Tunisia:  missing stools, wrong man at the helm, failed spy, move on

February 19, 2022

I’ve been here for two weeks, working. Although I do meet some government counterparts in their offices many meetings are still virtual and I connect from the hotel, the Movenpick in Gammart. So, I spend a lot of time in this hotel writing in the lobby (there is a couch I like there) or in my room.  I even teach my virtual classes with the students in Beirut on Tuesdays and Thursday at 7am. The hotel is by the sea and that helps. They have an ok gym where I workout and a couple of times I’ve run on the beach — not great because there is not much of a tide and most of the way is soft-sand. There are two restaurants, one Tunisian and one international, which serve good food but only Tunisian wines. A notorious flaw is the lack of a proper bar. You can order drinks while sitting at the lobby but it is not the same.  I have G&Ts at sunset in my couch but I miss the stools, the barman and the bottles in background.

I’ve been out a couple of times for dinner with friends and a sublime lunch with part of the leadership of the labor union. People are fed up in this country.  The president — an ex-university professor, very respected, an honest man — dissolved the parliament last July (on the 25th to be precise).  At the beginning he had the support of the “people;” it was a move against corruption, state capture, and the elites. But after six months nothing has changed.  He hasn’t been able to come up with an economic plan to address the main problem that afflicts this country: youth unemployment which stands above 35%.  He doesn’t have a clear vision for the future and the political reforms he is obsessed with would turn Tunisia into the Lybia of Muammar Gaddafi.  It is sad to say,  but Tunisia finds itself at one of those rare turning points in history with the wrong man at the helm. Though, the governor of the central bank has a more positive view.  “You see, this government can now do things by decree…”, he told me when we met last week. 

When I arrived to Tunis from Paris on Sunday the 5th I was almost arrested.   Since I am on my way to ANTARES I carry with me a small drone (a mini mavic) that I was planning to use to shoot some footage during the next passage. I should have checked the local regulations, particularly because I’ve had problems with drones before, in the Bahamas. Drones are illegal here and I wasn’t supposed to carry one.  But instead of simply confiscating my mini, giving me a receipt so that I can get it back when I leave the country, and letting me go they started to investigate my background.  Why did I have a drone with me was the question? I explained but they were not convinced. I told them I was here in an official visit but they didn’t care. They passed several phone calls speaking in Arabic and I didn’t know what was going on. I had landed at 7pm, by then it was 10pm. I was tired, frustrated, and concerned about having to spend the night in a room without windows. Eventually, somehow, they gave me back my passport and let me go. If it makes it to Grenada, the drone will take permanent residence in ANTARES.

I am ready to move on, it’s been too long. In fact, I was supposed to fly to Morocco (the next destination) last Tuesday but the colleague who was traveling with me tested positive for COVID19 and we had to postpone. We are traveling tomorrow.  A few minutes ago I had my PCR test done.  They have a good system here.  They come to the hotel, take the sample from your nose in your room, and send you the results the same day.  I hope I continue to test negative. In Morocco I will spend only three days and then go to Paris for two weeks…

I realize I haven’t taken many pictures while in Tunis. But you can see there my couch, the sea, the sublime lunch, and a glass of wine I had while celebrating St. Valentines day alone in the Tunisian restaurant.

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