Friday, June 03, 2005

Working Stiff

Hello all!

So today I am the only person in my office. There are others in the
building, to be sure, but of the six people who are supposed to be
studiously at their desks, I am the only one. The co-directors are in
Morocco preparing a regional conference for November.

How does that expression go? When the cats are away...

I told Loren this would happen, at least I figured it would since it
happened last time they were away for a Friday. He said he would show
up after lunch and take me to the beach. Jodie and Shelley, who are
visiting, seemed inclined to agree.

I don't know about you folks, but I just can't play hooky. I could in
University when it was my money paying for the classes, and even then
it was hard if the teacher was good. But at work, someone is paying
for me to be there and work. I realize that a lot of people can just
let that slide, somehow, but the guilt eats me.

Most of you have probably heard that this is a challenging work
environment. The only way I can cope with it is to know that I'm
doing a good job, regardless of what others think or say. Knowing
that I do a good job is protection against feeling anxiety, fear or
guilt. When someone comes in with accusations and you actually are
guilty, it can really hurt. But if you're not, it doesn't have to
bother you at all; they're just wrong. At least that's how it goes in
my world.

Loren got it straight away, and said no problem and he'd see me in the
evening. I'm glad he gets it too! It's always nice to have people
support you when you need it. So I'll finish reading the Impact Study
and working on the Strategic Plan (a new one!) in my office on my own.

The up-side is I get the air conditioner to myself ;)

Wednesday, June 01, 2005


The word can creep in at the most unusual of times.

They were three men and a woman. Your typical rag-tag troupe of what I first took for either unemployed types or university students. The lurched into the train with soft laughter and not-at-all a-typical physicality. This is a touch culture within its traditional trappings of the Muslim faith, so this wasn't a particular surprise. As I stood there in the swealter as the train snapped closed, a snacks and tissues vendor "Mouchoirs! Ch'wing Gum!" with an unusually bright display and a flower behind his ear made his way through the human mass.

He got to the four, with a gentle "A-saalema." One of them grinned made as though lurching forward, steadied himself on the salesman, stole the flower. He gave it an appreciative sniff and as the other reached for it, slipped it behind his own ear. He grinned again and struck a pose. The others in his group snickered. But he smiled. No malice. Returned the flower with a flourish and offered a high-five in truce.

The salesman smiled at his disarming accostor, slapped in his assent to the jest and continued on down the train.

I was a little surprised. There is so much cruelty here. At my work and in my classes I see and hear jokes and interjections designed to cut off the other and build up by breaking down. An impossibility. Here was an example of pure delight in a moment, of an aknowledgement of whom was taken advantage of and an apology for any injury thereby. It was open, exposed, confident and warming.

The three men were also anomolous for being in good physical shape - strong bodies, and quick to laughter. The woman was in fits of slightly odd giggles. But no boastful posturing, nor insecure demanding of attention.

And then with a flourish of hands from one to the other it struck me. They were all deaf. Deaf to the criticisms, deaf to the cynicisms, deaf to the patriotic carnage. And in a country that doesn't exactly pander to the disabled, they were joyful in an entirely sublime moment that streatched until I exited to work.

Monday, May 30, 2005

leaning buildings and friends

There was just a little something I noticed today with slight alarm.

A number of buildings in Tunisia are a little skewed off perpendicular with the horizon. That is to say, they are tilting. Strange that it took me so long to notice. I suppose that so much in this country seems a little off-balance, that I didn't really give it a second thought or second glance. Now that I'm starting to settle in this weird world, as my world has started to sink in - however tenuous the foothold, that the world itself is a little askew comes as a surprise.

Maybe it's the clay on which the foundations are built - after all, much of Tunis is filled-in ocean as of the last century (the medina, the old city, may be wonky, but it's all standing straight and tall - all of the leaning buildings are in the new districts). Maybe it's the fact that it's all heavy masonry construction with limited foundations. Whatever the case, it seems quite natural that there's an established maximum building height imposed here!

It's not as though all the buildings are tilting, but there are enough to give me pause. Frankly, any tilting building is enough to give me pause. Something about the details. Like last night buying a vat of 'vanilla' ice cream only to discover that it was vanilla mixed in with the dregs of pistachio. Odd.

Another one of those you're not in Kansas moments. Enough to reflect - and then to accept and get on with the day.

Anyhow, a last comment before I sign off. We have two guests stopping in to the Letourneau inn today - Jodie and her friend Shelley. Two little Anglos stepping into the franco-arabic Tunisian wilderness. Wish them luck - Tiara and I are just happy to have a little extra company.

Scrapping Population

I don't know why, but for some reason men here always seem to want to
fight. Maybe it's the hot-blood of the Mediterranean peoples? I'm
not sure. But since I have been here I have seen more street brawls
than I ever did at home. And not just in the slums of Hay Ettadhamen.
They happen in Ennasr, the wealthiest district in town, too.

You know where I used to see most fights? In high-school yards. That
seems understandable, since that's probably the most volatile and
insecure times of your life. But after that, for the most part,
people just don't scrap. Maybe a couple of times they might get into
something in a bar, but even that is rare (in my experience). Here,
though, people lose it and start swinging and their friends end up
breaking up fights all the time.

I can't even attribute it to culture. In Canada, it's considered bad
manners to lose it like that. Here it's explicitly illegal. If you
get caught scrapping you're hauled off to jail. Not the police
station, jail. If you are even a part of the argument that started
it, you can get shipped out in the paddy wagon. And remember they
don't have to have proof to hold you. You could be there for a while.

I get the impression that people here are way more abused than North
Americans in general. That's not to say life at home is a piece of
cake. But imagine if your whole life you had people yelling at you,
telling you you're incompetent, that your best is garbage, that you
have no rights, that your opinion doesn't count. Imagine how you
would start to feel. And now imagine that there's no where for you to
go. You can't leave the country, either because you don't have the
money or can't get the visa (after all you're Arab, right?) or both.
You can marry and have a family, but no matter what you do, you'll
never escape the oppressive environment.

So what happens when someone insults you or insinuates that you're
stupid or a loser? If he's stronger and more powerful than you, or if
you need that person (for a paycheck, to stay out of jail, to get a
permission slip, etc.) you swallow it, bitterly. If he's as strong or
maybe weaker or you don't have any ties? You probably let all that
rage boil right up, see red, and start swinging. I've seen kids,
boys, teen-agers, street youth, college girls (usually egged on by
boys), and full grown men hitting kicking and swearing for everything
they've got. There is always someone there to pull them off before
there's more than a nosebleed. Nobody wants to get picked up by the
cops. Though in Ettadhamen a real crowd can appear. I steer clear in
all cases.

I guess it's another thing I'm grateful for, that I come from a
population who for the most part is well enough in their society that
it doesn't need to lash out at the first thing that is potentially

That's my though for today. Hooray for conflict resolution!