“Why don’t you like the UK?” I hadn’t expected the question and, to be honest, didn’t have much of an answer. I don’t dislike the UK, I don’t really think about it all that much. I just don’t want to live there. There then followed a recital of some of the more high brow UK pit stops of any respectable two week trip, combined with a mixture of incredulity and incomprehension as to why anyone from there wouldn’t want to live there. I didn’t acquit myself well. I wanted to talk about game shows, The Daily Mail and cul de sacs, but it was pretty clear that the fiction my interrogator had created for herself was too dear to her, so I shrugged my shoulders and mumbled something about just looking around the world a bit. It sounded cooler.
It was curious. She’d been on a brief trip to the land of my Father’s fathers, (it’s complicated) and had created such a firm impression of the place that anything I might say to the contrary would only undermine her conviction, which, really, just didn’t seem fair.
I cannot tell you what Tunisia is like. I can’t do that any more than I can tell you what Russia, Vietnam or the countless places in between, are like. I lived in some longer than I lived in others, but all I can really comment on is my experience of being on the outside and looking in. As experiences go, that’s in an entirely different time zone to someone born there, or emigrating there in the hope of a better life. Instead, I just pass through. All that I can really hope for is that what I say of a place is true to my experience of it, just as my Anglophile’s experience of her visit to that sceptred isle was, and continues to be, true for her.
I have travelled within Tunisia a little. I have managed to see something of the contrasts of my adopted homeland, from the lush mountains of the North to the endless tracts of Sahara in the South. We spent Christmas Day underground, in one of the troglodyte dwellings the Berber’s hacked out of unforgiving rock and sand to protect themselves and their families from the desert elements and the nomadic marauders who hid within them. This particular dwelling was the same one as had been used in the Star Wars films. The set and props remained in place, their shine gradually giving way to rot and the neglect born of an absence of cross cultural understanding and appropriately focussed capitalistic zeal.
Christmas with the Skywalkers; it’s not as good as you think it is.
Writing work is thin on the ground. I agreed some with a local news outlet, but downed tools after payment promises began to drift by with worrying regularity. It’s frustrating and depressing in equal measure. Not least, as finding an alternative to fill the vacuum is proving difficult. My drive to work borders on compulsion. It’s absence plagues me. Without it, I’m never entirely clear who I am. I get tongue tied when asked what I do. At times like now, when work is short, I say teacher. It’s a fine profession, but it stopped feeling like mine some time ago.
In the meantime, I wait for Libya. I tried to get there once before, only for my ambitions to find themselves dashed upon the rocks of an entirely fluid bureaucracy. Even identifying the process by which a UK journalist, (in Tunisia) can get a Visa for Libya is as close to putting your finger on mercury as anything I’ve experienced.
For now, there is Tunisia. In a country that so many people talk of getting out from, my experience runs counter. I like it here. Generally, I like the people I meet. I like running across the hills above our house and pausing to look across the city and its lakes. I like taking the train to La Goulette and eating fresh fish on the sea front. My experience is good.