Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Science and Fact

Since we're on the subject of things that drive me crazy, here's another one:

People here find unrelated causality and call it fact. They will
defend these "facts" past the point of reason, and even in the face of
science. How about some examples:

Tunisian Fact: Consuming black pepper will give you stomach ulcers.
Why is this a fact? Several people have members of their families who
have ulcers and these people sometimes used black pepper in their
food. Many of the Tunisians I have met have solemnly agreed that this
is true, and so, correspondingly, it must be a fact.
Why is it then that cultures that use black pepper often are not all
diagnosed with stomach ulcers, if black pepper truly is the cause? No
answer. A fact is a fact.

Tunisian Fact: Apricots, if consumed to early, will make you very sick.
I can't count the number of people who have warned me off of eating
slightly hard apricots for that reason. And everybody who comes down
sick and can't make it to work will be diagnosed with having eaten
green apricots. So far three people have been diagnosed (by the
staff) as such. And what's more it's considered a VALID reason for
not attending work - no doctor's note needed.

Tunisian Fact: Diet pop has as many calories as regular pop.
This is where science comes in. Apparently in a world with minds
ingenious enough to send us to the moon and back, to create vaccines
for polio and tuberculosis, to create more plastics and advanced
engineered materials than we could possibly count, we have no one
capable of making a sugar substitute that is low-calorie. No science
will prevail. A fact is a fact.

There are others -
Drinking very cold water will halt your digestive process.
Seatbelts are dangerous and can be fatal.
Keeping your house warm in the winter can make you sick.
And many more.

I have stopped trying to explain why I defy these warnings. I have
stopped asking people "why". I sort of say "oh" and then after a
deliberate pause, continue doing what I was doing. I think most
people believe I will die of ulcers, digestive problems, winter
heat-stroke and hanging by seatbelt before I get home.

How do we Canadians survive, eh?

Tuesday, May 24, 2005



In one word, so many thoughts. Does that mean that we're settling into Tunis? I suppose that we are. Does that mean that we're settling into a sense of where we want to go in our lives? We're getting there as well.

Tunis is an unusual city. But you already know that. The split between the rich and poor, the conflict between occidental and oriental worlds, the religious crisis, the almost frantic desire to be modern in one generation, the plumetting birth rate, the clutching political environment... It's interesting, and we're starting to settle into a routine, an acceptance, and an awareness of all the subtle currents.

Then there's nothing like ripping out of a familiar pattern and world to one completely foreign to develop a sense of who you are and who you want to be. For Tiara I won't say too much - that's for her, and would inevitably flawed in my retelling. For myself, it impressed in no uncertain terms my desire to head into the arts world full bore. I'm producing more. I'm developing daily habits around art production and communication to the community. I'm thinking it, writing it down, laying it in ink, I'm talking it to the most unlikely audiences...

I'm settling - but certainly not settled. For the latter, maybe it's in the future, and maybe not. Still, there's a certain satisfaction to the former and I'm more wired and enthusiastic than I can remember.

One thing is sure. It feels good.

Safety IQ and Dead Men

There are a few things about the culture of this place that get to me.
This isn't the last time you'll hear a rant about this sort of thing
from me, I'm sure. But the thing that upsets me the most is people's
attitudes and education around safety practices.

Each morning that I get into a taxi (which isn't every morning) I tell
the driver where I want to go, and I buckle up my seat belt.
Unfailingly I am told that a seat belt "n'est pas utile", is not
useful. I curtly reply that I prefer it. Sometimes they shut up.
Sometimes they don't; and then I have to listen to five minutes about
why seat belts are dangerous. Mostly it comes down to the excuse that
they prevent you from getting out if the car rolls, catches on fire,
or some other unlikely event. Of course, they never seem to touch on
the fact that the most likely type of accident is that you hit
something, and then go flying into the windshield, unless, of course,
you're wearing a seat belt.

I keep my mouth shut. That, I can stand. You know what's worse?
People drive down highways at 90+ kph with their child standing in the
back, leaning forward between the two front seats jabbering away to
his or her parents. No seat belt, no retraining device of any kind,
separating this child from the windshield if the car has to come to a
sudden stop. Do you realize how much this child weighs? Sometimes
less than 40 lbs. And it doesn't take much of a change in momentum
for a child to lift off and go sailing through the air.

I get a ride home with people who do this. It's cultural, and I can't
blame them for not seeing the danger. After all they've done this and
seen it done their whole lives. And because it's cultural, I really
can't say anything. People think I'm nuts, or take offence that I
think they might allow their child to be put in danger, you know?
That is not my intention at all. So mostly I sit in the back seat
with my eyes peeled for traffic anomalies and get ready to grab the
kid if I need to. I have nightmares that I wouldn't be able to react
fast enough.

Did I mention, by the way, that I saw a dead man in the road on the
highway I take everyday to an from work? He had fluorescent yellow
socks, a white sheet over his body and blood all over the road
spilling from under the sheet where his head should be located. I'm
guessing he died on impact. He was surrounded by people (maybe 50-60
along the roadside), with two officers standing over the body. Nobody
was coming to get the body for a while, and according to a friend who
had traveled the same route he had been that way a good 20 minutes
before I got there.

I was just about sick that night. It's a lot less glamorous than what
you see in the movies. In fact the horrible thing about it is how
normal it is. It should seem totally out of place, but it doesn't.
That's what makes it shocking, I think. After I got over the shock, I
was mad, and I've been mad ever since.

I want to scream at the cab drivers, the parents of free standing
children, the idiots who build an elementary school next to an open
highway, the workers on unstable parapets and platforms, the motorbike
drivers without helmets, and generally anyone with an abysmally low
safety IQ: "If you don't give a crap about your own lives, at least
spare me the need to see your dead body in the road."

I don't of course. I can't. And for the most part, if I did they
wouldn't understand me anyway.

For all of you living in your safe homes, driving on your safe roads,
working in your safety-smart work spaces; for all that it's a pain
sometimes (and I know it can be) say a little prayer of thanks that
you live in a world with all the precautions that exist. I love you,
others love you and your society's systems are keeping you safe.
Remember to see it that way from time to time.

And so you know, I promise, and I have made Loren promise, that
whenever we get into a taxi, no matter how much we think we will be
ridiculed by those around us, we fasten our seat belts.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Tyranny in the Office!

This may be my last posting for a short while, while all internet
privileges are revoked at enda. It is a long story. Apparently not
only are people surfing the internet during working hours (only
permitted during break hours) they are also downloading copious
amounts of information AND stealing each others work off the company
network (god only know why!) and working on it in their "spare time"
(even less comprehensible!).

As of today all internet was revoked. For some reason I can still
send emails, so I am attempting to send this to the blog over my
break. However even this feature may be disrupted in the future.

I do not know how they expect their researchers to do online research,
their grant writers to access online documents, their financiers to
publish financial results to the MIX Market (online rating agency).
I'm sure they'll sort it all out. Later.

On the up side, I took the morning off to meet with one of the world's
foremost experts in entrepreneurship for developing nations. He
happened to be in Tunis for a Women's Entrepreneur conference, and I
emailed him to ask if he had time to meet. He was very enthusiastic
and made an appointment for Monday (today) at 8 am. I had to take a
taxi to Gammarth (8 Dinars!) where he bought two coffee and we talked
about entrepreneurship. If you're interested, he is the Executive
Director of the Beyster Institute. You can check it out online at It mostly talks about their in-country
programs on the site, but I can assure you they have a comprehensive
development focus.

It was a fascinating talk and he (Dr. Smilor) requested that I send
him my information so that he could keep in contact. He also
suggested a document to read (which I will!) produced by the UNDP
(United Nations Development Project). What a very exciting morning.
Almost enough to keep me smiling through they tyranny in the office.

bitter tea

The tea is bitter.

It has the biting acrid character of smoke from a sulfur pool. It lingers on the tongue. It dares anyone to challenge its legitimacy.

The day is cloudless, but for a thin sheet of smog that is busy being sucked away by a midday wind. The sun pronounces its presense in a thin film of sweat that sticks deleriously to the body. The road is pitted.

It has character.

I sit in a squat two-bedroom flat of a chattering upscale bourgeois district that has no sea, no greenery, no history but it has construction. From out of the window the rattle of building shakes the city's attempt at silence.

The clay of the earth is red. The blood in my veins is red. The flags of this country are red. The flags of my country are red. The cape of a bullfighter is red. Red seems to seep below the surface.

It is a new day like any other, but it will be a newer day than any other.

I plan to be there when it happens.