It was amazing to think that, if I would've come to Tunisia before 2011, I wouldn't have seen any women wearing head-scarves. I would've seen my girlfriend's hair, without even having to sneak into her house at night.
But, it was true. My sister Semia told me that, during the dictatorship of Ben Ali, it had been illegal for women to wear head-scarves in public. Following the 2011 revolution, women became "free" to cover their hair. It was ironic, what some people chose to do with their freedom. Head-scarved Semia smiled and said: "Marzouki behe." (Marzouki, the post-revolution president, is good.) It was often advantageous for a woman to cover her hair if she wanted to get married, because Arabic men liked to think their women had hidden from boys while single.
Generally, Tunisians were happy they'd overthrown Ben Ali.
The most common complaint was that prices had risen since the end of the dictatorship. And it seemed to me that the "national guard" violated people's privacy, a little too much. My brother Haikl Dreedy, who'd done his mandatory military service, told me that my interrogators in southern Tunisia had had to interrogate me so they would know they weren't releasing a spy. It seemed to me, this was one step away from torturing the innocent.
Some people thought Tunisia was no better off following the revolution, and others thought it was worse. This didn't surprise me ...
"It's not one particular government that's the problem, but governments in general. It makes no sense for revolutionaries to say, 'We need freedom! We need to be governed by someone else.' The aim of any revolution should be anarchy." - J.Breen philosophy
Some people claimed we needed governments to protect us from terrorism. Since 2001, governments had been taking away our freedom, in order to fight terrorism.
Turks and Arabs believed the terrorists in their countries were either: supported by the C.I.A.; supported by Israel; or Islamic fundamentalists trying to establish their own governments in weak regions. Were terrorists in America targeting the U.S. government? Were they secretly working for the U.S. government? If any of these were true, it meant that if there were no governments, terrorism as we knew it would disappear. Even in today's world, few Tunisians or Americans had ever met a terrorist, nor been threatened by one.
"In reality, terrorism isn't a big problem. But, if you talk about something twenty-four hours a day, it becomes a big problem." - a TunisAir employee
Were Muslims terrorists?
I never met one.
Occasionally, young men joked that they'd like to make "jihad" in Syria or fight against America. They were joking, but I believed there was a hint of truth to their jokes. The thought of "jihadism" may've been attractive to young men who didn't have much to enjoy or take pride in, in a practical society where one could only work, work, work, saving his low wages so he afford to attract a wife.
It was difficult to be a man in Islamic society.
Happy Tunisian men accepted their status as Allah's slaves. Those who wished to be big like Allah sought money and were unhappy; they smoked cigarettes, drank, possibly did drugs. Upon having kids, most men accepted suffering in their lives and became happier and humbler.
It was difficult to be a Muslim man. And Muslim women had very little freedom. But as an American philosopher, free from the pressures of Islam, I loved living in an Arabic society surrounded by warm-hearted, friendly people.
The people of Sminja liked to ask me: "Shnuwwa khir, El-Toons wella Amerika?" (What's better, Tunisia or America?) They expected me to say America.
Well, if you judged quality of life by money - meaning you were probably an unhappy person, the type of person governments and corporations easily manipulated - then America was better.
But, if you judged life by how many beautiful smiles you saw each day ... then Sminja may've been the best place on Earth.
My only complaint about Sminja was that it seemed to be the only place in Tunisia with no donkeys.
Actually, it was good I never bought a donkey. When I'd been too lazy to wake up early for a livestock market, that was the smartest thing I ever did.
And now ... I was going to do something even smarter! I was going to write my newest MODERN ODDYSEUS' TOP 5!!! And I wanted to end the story of my trip to Tunisia on a good note. So, the Top 5 Worst Things about Tunisia! would start us off:
1. TOO CONFIDENT -
The men, whether strict Muslims or normal people or university professors or socio-psychologists or communists or documentary film-makers or confused young men, thought they knew everything already and didn't really listen. I preferred to spend time with people I joked around with; these jokesters also made better listeners.
2. THE FOOD / HARISSA -
Oil, tomato paste, and a red pepper paste ("harissa") were overused, as substitutes for vegetables. The poor people in Sminja didn't grow vegetable gardens. The land surrounding Sminja was owned by large agricultural companies, owned by the government or by rich Europeans. Maybe Tunisians should've made a revolution against that?
3. OBSESSION WITH RELIGION
4. BARKING, ATTACKING DOGS -
It was hard to find a camping spot where barking dogs wouldn't keep you awake at night. In Sminja, it was scary to walk on the edge of town after dark.
5. CLASSICAL ARABIC -
If books were written in Tunisian Arabic instead of this dead language, the people might've read more and empowered themselves.
HONORABLE MENTION included: NO FREEDOM IN LOVE; THE EXALTED STATUS OF MEN IN ISLAM; YOUNG MEN'S FASHION; and LITTER.
This brought us to The Top 5 Best Things about Tunisia!, a strong list which didn't need much explanation.
1. FRIENDLY PEOPLE
2. GREETING EVERYONE
3. THE SOUTH
4. ARABIC ALPHABET
HM included SMILES, and USING WATER INSTEAD OF TOILET PAPER. I never used water to wash my bum; I didn't know how to do so properly. But, I felt sure this ancient hygiene method worked better than awkward toilet paper. If you didn't agree with me, just ask the Camel Guy. This was his favorite topic of conversation, just ahead of camels.
"You wash your hands with water. You wash your face with water. So, why do you wash your butt with paper!? Once, I went into a five-star restaurant. And I saw a guy who didn't wash his hands in the bathroom. I watched him, sitting with his beautiful wife. Using his hands to rip the chicken meat off the bone. And I felt disgusted ..."
That's enough, Camel Guy.
My favorite topic of conversation was traveling. Or maybe philosophy. Or psychology. Or maybe girls.
At any rate, I traveled to north-eastern Tunisia in April. I traveled a forgotten road, full of donkeys and surrounded by fields of tall green grass blowing in the wind. I visited a cemetery, where the dull white tombs were being invaded by green grass and flowers of orange, white, yellow, blue, violet, and pink. I hitchhiked roads that ran along the sides of green mountains, with their table-like cliffs and raining clouds above me, and a valley of green spreading below me to distant mountains.
stood atop a castle in these mountains, in the town of El-Kef; climbed a rock in the sea, to visit the great lighthouse of Tabarqa; and saw the mighty, blue-and-white colonial architecture that surrounded a salty turquoise canal and the central garden of the city of Binzerte.
But, I was happy to return to Sminja.
During my last week there, five families fought over who would have me for dinner. Monsoor's family. Aunt Semira and Oommy Fatma. Fawsia the shopkeeper. Monsoor's neighbors. Hooloot and her father, Nourredine.
More tears were shed, as I said good-bye to this small town. People kept repeating a phrase in Arabic, which I didn't completely understood, but I took it to mean, "There's going to be an empty place without him."
Sminja was going to be in my heart forever. I loved so many people there. They were beautiful.
I hoped to return.
But for now, my goal was to reach Ethiopia and complete my world travels there. I was sad to be leaving Sminja, but I would be happy to arrive in Ethiopia.
Unfortunately, I didn't have enough money to fly there now. When I'd been too lazy to find a job in Tunisia, that was the stupidest thing I ever did.
I had to return to Italy.
Oh, crap. Not Italy!!!
Thanks to the people of Tunisia, for a wonderful three months.
Missing you always,
Thanks to Abdul-Razaq; Aley & Mumtaz; Bilel & Aisha; Labil; Hassan; Shokri & Imen; 1 km guy; Semir & his children; Zyed; Abdul Aziz & a pretty woman; Jelal; man & girl in pick-up; Sofian; Imen & Haithan; Murad; Hamdi Abda, Ali, Monsoor, & Ontman; Feteye & Zubir; Jilen & Iyerss Sladine; Sema Hamimi; Fawsie; Saber & Ahmed; Aley, Azdi, & Habiba; and Imen for rides!
Much thanks to Amur, Shamsidin, & Lazar; and Monsoor, Ferhanny Hamimi, Haikl, & Ferhan for places to sleep!