On Friday a delegation of American executives, led by General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt, traveled to Tunisia to explore investment opportunities. What’s driving this high profile interest in Tunisia by powerful American executives? I attended the delegation’s press conference at the US Embassy in Tunis to find out, and created the following podcast for TunisiaLive. To listen, click the icon below:
On Monday I joined the TunisiaLive team for an inside look at the trial of deposed Tunisian President Ben Ali, whose 23-year authoritarian rule came to an end on January 14. As both a correspondent and as a Tunisian citizen I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to tell a story about this remarkable day.
rows of green vine stitched into the ground
an unsteady wind hollows out bones
leaving them ringing a cold fear
the grey undercoat of a Peugeot sedan sparkles in blunt sunlight
as it rides a rail of intention, reaction
through a countryside freeze-dried by revolution
light, blocky, its capillaries stretch to wick up
moisture from the backs of beasts who pass through it
its verdancy sticking to hulking bodies like a fresh pollen
like marrow extracted through centrifugal force
and spread over the smooth elbow of a baguette
forward, another dawn in Tunisia
How does an unemployed youth — disenfranchised under a corrupt dictatorship — find voice and purpose in the months after a popular revolt? What does a community learn about itself – and those around it – as it engages in direct and honest conversation for the first time? How does a government negotiate letting its citizens speak their mind, and create a stable and functioning society?
In the wake of the Arab world’s first successful overthrow of a dictator, and through the personal narratives of strangers I have yet to meet, I’ve arrived in Tunisia to find out. Over the next three months I hope to share a few stories from the wake of the Arab Spring — that hot, foggy space between revolutions and institutions.
Also filed on Twitter under #arabsummer.
My home base in Tunisia is Hammamet, a popular hub for European tourists seeking sun and sand. A common sight in Hammamet is what Tunisians call “business,” or young men, often from the countryside, who immigrate to coastal cities during the tourist season to find a foreign woman (and sometimes a foreign man) with whom to have a fling, and from whom to extract discretionary income.
You could call business prostitutes, but they are less deliberate with their aims. They straddle the line between valuing relationships as a means to an end, and as an exploration of their own sexuality. Business target foreign tourists because they are relatively affluent and can fund their discretionary expenses. Business also target tourists because through them they can experience sexual intimacy, an area that is strictly taboo, pre-marriage, in the rural Tunisian villages which business call home.
Business in Tunisia are on the rise. A growing number of European tourists travel to Tunisia explicitly in search of business for a sexual escapade. Rural Tunisians are also increasingly turning to business, as an economy with high unemployment, coupled with an increasingly aggressive consumer culture, drives a thirst for easy money. To break the trend, Tunisia recently deployed anti-business police (no joke), trained by Moroccan security forces, who apparently have a proven track record of combating this shadow economy.
I wanted to capture an image of a business who I spotted on the side of the road while driving home after a late night out.
The road slick from the searing press of tires
His white branded shoes reflect dimly on the asphalt on which he walks
Stop, cigarette, lighter, puff
He sees the stamp of his sole on a nearby spill of dirt, and smiles.
Click click, click click, click click
Behind him, near him, beyond him
Past his legs runs a feral dog
Its paws nervously disconnecting from the ground
As it roves through a tangle of power lines
Ahmed hates it
Its tense muscles, its plastic smile
A worn ribcage propelled forward in search something
Always in search of something
A vivid and stubborn mirage
A prize without a claimant
Reward eludes another day.
The road is hard. Ahmed’s bones are heavy.
A fresh escapade launched while tourists were collecting beachtowels
Has yet to conclude long after tourists have slipped under bedsheets.
Strands of hair hardened by gel, eyelids squatting on a rocky nest of sleep
The cologne in his stiff denim jacket loses ground
To the fine yellow soot that adorns it early morning.
There are few sights sadder than that of a business
Traipsing in to a cafe at the crack of dawn
Pupils entangled in wispy veins of blood, cheeks flush with the stench of stale hope
Ahmed’s story is worn on his face.
As it was in the washroom mirror of the cafe he visited yesterday morning
In front of which he finds himself again today.