One day left before the Tunisian election

Saturday 25TH October 2014

I was out the door and in the Medina by 8.30 am this morning, in case there were any food shortages. I have moved into a Medina, that everyone living here, is trying to get out of.

The was indeed a shortage. A shortage of people. It felt like New Year’s Day, with that laid back, empty, relaxed feeling. It’s a four day holiday over this weekend, fri-mon for some schools, offices, and the election is tomorrow sunday 26th October.

Not having seen the motorway, I doubt if there was the thursday night mad dash into the country side, that we expect in the USA or Europe. I don’t see anyone, or anything moving that fast. Its as if every one is half asleep.

Instead of going to the food market, I went to the beach to do a good walk in 23 degrees, clear blue skies with a light breeze. Perfect.

A few scattered folks passed me by. One jogger. About 18 europeans laid out early on the only loungers still available. A few fisherman. Two or three mating couples, and one dog who had just had puppies. Not enough people to even hassle you.

I walked, sat, took a video and wondered back via the vegetable market, happy to see at least, some activity. I bought the flame red carrots straight out of the ground for juicing,(1 kilo 44p) a piece of pumpkin, for a Mauritian curry recipe I found in the Guardian last night, cucumbers for salads and juicing (1 kilo 40 p) and a pretty pink T shirt for a gift.

A collection of a few Medina locals, a few date coloured tourists, ambled about, but there no sign of any election fever. It’s not apathy, as that comes from over exposure, and they Its haven’t had that.

I walked the empty, neglected, elegant, solid looking mid rise side street buildings built by the french in the 1930s. The white walls are flaking and weather beaten, trimmed with the wrought iron lattice work of the pale blue window forget, with is obligatory.

Its all very reminiscent of Nice, after a short, light, urban, guerrilla war.

Its great real estate. Its Centre Ville. The masonry and roofs, for the most part are intact and on solid foundations. If the entire Medina, and its huge walls hasn’t already slipped into the sea, and crumbled away, this place was built on bed rock. The ancients weren’t stupid a 1000 years ago, and didn’t build on shifting sand, marshes or the Thames Estuary.

I want to join some local architectural preservation society and help save some of the building facades, before the architects and developers, run amok. There is enough re plumbing and re wiring here to keep the whole of Poland busy for 10 years, but there is no danger of that, as they aren’t going to let the Poles in to work.

The local tradesman have the market to themselves, and can continue creating havoc, mess and misery for every one who needs them.

If you have heard the horror stories about workers in the home, don’t believe them. The truth is much worse. Its beyond belief and you couldn’t put it into a third rate play. No one would believe you. I know.

A few huge hotels remain deserted along the beach front with no glass windows, a smattering of security and surprising little vandalism. If you left 300 empty hotel rooms in Europe they would not be empty for long. One owner took the precaution of setting fire to the place just to ensure no one moved in, and I suppose a decent insurance claim covered the loss in earnings.

Buying here as a foreigner is discouraged unless you buy new, in the tourist zone, at inflated prices. If you have heard the horror stories about purchasing here, don’t believe them. Its much worse. I know.

I asked a local man today “Do any of the parties want to encourage overseas private investment in real estate here?”

“No” he said and smiled. “There is not enough for the people and they don’t want the prices going up” (they don’t care about the tourist zone as no local would dream of living there)

I play a mental Monopoly in my mind as I walk, and buy up entire streets, gentrify entire neighbourhoods, list every building older than me, plus a few major palm trees, planted by the french.

I also mentally clean all the beaches, replant the Medina gardens, endorse a program to inoculate and neuter the cats, and get company sponsorship for a fleet of tasteful rubbish bins. They don’t need people like me interfering.

I know english people that fled from here, after hearing gunfire, during the revolution so I am aware anything can ignite at any time but at the moment there is nothing to report.

I shall go and battle with the pumpkin…


The Tunisian Election this weekend

Friday 24th October 2014

I happen to be here, during the first elections to be held in Tunisia, located in The Medina in Sousse. Pop. Approx. 250,000, a large sea side tourist town, with a port and Medina, about 1 1/2 hours south of Tunis.

I am going to try to report anything interesting I see regarding the election on sunday 26th October. I will describe anything I see but not the proposals of the many political parties. Thats too complicated,politically and you can find all the info from someone far better informed, arab speaking and politically insightful.

I’d like to say there’s some excitement in the air. There is not.I think it’s a miracle the country is still running at all, after no government, in three years.

The TV constantly has debating programs, but it has done  so all year long
We got a leaflet under the door but no one is canvasing, no banners, no demonstrations, and no loud speakers. If you didn’t know there was an election on, you would never have guessed.

Almost every one I have spoken to won’t vote, and feels international (the USA, Qatar) and religious influences will interfere.

Its been said “That was not a revolution. There is still one to come”

Regarding the original incident, of the young man igniting himself after being moved on by the police, what I now see is the cart market stall holders play a game of cat and mouse with the police.
They keep a look out and hide in side alleys until the police leave and gather outside the local covered food market where stall holders must pay a rent. The police are strict, hot, tiered, underpaid and want to see a lot of ID cards at a lot of road blocks.

Most of the hotels have a security presence but then so does every civic, government or public building in Europe. Security is a huge employer.

Driving out the villages a few roundabouts have police stops but they wave the locals on, don’t want to speak to tourists but stop any vehicle/person that shouldn’t be there. Nothing wrong with that.

They all need to coexist in a country where other jobs don’t exist.

Having ‘an election,’ as a concept is too easily said, but in reality there are many more ramifications.

Tunisia having a dictator for so many years was like living with your parents, beyond childhood. It gave them someone to blame. Not to thank, but to blame.

I have been here for nearly a year off and on and have keenly observed how they have continued to function dispute no government for 3 years.

Tunisia reminds me of Russia 25 years ago in one respect; the general population has never travelled and their impressions of the outside world are from TV films. I have never seen a decent clean operational cinema anywhere here so it’s not even big screen.

The procedure of getting a visa, tickets, sponsors, documents and approval is a nightmare and way beyond the reach financial of a normal person. Forget the poor folks, they can hardly leave the village so the concept of foreign travel is ‘interplanetary’.

They have been caged. The travel restrictions are still in place and probably remain so.

I often hear the phrase repeated time to time again “oh I could never leave my village”. Its like a mantra from 50% of them while the other 50% risk their lives, pay huge sums, and embark on a life threatening journey to get out and into Europe.

So now they have to examine themselves, their system, what they inherited under french rule until 1956, and where they are headed on a global stage, without a dictator to blame.

Ben Ali’s name is mentioned continually. Continually. Tunisians discuss and analyse continually.

TV debates are plentiful and two guests speaking exactly at the same time is very common. They can obviously speak and listen at the same time….

Money isn’t the answer. There are plenty of infrastructure projects built in the last 20 years that are falling apart around them.

They don’t comprehend ‘upkeep’ and ‘repair’. It’s not just money its also attitudes, actions and implementation.

It’s a great credit and testament to the Tunisian people, they have kept on their feet, kept, eating, kept working, kept building and kept learning.

Could a european country still function and not descend in riots, chaos, trade union strikes, shortages etc if it had no government? I hope we never have to find out.

Education is very important for the families here and keeping their children disciplined and studying is a great source of pride.

Religion seems moderate here, but custom and traditions stay strong. Multiple marriages are banned, women are educated, and the hijab is disliked.

Conversely head scarves, arranged marriages,refraining from drinking, drugs, girls smoking are generally chosen by the young people, but not forced onto them. This actually leaves room for a fundamentalism to sneak in, and influence and pervert the minds of the poor and socially disadvantaged.

They are still begging in the streets here, and when that older geriatric generation of beggars die off, the younger people won’t be linking up to take their places.

A new government might not be projecting thousands of them into a nice comfortable middle class lifestyle, but it could force thousands into destitution, starvation and desperate behaviour.

Every millieme counts here. They have open boarders into Libya, Algeria or Egypt but that are hardly a good option. The only reason they go to Libya is for temporary well paid work or to get the illegal boats to Europe which is big business.

In the summer thousands of Libyans and Algerian’s with money flood into Tunisia, some stay and some return, if they can.

Masses of food, especially lamb, has already headed south into Libya, contributing to shortages and price rises here. There is a limited supply of everything here, even fish, with a growing population, and it’s no longer so plentiful.

A predominately young population will expect more. They will not aspire to become toothless, shoeless, homeless beggars. They will revolt first.

They are generally happy people but undermined by the fear of rampant poverty, with no government support on any level.

It’s a holiday here for government offices, some schools and the larger employers. I went to the food market this morning which was the same assembly of organised chaos, spicy smells and wilting leaves,

I am very aware I’m seeing a transformation and a period of their history pass before me.Like a slide show of still photos and a way of life unchanged for centuries could all disappear in my life time.

Yes, they have not been allowed out but more importantly WE have not been allowed in. As  inTaoism, its what you let in that will cause the problems…

I will be keeping watch.