Friday, March 25, 2005

Hotel and Sunshine Holidays

Welcome to Hotel Letourneau (three star rating).

The living spaces are bright, the temperature is hot, the cooking is not bad and the company is exceptional! (If we do say so ourselves.)

Enjoy the hot sunny Tunisian sun, the bargains in the ancient walled inner city, the pictureseque blue and white abodes in Sidi Bou Said and tour Africa's popular districe Hay Ettadhamen with your very own tour guide. Enjoy the African heat in this exceptionally hot year (temperatures today are up to 30 degrees in the shade!) The beach is only minutes away in an "authentic" Tunisian Taxi - seatbelts not included - and culture is in the very air you breath. It's a once in a lifetime experience, and while the plane ticket is outrageously expensive, the lodging is basically free.

Now who could resist an offer like that?

You'll need to book soon though, as the dates are quickly filling up:
  • One Ms. Jodie Lightfoot will be visiting from March 28th to April 9th.
  • One Mr. Jason Blackstock will be visiting from April 15th to April 29th.
  • My own dear Mother, Gaila Erickson, will be visiting from late July (very, very hot!) to early August.
  • Did we hear Mr. Milos Pospisil placing a bid for early May? Could that be right?
And are there any other takers? Opportunity for adventures abound! We may even be taking a safari on camel-back through the Sahara in mid April. We can verify this afterwards, but I'm sure we wouldn't mind doing the trip more than once with our friends. (Remember though, that if you want to go into the desert you'll need to come in the spring or fall! Otherwise you'll dry out like fruit leather.)

Missing everyone today! Can't you tell?

And speaking of hotels, Loren and I will be headed to Sousse, an hour South of Tunis, for the ENDA staff retreat. It will be a marvelous weekend of sunshine, white sand beaches, the cool blue Mediterranean, spicy-salty foods, and friends. We're even planning to watch Michael Moore's latest film. (Yes, two Canadians and about 80 arabs watching Farinheight 9-11!)

I'll send you warm thoughts and sunshine wishes when I'm on the beach culturing my golden skin tones! Wish you all could be there.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Blues and Gospel to the Arab world...

Somewhere along the lines recently, I decided that it might be fun to include music and true american culture in the closing classes of my english class...

This could be a bit of a culture shock, but they actually did seem to show an interest and so I'm diving right in. The particularly bizarre part is where I explain both that I'm an atheist and that the tunes I'll be playing for them are gospel, its derivatives (bluegrass - Alisson Krauss managed to sneak in there, but it's a great tune, man) which are deeply catholic... I suppose I am in Tunisia on the northern tip of Africa, but it's a sahara's passage (not the nicest of trips) away from black africa, and relatively homogeneously arab/muslim.

I thought for a while of throwing in Leonard Cohen's Halleluia, just to really mess with them, but that seemed a touch cruel, and besides, I couldn't find the album. Later, eh?

Anyhow, I'll let you know how it goes. The conversation is sure to be interesting in any case...

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The Man Himself... Posted by Hello

Good Man, Bad Man?

There's one thing that we haven't really mentioned that you can't walk down the street (any street) without seeing. Every business, office and public space has one. Some have two or three or four. They come in stickers, posters, banners and framed images. They call them pictures, but we call them propaganda. It's the president's happy, smiling, ever youthful face, beaming at his loyal, supportive voters everywhere you go.

Yes my friends, this is a democracy. Yes it is a dictatorship too. The latter of course is a dirty word, and you really shouldn't use it in public.

I thought I might cover a bit of the presidential history of the country and get you all up to date.

Following a great deal of fuss from its North African colonies, France decided to pull out of Tunisia in 1956. Elected by popular vote was a visionary Tunisian. Arrested and then freed by Nazi Germany during the Second World War, Habib Bourguiba was always a figurehead for his people, and once elected he proved to be a visionary leader.
His policy of Westernization and secularization consequently reduced the role of religion in society, abolished religious schools and Islamic law courts, and banned polygamy. The regime repressed Islamic fundamentalism and established rights for women unmatched by any other Arab nation, making Tunisia one of the most liberal countries in the Arab world. - Country Watch -

At that time it was a one party government, and in 1975 Bourguiba was elected Presedent for life. In 1981 a multiparty system was implemented (as a salute to democracy perhaps?), but after a strong united opposition dominated the elections in 1981 and 1986 elections were boycotted.

It's at about this time that I start having trouble distinguishing: good guy? bad guy?

On November 7th (a date you see everywhere here - there is even a street named after it) Bourguiba was deposed in a "constitutional coup". The mastermind? Bourguiba's Prime Minister Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali who proclamed Bourguiba unfit to rule due to insanity.

As the new President he did enable certain positive reforms, enabling banned political newspapers to publish once again, and granted amnesty to more than 8000 prisoners jailed by the former government. He also renamed the Destourian Socialist Party to the Democratic Constitutional Rally, or RCD, and reformed the constitution to allow for a multi-party system and a five year presidential term (limited to three terms). These reforms have become known as "The Change".

Ben Ali (as he is called for short) is now on his fourth term as President. He continues to win elections with 99% of the vote. He is in his early 70s, though you wouldn't know it from his pictures or media shots, which always show him with dark hair and no wrinkles. And, if you can believe it, he recently had a newborn son (February, 2005).

It would be nice to believe, in light of the positive reforms that he put in place, that he is a benevolent dictator of sorts. Maybe that is true. I can't access Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch from here as the internet is sensored and those pages aren't allowed. If ever you are interested, check out the Country Reports on their sites and read about the human rights violations still taking place in this country. The people here never even hear about it.

In fact two weeks ago there was a protest involving thousands of students, and unless you were there to see it, it never happened. At all. You might remember Loren mentioning more police officer than civilians on the main street. That was about the only tip off...

Good? Bad? Doesn't make a difference? I'm still trying to decide. So is the population.

Fashion Police!! Gah - I can't believe I even said it but...

Today I saw a sight that should make most people cringe.

I saw an otherwise breathtaking Tunisian girl/woman - all curves, long dark hair and green eyes; it's a wonderfully shocking combination - wearing black indoor soccer cleats, white sport socks, then black fishnet stockings followed by beige capris... I couldn't stop looking. It was like a train wreck. And I don't even tend to notice fashion. It was incredible, it was like a guy showing up in drag for a republican convention, it was like watching a sk8er boi getting up on stage to belt out Wagner, it was like that guy who jumped into the Athens Olympic pool in a pink tutu... It was bad bad bad.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Holidays Abound!

Yesterday was the national day of independance, the day Tunisia was freed of France and Habib Bourguiba became the first democratically elected president of the nation.

Too bad democracy doesn't last in places like this eh? I'll be writing more on that in the near future.

And today is a holiday too. It is the National day in celebration of Youth. And I'm youth, so I should be celebrating. So should my co-workers, because they are youth too! But unfortunetly, we don't work for a Tunisian organization, so it doesn't matter that we are youth, tunisian or otherwise. We get to work today for the good of all those people who are at home celebrating.

Good for us.