Friday, April 01, 2005

Les Paraboles

You've already heard me describe the scenery here. It's a bit like the sea, rising and falling walls of freshly painted plaster and crumbling cresting piles of rubble where the old buildings are being pulled appart.

Every once in a while I realize that I've left out an important part of the description of the landscape, and that occured to me when traveling on the bus to Sousse. It was my friend Sami (see the archived picture of my work mates) who pointed to it as we whistled by in our air conditioned bus on the highway between Tunis and Sousse.

There were endless stacks of unfinished, unplastered, concrete and brick buildings in various states of disrepair. Children playing in the dirt before them, and men laying propped on one elbow nearby tending the few sheep the family kept for meat. Clothes were flapping in the wind on lines strung between poles on the rooftop of every grey house. And there they were, poking up from every corner, their smooth white surfaces pointed toward the sky, like a choir singing a song in perfect unison. Les Paraboles! The satelite dishes.

Yes, even in this mess of poverty and decay every family had enough money to buy a satelite dish and access the myriad television programs in French, Arabic, Italian, English and German, all pleasantly designed to distract the mind from life's more real, more pressing problems.

We watched in awe as neighbourhood after neighbourhood trailed by, and the Paraboles there to happily placate the people with their reconstituted international waves of mindless distraction.

What a world, eh? What a place.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Rudy's Response

Sorry about the long bout of silence. Monday was a very busy day with Jodie arriving, and the co-director back after a long absence due to illness. Jodie and I went for dinner on Friday, and a tickle in my throat that had been bothering me since about 4PM erupted into a chest cold, sucking the colour from my face and plugging my lungs and sinuses. It was very ugly. I'm back now, though and ready to share some interesting insights from our trip to Sousse.

We checked into a club, not unlike a Club Med, but called Club Sol el Kantaoui. It had everything, indoor and outdoor pools and the ocean, full meals, pizzerias, a theatre, a dance club, cafes everywhere. You need it, they had it. Except of course for reasonable prices.

We talked with a lot of people we hadn't met before, a lot of Loan Officers from ENDA, and we got to know better some people we already considered friends. Some activities were planned and a lot were spontaneous, and I learned and experienced a lot more than I could communicate in one blog.

But as you will probably remember, one of the planned activities was to watch a film with the group. About 50 employees on the retreat showed up to watch Fahrenheit 9-11. It was such an interesting experience. When they started to show the footage on the troops in Iraq, the anger in the room was so thick you could have cut it with a knife. I don't think the reaction at home would have been any different, but it was hard to watch, when I knew that looking around the room I would find faces that were so close in colour and feature.

I was mad watching it, mad like Moore wanted his audience to be mad. And I wondered how other members of the audience were taking it.

At one point we had a technical malfunction during some footage in Iraq, and our resident techie, Rudy, jumped up to help. That's when it hit me. Rudy is from Iraq.

Once the film was over and people started to clear the room I waited for others to leave and stopped Rudy. "How can you watch that?" I asked him. I was so furious I could have ripped the board room table in two and there he was calmly watching footage of American children with tanks and guns ripping apart his home and inadvertently murdering his neighbor's and kinsmen.

His response? You get used to it. You see he used to live in Basrah. It is a town on the border between Iraq and Kuwait. In the first Gulf War the Saddam had a military outpost there. It was one of the first places the Americans hit, and they did everything they could to destroy the base. Rudy was 15 years old. He watched children and women and old people die. He watched his neighbours perish by American troop fire and watched as American boys, no more than 17 and 18 years old began to understand that this place was not the land of intolerance they had come to destroy. It was a place where religions existed harmoniously with each other, and people married between faiths. The soldiers became bitter and angry over time, and I think Rudy has some sympathy for how they were duped.

I can't even imagine what it would be like, for normal people like you and me to watch tanks of young boys roll through our neighbourhoods past the trees we played in and the bikes we left in the street over night, and find our families dying by their stray bullets. Rudy just shrugs his shoulders like it's part of what it means to be human. We mess thing up. People die. People kill.

Another interesting response? Most people in that room, who have every reason to be furious, who are unable to travel to so many countries now because the are "Arab", don't have any anger toward the American people or their boy-soldiers. Their anger is reserved for American politicians and decision makers, who lie and deceive their people for their personal profit and power. That is the sign of a gracious people, who have the wisdom not to hate, where hate will do nothing. It is a step up on the nation that would oppress them.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

The Ride

I don't really know how else to describe it.

This past weekend Tiara and I visited a new destination in Tunisia - another big city and another tourist destination - but fun for all the artifice. We headed to a desert version of a club med. The hotel had 1200 room, acres of bungaloes, two outdoor pools, an indoor pool, hot tub - the full meal deal - and it was conveniently located on the mediteranean beach front. Nice. And the weekend we were there the temperature was settled at around 30 C. Nicer. But this post isn't about that...

You see, Tiara left on Friday afternoon. I taught Friday night. And so, I was taking the night bus - and this was a truly Tunisian experience.

Slim picked me up after my work on the button at 9PM, then we were off and headed for the louage parks. Hm. They're located in the southern corner of Tunis, in industrial parkland, opposite the Capital cemetary, and built over a mostly filled-in swamp. Which is to say, they're in a sketchy spot, with lots of foreboding (at that time of night) and its own particular aroma...

We drove around, got lost, asked for directions and eventually drove - the wrong way down a one-way street - to the louage warehouse. I don't really know what else to call it. As for what louage is, it's the quickest mode of transportation available. A van, packed with nine smelly people (usually men) that goes from one city to another. dot. Business is conducted in Arabic. That's why Slim was along. In his words, it's the fastest ground transport, the costliest, and the least sure. Having experienced, I don't doubt.

In any case, we arrived, I was loaded in the last louage for Sousse, in the last space (once they fill, they leave), between a guy with a broken arm and an elderly gent doing who knows what. I silently thanked the slumbering Tunisian gods that I had brought my mp3 player along. And then the surreal experience began. A surreal experience that was to cost me 7 dinars and 100 millimes.

For the full story, you'll have to check in tomorrow, because hunger is rearing its ugly head...