is not ready for democracy. The governments want to keep the people stupid so that they can manipulate them easily. He believed that once éducation is fully installed, only then could democracy begin to take supplant the pseudo-democracies and open theocracies.

I have been thinking likewise about American democracy actually. While I believe so strongly in the principles and effects of a democratic society, I often feel as though it is best applied to a state and municipal level and that it might be more benficial if fédéral governments were more oligarchic in nature. I say this because when a populace isn’t educated enough, everything devolves towards neanderthal like populism where gutteral instincts reign over calcuated reason. A truism is that everyone is equal… just some are more equal than others. Money talks, so how can we manufacture a world where humanism trumps profits ? I would say at the outset, start by ensuring livelihoods and éducation, not a welfare state, and then the self-perpetuating cycles of innovation will catch hold wherein a pure democratic system could be better established. This is something only the fédéral government can be tasked with. Right now, there are parts of Cleveland where children have scurvy and unemployment is passing 30%. Cleveland would be able to combat the effects of deindustrialization much easier if this wasn’t the case. Work and éducation intégrâte people into society, and in my opinion, the greatest national security threat is our inner cities where guns and drugs are candy and popcorn. Perhaps we could learn alongside the Arab world on how to better implement a real democracy ? Perhaps.

Anhow, enough theorizing for me. I need to pack because I am heading over to Passage in a few to have a little Christmas teaser with the girls- decorating sugar cookies, making chantilly hot chocolaté, putting up a puny fake Christmas tree and listening to all the versions of « Last Christmas » I found. ( If you have to chose one, go for Glee Cast.) Also, I promised my landlord’s kids I would watch Batman with them before I leave. Ahhh. Also, I still have to mail out thèse Holiday postcards. Ahhh. Also, I still have to de-hangover. Ahhh. Where is the pause button when you need it ?!

The Female Folly

December 10, 2009 Leave a comment

I think I may have committed myself to a date this weekend. I can’t really tell. Gender rules here are so different! This may or may not be the umpteenth accidental date so I figure I might as well break things down and get it right. I like going for coffees and I like talking and I like wearing my glasses. Isn’t that a non-datelike storyline? However, as I’ve come to find out, things are a little different in a Muslim country.

My awareness of the gender difference came about in a French intensive course I took at the beginning of my internship. I learned more about Tunisian culture there than French language. The class atmosphere was a total riot with regular screaming matches over the most ridiculous things. Classic example, my teacher asks about our weekend one day and I mention how I went clubbing  and saw a guy dance like it’s 1999.*BOOM*“It’s because men shouldn’t dance!” “Of coure men should dance!” “The Koran says no!” “The Koran says no such thing!” “It’s harem, I say!” “You’re harem, I know!”And then it becomes a garble of everyone trying to get in their two-bit/my brain crying “loud noises loud noises go hooooome!”. Decibel levels had no limit.

These kind of ‘debates’ occurred daily for the entirety of the three week course. The class would be divided along gender lines with the women always being the most progressive and our Turkish French teacher always leading the way. She was such an animated figure that I sometimes couldn’t be sure if she was engaging in theatrics. She was also such an inept french teacher and should probably become a life-coach for broken girls and mislead men.The amount of times she took on that hyena herd of dudes single-handedly to tell them things such as “No,  actually you shouldn’t kill a cat before you have sex with your wife for the first time because not only is that NOT in the Koran,  it’s not logical.”

Yes. Illogical much. I went for a coffee with her once because my head was spinning from all the nonsense I kept hearing come from the mouths of so-called secular, educated Tunisians. What she told me was that in fact, it’s very common for mal-educated Muslims worldwide to cite the Koran over every little thing when the reality is they aren’t well informed; it is very difficult to understand a religion, any religion, because you must not only understand the text, but also the history and the culture within which such a religion took root and then also, how it interacted with others. I like that she said that because I hadn’t thought of religion  interconnected as such before. According to her, in Tunisia there exists large overlaps with Berber and tribal African cultures and these cultures plays a clear role in  peoples’ understandings of Islam. Which is why, she continued to say, the people cite things as ‘harem’ or make it seem as though they are knowledgeable theologians when they are merely regurgitating what their fathers told them.

So when the following happened at our “Last Day of Class Party”, well, I tried to take it in stride. The teacher handed us back our final exams and somehow, I got the highest grade by far even though I barely spoke throughout the course. The three young (re:audacious) guys in the class saw my note, and turn borderline livid.

One starts complaining very loudly, “It’s because of you I couldn’t focus. Because of you! If you had been sitting over there,  I would’ve done better!”. I’m a little offended  and a classmate notices and say, ‘It’s because you’re beautiful. You should try not to be.’

Lord have mercy. So many ways to critique the logical fallacy in that one. Fortunately, I did not get acid thrown on my face, but I did learn a lesson about my role in Tunisia, looking like a Tunisian. I titled this blog ‘Female Folly’ because as I see it, it’s constantly my silly old fault that I am a woman who cause men to loose control and is reason enough for me to be relegated to the shadows. I’m to senseless to understand how men need their environmental conditions for prime functioning. If I get hassled or stared at or groped, it was my fault, I should’ve walked differently, looked differently, dressed differently, stood differently.

The severity of this became clear the one night when I decided to walk alone at 22:00h. I’d been sitting all day and wanted to get some blood flow by walking to a restaurant to meet my friends instead of taking a taxi. With it being only a 20 minute walk away, I figured, ‘Where’s the harm? I live in a very safe neighborhood and besides, I’m wearing a grey t-shirt, jeans and sneakers’. Well despite this plain jane attire, HERDS of men started following me and yelling. I am oddly not intimidated by Tunisian men, perhaps because they’re tiny, so I’d angrily stop and whirl around, yell back at them in French as I’d move towards them waving my little fist. These punks would literally start to back pedal away as though I had the plague. ( A girl who yells has the contagious crazies?) I had old men wagging their fingers at me, and a rowdy creature in pick up truck throw a can at my head. So what had I done now?

Well, I broke an informal norm. I found out later that if you’re a girl walking out at night, you’re either a prostitute or will soon be made one.  Apparently the legal rules protecting women here are the strongest here out of any Muslim country- so why can’t I walk in peace?  What if I don’t want to have a man at my side to guarantee my safety? What if I’d like to go somewhere and not have my movements watched and controlled?

It’s through thèse instances, and many more, that I’m starting to have a better idea of how feminism developed in the United States and how lucky we are to be free. Undoubtedly the conditions then were similar to what they are here , where once upon a time, my valuation came from men and not from myself, and where the system was set up to keep my power in check. I am in awe at the daunting obstacles strong women before me chose to take on.

For me, I’m too shy to do much. I’ve been told never to talk back to my boss, to just accept what he says. Everytime I’m told this, I always think of this piece of research I read long ago that proves how those who question produce better results. I take a slight bit of pleasure in knowing that he’s not getting the best result… then I do what ( I think) he says.

Being here, I marvel at my own feminist predilections that I never knew I had and I wonder if things will ever be more equal? At the moment, the symbol of gender equality is the right to work. Women here are so proud and happy with how they work and manage a household. But to me, I’m so worried that they don’t want more. I see Tunisian women fill menial feminized labor positions and not get offered pathways to promotion. I see them take care of the children and do the housework while their husbands sit watching TV and smoking a cigarette. I see them treated poorly in the streets and worse in the workplace. I see them say nothing.

And then there’s the youth culture that has so many many silent codes I can’t keep up with so I too say nothing. Well, some codes are actually very overt and  I can’t deflect JIT because I take a few moments to translate. But I’m learning. And I’m newly single after 5 years so that might be adding to the constant obliviousness I carry like a heavy scented perfume. So I’ll go on this quasi date with a Rwandan from France, because I’m curious to know about his life story even though it will probably be, “I grew up in a banlieu. Ca y est.” And I’ll keep going on innocuous coffee dates and talking as I please, because I enjoy it, and I’m not going to factor in the hidden meanings indigenous to Tunisia. It’s not my world. It’s not my folly.

I am Illegal

December 8, 2009 Leave a comment

I just want to make a quick announcement that for the second time in my life, I am an illegal immigrant.  A clandestino. A criminal deserving grave consequences. How do I feel now that I’ve overstayed my visa? Pretty much the same way I do right after my birthday. The same as yesterday; no older, no different. In this case, no more legal or illegal. Funny how a piece of paper can tell me I am no longer a real person, no longer entitled to rights or due process. Whatta world!

Hardly working in Hammamet

November 17, 2009 3 comments

Sybel is doing an event for the JCI World Congress Annual Event. I had never heard of this professional development organization before but I am proud to say it started in America. I went to the opening ceremony yesterday to take pictures and revel in saying that it was an amazing evening of ‘work’.

I left Sybel around 5 pm with Foued. How to describe Foued? He drives a Fouedmobile, just had a baby boy, has two girlfriends on the side, perpetually teethes on a red marlboro, and wears the tightest jeans I have ever seen on a Tunisian.

He told me to bring my passport and badge, neither or which I did, but turns out all I had to do was speak American and ‘presto’! It didn’t matter that I was a nobody, because I was a foreign nobody.

The event itself was amazing with JCI chapters from literally around the world. India, Sweeden and Japan were heavily represented but the Tunisian ‘zared’, an eerie sounding tongue-holler, unquestionably had the largest presence. In summation, the opening ceremony was all heavy base, club like lighting,  lebanese singers and predictable organizational bloopers.

I got hungry at 7:30 so one of the techies took me to have a kafteji. We went to a restaurant and inhaled kafteji with baguettes and harissa for 1DT, talked about his dreams to go to Canada over France, and my dreams to dream less. We went for a walk to have a cigarette and chat some more. He explained to me all the varieties of Islam you can find throughout the Maghreb and how that holds up to the Middle East proper. At times I think things are advanced here and at others, I’m thoroughly afraid. I still can’t get over how I have found so many North Africans who do not wash their dishes with hot water because they fear waking the spirits in the sink.  They cite the Koran as proof so what can I say? I just eat off of their dirty plates and tell myself diarrhea is a cure all. ( For the record, this techie, who grew up in France, said that is mainly an African thing and it’s definitely not in the Koran. Phewers)

Anyhow, we went back inside just in time to watch the “Laser Man” Show and then the event wrapped up  The entire team went for dinner together at an authentic  restaurant where I had delicious Tunisian food for the first time. I swear it, there is no such thing as Tunisian cuisine. If anyone tries to tell me variations of oil, eggs, tuna, and harissa is cuisine, they need to get a Rachel Ray cookbook for starters and then move their way on up to Nigella Lawson.

So our team of 20 ate fresh fish and had a wonderful time being obnoxious. We were all wearing chachia’s- a North African beanie- laughing way too loud, and flirting with the waitress a little too much ( me, with the ‘garcon’) In the middle of our boisterous eating frenzy, the waiters come out with an entire ass of a lamb. I kid you not. These people didn’t want a leg, an arm or a shank slice, they just wanted the whole caboose. On top of it, one that was still on fire!!

So I added junk to my trunk with junk from something else’s trunk (I’ll stop now) and then, after I ate myself to immobility, it was time to go. No, that’s not entirely true. Once my side of the table did their part in trying to convince me that Islam is the best religion and it’s for everyone, it was time to go. J’en ai MARRE. My goal upon leaving is to convey some western etiquette that it is really impolite to talk about religion incessantly and then convince the other that there’s is lacking.

Putting that aside, we all got into one of the company van’s and sat in the trunk with some of my favorite techies. One of them is musically inclined and started drumming out a beautiful traditional tune on a flycase while the rest of the men picked up on the rythym and started singing along. I too picked up on the rhythm and started doing a combo of a ‘Grease Lighting’ dance and the Macarena ( and subsequently went tumbling head first into the techies laps when Samir slammed on the breaks indicating our final destination) We all stumbled out, I switched vans, got into the Fouedmobile, and listed to techno all the way home. The End!

Huh? Whose God?

November 10, 2009 1 comment

Everyday the imam  reminds me I ought to start cooking lunch or dinner (or taking a nap). Everytime I tell a Tunisian friend I would like to do something or have something done by tomorow, I get an ‘Inchallah’ (aka ‘God willing’) as opposed to a ‘Yes!’ . Whenever I’m over my bosses’ house for dinner, a guest will randomly start praying in front of everyone while people are chatting as opposed to going in a private room. People continually sneak in little reminders about what it means to be a Muslim and what I ought to do to best please God.

Which is funny because I just came from a super new age yoga bubble and was raised in a super new age Sikh family, so all in all, my cultural-religio-spiritual beliefs are not quite jiving here. I have my beliefs and I’m accustomed to keeping them private, but sometimes I find my tolerance being tested where I just want to go into a classroom lecture on parallels between Eastern Philosophy, Reform Judeo-Christian thought, Sikhism/Sufiism and the little teensy bit I know on Sunni Islam. And if one more person asks me why Indians wear a red dot on their forehead, I’m going to have a conniption. I don’t know why!! Geez Louise, Wiki that ish already if you’re so curious.

But perhaps all this preaching would come to no good? I’ve been told things which make me wonder sometimes what I am doing here, such as when I was told by about 17 people that I shouldn’t wash dishes with hot water because there are spirits in the sink or, that I shouldn’t buy my brothers silk ties or gold rings because silk and gold are designated by God only for women.

But then again, I’ve heard things here which make me wonder why the West doesn’t better facilitate immigration? The intellectual chasms I have witnessed between those who have spent a few years abroad and those who haven’t is incredible. And what I have noticed in Tunis is that it is really not a sending country of immigrants, as Europe makes it seem but rather, a starting and ending point of circular migration from all over Africa. People’s dreams here are to spend a few years abroad and then bring their learning back to Tunisia. Those who have, have successful business, widely tolerant minds, and a tempered application of religion. So where is the missed communication exactly? Is it with the Muslims as the media likes to make it appear or is it with the West who doesn’t feel it necessary to provide access to knowledge?