Moving into a 1,000 year old Tunisian Medina-Arrival and Departure

Excerpt from “Moving into a 1,000 year old Tunisian Medina’
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Departure and Arrival
We arrived in Sousse, about one hour south of Tunis, on the Bay of Hammanet, on the 18th Dec 2013 on a cheap flight packed with retired Brits living off pensions. Most of them looked sick, bit pale, feeble, but not terminal, and had arrived just in time. The flight was packed with middle aged, middle England, middle income and us.

I had expected the flight to be empty but I was wrong. The first of many ‘wrongs’.

I had booked the Premier Inn at Gatwick North Terminal the night before, as it’s literally across the road opposite the check in desk, ready for a 7am flight. After an overpriced dull dinner I wandered over to an empty airport to find the check-in desk, did some paperwork, spoke to the eastern european blond supervisor who sensibly suggested I check in that night to save queuing at 5.00 am. I gave her all our luggage, regardless of the weight and no one cared. least of all her.

Two and half hours later we landed in sunshine 17 degrees with blue skies and blue seas in an empty relatively new airport called Enfida. I expected to be engulfed by noise, beggars, animals and thieves but there were none, but a few bored taxi drivers and very few pre booked coaches. This was not Miami airport , which  feels like a hot, sticky, wild door to South America, and interestingly this didn’t  feel like the door to North Africa.

Two and a half days later the UK was hit by violent terrible storms, which cancelled hundreds of flights and left airports besieged, unable to cope and with thousands of passengers sleeping on floors clutching Xmas presents desperate to get home for the holidays.The bad weather didn’t leave the UK for weeks with the eventual  flooding devastating villages on an unprecedented scale. I have never been so grateful to be away.

I had booked the Thompson coach transfer at the last minute for £15 each after spending days trying to find a limo service to the hotel. Oh how naive! It was impossible to find something reliable, clear, reasonable and normal as I didn’t want to risk dealing with a local cab in another currency but stay close to the “hidi Hi” group of happy fat herded tourists.  We all piled on board, threw in the luggage, checked each other out and went straight to the hotel.

It was the closest thing to Butlins.

I had no idea where I was going and it was better I didn’t know.

The rest of the coach party left after their two weeks was up, and they used their return tickets as they had planned.

I didnt. I stayed, but the reason why was not immediately on my horizon.

For now it was a very sunny day, with a coach load of fat Brits, driving through empty roads newly cut through ancient olive trees struggling in caked yellow mud that stretched across the horizon. It all looked a bit boring, permanent and innocent enough.


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…