Archives - ‘Tunisie’

To the future interns, “Saha!” (enjoy!)

November 21, 2018 | Florence, Joint Honours in Communication and in Political Science, Forum des fédérations Tunisie, Région MENA, Intern

Just a few months ago, I arrived in Tunis, Tunisia, I was shocked by a chaotic and unorganized environment. The next day, I was already starting my internship, at the Forum of Federations on women empowerment with my two new colleagues. Throughout my internship, we’ve had multiple events with the government of Tunisia and its ministries in partnership with NGOs and other civil associations/organizations. Taking part in those big events with the leaders of the country allowed me to understand its culture, its history, its political, economic and social state, as well as their different related issues.

What surprised me the most on everything I’ve learned was the amount of cultural diversity you can find in such a small country. Tunisia has a very different and unique culture next to all the other Arabic countries. Its culture is mainly a mix in between Arabic, European and Berber.

After the decline of Romans, in the seventh century that dominated Tunisia for several centuries, the Muslim Arabs arrived from the east of the country. Since their arrival, Tunisia has been Arabic-speaking and Muslim. The Arabic culture is therefore very present through the language of most Tunisians and also through Islam religion of State, as well as its national customs, such as Ramadan, inheritance, domestic unit (close family), kin groups (kinship beyond family domestic unit), animal slaughter symbolizing togetherness when eating the meat, and more.

In 1881, a French protectorate was established in Tunisia for a whole generation. Therefore, its population grew within the European culture. For example, it is very noticeable through the colonial architecture of the main cities of the country and also by the presence of Christianism represented by a few cathedrals and churches. We can immediately see the resemblance looking at the circular columns and entrance, the high ceilings found in the buildings and also the few forts surrounding coastal cities. It is also very noticeable in the European clothing of most Tunisians. The clothing industry is one of the industries that imports the most from Europe. Lastly, wine is very much present despite Islam being the religion of State. Tunisians, in majority, enjoy the wine at dinner or during special occasions.

As for the Berber culture, it is the most ancient culture of the region. Since 2000 BCE, the Berber language (Amazigh) was spoken all over the North half of Africa. In the Tunisian culture, we can identify Berber culture through traditional dishes such as couscous, merguez and the famous harissa (hot chili pepper paste used in every dish). Moreover, most of the colourful craft of Tunisia refers to Berber culture through its colours and symbols. Blue represents the Mediterranean Sea, green represents the mountains and yellow represents the sand of the Sahara Desert. We also notice a lot of Berber symbols weaved in rugs found in all “souks”. Berber symbols are linear drawings similar to arrows. Every symbol has specific meanings. Besides, those symbols are also the same ones tattooed on Berber women’s faces as old tradition.

In summary, living in Tunisia not only allowed me to discover not just one culture but three! Throughout this discovery, I have acquired so much knowledge, a larger open mind, resourcefulness, but most importantly the thirst for exploring outside of my comfort zone in order to feel the culture instead of seeing it.

As I am preparing myself to go home in less than 2 weeks, I can feel the attachment I have developed over these past 3 months not only to the culture but mainly to the people I’ve encountered through my internship at the Forum of Federations and everyone else outside of it; my foster family, my international friends, my colleagues and my Tunisian friends. Each one of these encounters has brought me so much happiness, never ending laughter and memories that I will forever remember.

My dear Tunisia, you have marked my heart and you will be deeply missed.

To the future interns, “Saha!” (enjoy!)

Un bagage d’expériences enrichissantes

October 22, 2018 | Florence, Joint Honours in Communication and in Political Science, Forum des fédérations Tunisie, Région MENA, Intern

Dès mon arrivée à l’aéroport Tunis-Carthage, j’ai été prise par un environnement chaotique et désorganisée, ce qui peut être accablant après 12 heures de voyage et peu d’heures de sommeil. Simplement pour rejoindre la voiture de la personne qui me raccompagnerait chez moi, nous devions passer à travers un embouteillage entremêlé de klaxons bruyants et d’échanges agressifs, dans une langue qui m’est toujours inconnue, sans oublier le poids lourd de la chaleur d’été ressenti sur mes épaules. Ce fut sans aucun doute une arrivée plutôt abracadabrante ! Il est donc fort possible d’imaginer la nervosité que j’avais de commencer mon stage le lendemain matin…

Tout d’abord, mon stage en Tunisie est dans le bureau d’une organisation non gouvernementale canadienne qui se nomme le Forum des Fédérations. Cette organisation a mise en place un projet d’une durée d’environ 6 ans qui couvre trois pays de la région MENA (Middle Eastern and North African region) : Tunisie, Maroc et Jordanie. Ce projet consiste sur l’autonomisation des femmes pour des rôles de leadership. C’est un projet qui mise sur l’égalité entre les hommes et les femmes, la gouvernance inclusive ainsi que sur le leadership féminin.

Plus précisément, mon stage consiste à organiser ou bien prendre part à des activités de formation, des conférences, des journées de sensibilisation et autres, en but d’outiller les femmes leaders actuellement en postes à rendre l’accessibilité de ceux-ci à plus de femmes ainsi qu’à assurer la présence du concept d’égalité de genre. Ce projet a aussi pour but d’outiller la future génération de leaders (étudiants universitaires, femmes dans les partis politiques, etc.) à faire de même tout au long de leur carrière et emplois futurs. Mis à part les activités, mon stage consiste à de la rédaction de rapports narratifs et informels récapitulant les objectifs du projet, les indicateurs de sa réussite, mais plus spécifiquement ses avancements et impacts sur les publics cibles.

Par la suite, lorsque je repense à ma première impression de Tunis, je suis maintenant capable de dire que la société est un peu chaotique par moment par sa grande désorganisation, mais que c’est ce qui fait aussi son charme. L’ambiance des rues n’est jamais ennuyante, il y a toujours du mouvement et du bruit. Aussi, ses petites rues de labyrinthe permettent de faire des découvertes inattendues et très divertissantes.

De peur de ma première impression générale, j’étais assez nerveuse de commencer mon stage. À présent, contrairement à l’image extérieure d’une ville désorganisée et d’un pays ayant d’énormes enjeux sociaux, j’ai été surprise de l’organisation, de l’investissement, de la vivacité, de la persévérance et de l‘assiduité de mes deux collègues en ce qui concerne le projet. Elles veulent que les mentalités changent et veulent faire partie de ce changement.

Bref, jusqu’à ce jour, je ne cesse d’apprendre de ce mandat, tant du côté professionnel que personnel. C’est un bagage d’expériences enrichissantes qui me suivra dans tout ce que j’entreprendrai dans l’avenir.

Une visite au Musée national du Bardo

March 14, 2018 | Isabelle, Maîtrise DVM, Forum des fédérations, Tunisie, stagiaire

Il y a déjà un peu plus de deux mois que j’ai fait mon arrivée à Tunis et je dois dire que la majorité des Tunisiens que j’ai eu la chance de côtoyer connaissent de manière assez remarquable l’histoire de leur pays, l’art et les traditions qui y sont rattachés. Rapidement, je me suis rendue compte qu’il fallait que j’en sache davantage. Mais, comment? En faisant, au cours de mon stage, des visites ou des recherches sur les principaux lieux historiques et culturels du pays.

Le site de Carthage, le site de Dougga, l’amphithéâtre d’El Djem, les médinas de Kairouan, de Tunis et de Sousse, tous des sites classés sur la liste du patrimoine mondial de l’UNESCO, ne sont que quelques exemples illustrant le cachet caractérisant la Tunisie. Ce pays regorge de joyaux culturels et archéologiques et le Musée national du Bardo est d’ailleurs l’un de ces incontournables.

Le Musée du Bardo est un musée de renommée internationale reconnu et visité par plusieurs. Gratuit les premiers dimanches de chaque mois pour les Tunisiens et les étudiants internationaux, il est fréquenté et accessible à tous. Situé dans la capitale tunisienne, il est d’ailleurs le premier musée de la Tunisie à fonctionner depuis plus d’un siècle.

Le Musée du Bardo fait notamment partie du chemin/itinéraire Magon, un circuit archéologique, touristique et culturel reliant la Tunisie et la Sicile italienne. Ce chemin a pour objectif de mettre en valeur les sites originairement phéniciens et puniques liant la Tunisie et l’Italie, démontrant ainsi l’importance de la culture de la vigne et de la préparation du vin, deux éléments qui ont su caractériser cette région méditerranéenne pendant une certaine époque.

Ayant eu l’occasion de visiter le musée récemment, je suis d’avis que cette visite m’a permis de comprendre davantage l’histoire et l’influence des cultures et des traditions qui ont marqué le passé du pays. C’est en connaissant davantage l’histoire de la Tunisie d’hier, que je crois être plus apte à saisir les réalités sociales, culturelles, économiques, religieuses et politiques de la Tunisie d’aujourd’hui.
J’ai donc, notamment appris que Bardo a toute une histoire. On y a érigé des palais de différents styles à la fois sous la dynastie d’Ali Pacha (1735 et 1756), sous Hussein Bey (1824 et 1835) et sous M’hammed Bey (1859 et 1864). Ce n’est que sous le protectorat français que des travaux importants sur ces palais ont été effectué (1885 à 1888) en vue de transformer les salles d’intérêts (salon, zones de services, etc.) en salles d’expositions mélangeant des collections archéologiques, historiques et ethnologiques nationales. Le musée «Alaoui» est créé et inauguré le 7 mai 1888 et ce n’est qu’en 1956, date marquant l’indépendance tunisienne, que le Musée change de nom pour le «Musée national du Bardo».

Les présentes salles d’expositions sont donc, d’anciennes zones de services. Ces salles se divisent en six départements consacrés distinctement à la préhistoire, à la civilisation phénico-punique, au monde numide, à la collection sous-marine de Mahdia, au monde romain et à l’antiquité ainsi qu’à l’Islam.
Malgré les transformations et les rénovations apportées au fil des ans, ces salles ont su garder leur cachet. Elles démontrent, encore aujourd’hui, la richesse de l’architecture et de l’art tunisien qui savent mélanger céramique, marbre et autres matériaux. Mon véritable coup de cœur de cette visite est, en fait, le stuc, un mortier décoratif. Le stuc est généralement coupé en formes géométriques créant ainsi des images et des jeux d’ombres plus qu’intéressants. C’est du 15e au 19e siècle (pendant la période d’andalouse et ottomane) que ces décors étaient le plus prisés et utilisés.

Le Musée regroupe une série de collections de mosaïques, d’anciennes monnaies, de céramiques, d’œuvres d’art en bronze, en marbre, en verre, en bois etc. Les couleurs sont souvent mises à l’honneur (notamment pour les plafonniers). On y retrouve des objets en terre cuite, des bijoux, des statuettes, des outils, des écuelles, des statues provenant de Carthage, des fresques d’artistes peintres africains et j’en passe. Ces œuvres représentent des animaux, des portraits ou bien des sculptures de divinités ou de personnages connus. On y retrouve même des stèles de la civilisation numide, présente dans l’ensemble de l’Afrique du Nord du 10e au 1er siècle avant J.-C.

De plus, je dois souligner qu’une stèle commémorative à l’entrée du musée a su attirer mon attention lors de ma visite. Cette stèle est érigée en vue de commémorer les victimes de l’attentat survenu le 18 mars 2015 au Musée du Bardo. Ayant été revendiqué par l’État islamique, celui-ci a annoncé publiquement que cette attaque, ciblant une attraction touristique importante tel que le Musée de Bardo, visait plus particulièrement les visiteurs étrangers et les intérêts étrangers plus largement. Cet attentat a notamment causé la mort de plus d’une vingtaine de touristes internationaux.

Or, un tel attentat, bien qu’il se soit déroulé il y a maintenant 3 ans, marque les défis et les oppositions toujours actuelles en ce qui concerne la gouvernance en Tunisie. Cet attentat a su remettre en question l’économie tunisienne en touchant son tourisme, sa culture voire même les intérêts dits «occidentaux» de manière plus large en ayant ciblé des zones touristiques. Un tel événement, commémoré à l’entrée du Musée, m’a donc, poussé à repenser à l’influence occidentale, aux débats éthiques, idéologiques et politiques qui en découlent et qui découlent des programmes de développement international. Existe-t-il réellement une opposition voire une division entre le «Sud» et le «Nord»? Est-ce que la démocratie, la gouvernance inclusive, l’ouverture politique, la décentralisation ou le féminisme par exemple sont des fabrications dites «occidentales»? Il s’agit là que de quelques questions qui me venaient en tête.

J’en suis même venue à me questionner sur mon propre rôle en tant qu’étudiante participant à un stage international dans le cadre de mes études. Venant en Tunisie afin de travailler au sein d’une organisation canadienne ayant lancé un tout nouveau projet misant principalement sur une gouvernance inclusive dans la région MENA et insistant sur le développement de l’autonomisation et du leadership féminin, je viens à me questionner sur mon propre rôle et sur l’impact de l’organisation pour laquelle j’ai la chance de travailler. Suis-je perçue comme une touriste, une étudiante, une stagiaire ou suis-je plutôt une étrangère? Est-ce que je promeus certains idéaux ou manières de penser particulières qui peuvent avoir un impact négatif sur les autres? Est-ce que mes tâches ont un réel impact sur les gens locaux? Est-ce que le projet est bien accueilli et développé en fonction des spécificités de la région?

Bref, cette visite au Musée du Bardo m’a permis de me questionner sur mon rôle et certains aspects de mon stage international. Sans pour autant avoir nécessairement toutes les réponses à ces questions, cette visite m’a certes, permis de réaliser et de saisir l’influence qu’a eu l’histoire sur divers éléments caractérisant la Tunisie actuelle telles que ses politiques et ses réalités sociales. Cette visite m’a permis de faire le pont entre le passé et le présent et de me questionner sur des débats éthiques, politiques du développement international en lien avec mon stage à l’étranger.

Bibliographie
Musée National du Bardo. (2012). Musée National du Bardo. Tiré de http://www.bardomuseum.tn/

Being present in Tunis

February 22, 2018 | Manuela, Major - Political Science, TUNIS, Forum des fédérations, stagiaire à l’autonomisation des femmes

This year for my birthday I got to witness an incredibly interesting element of Tunisian culture. A friend invited me and my roommate to a concert at the last minute, and we didn’t realize until after we arrived that it was actually a “Hadra”, which is a very old religious tradition among Sufi muslims in Tunisia. I will explain more about the actual event shortly, but first a bit of context:

Sufism is a very broad term for a mystic, spiritual approach to Islam. It is not a sect of Islam nor does it belong to any sect in particular, since it is practised by Shia, Sunni, and other muslim groups. Sufi orders (called “Turuqs”, or pathways, in Arabic) were once the predominant social institutions in Tunisia. Following Tunisia’s independence in 1956, however, first president Habib Bourguiba introduced sweeping secularization reforms that transferred this role to the state. Sufi orders (and other religious collectives) also faced a great deal of repression under both Bourguiba (1957-1987) and his successor, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali (1987-2011). Under these regimes religious expressions like the Hadra were controlled: sometimes discouraged, or outright banned, and at other times selectively promoted by the state.

Following the Jasmine Revolution that ousted Ben Ali in 2011, Tunisian society has been undergoing a process of democratization that also includes a renegotiation of its relationship with Islam in general and Sufism in particular. This makes it a particularly interesting time to be here and to see the way spirituality is and isn’t included in the public sphere. This is also one of the reasons I am so glad to have seen the Hadra.

The term Hadra actually means “presence” in Arabic. This is fitting since the original intent of the ritual is to bring you closer to the divine. Though traditions vary from one order to another, the Hadra usually begins with slow religious chants. These chants, which are usually accompanied by drums and often dancing and other instruments, become progressively faster and more energized, and are meant to bring you to a point of spiritual ecstasy. The authentically religious Hadras take place at Sufi shrines or on the occasions of weddings or spiritual holidays. Over time the Hadra has also been introduced as a musical spectacle, and a number of professional troupes perform Hadra performances throughout Tunisia. In this context western instruments and modern forms of dance are often introduced into the music, which sometimes verges on rock or jazz.

The Hadra that I went to see was of this latter sort, integrating elements fo jazz and contemporary dance. There were three rows of musicians on stage. In the front was a line of chanting men, dressed all in traditional white garments. Directly behind them was a smaller row of artists, dressed discreetly in black, who played instruments such as the ney (oriental flute), violin, bass, and piano. In the very back stood another row of men in customary garb, each beating on a traditional drum. The first song was a long slow chant that filled the room the way only a really powerful vocal chorus can. I was instantly blown away, and for me that first song was the most beautiful part of the whole night. After that the music got progressively faster and jazzier, and more and more dancing was introduced into the spectacle. The dancers would rock their bodies in time to the music and as the pace picked up they would move more and more quickly and erratically until finally collapsing in a heap - which I presume was an imitation of the spiritual ecstasy I mentioned earlier. The spectacle was incredibly engaging and I couldn’t help but feel drawn into the joy of what was happening on stage. I wasn’t the only one, and by the end of the night everyone in the crowd was up and dancing with the music.

For me, even if the Hadra I went to was the non-traditional, secularized version, the experience was incredibly spiritual. I left the theatre feeling lighter, and more connected to the people around me and I was impressed by how the performance brought everyone in the audience, young and old, to life. There is, of course, some debate about whether or not the Hadra belongs in a place like the theatre, separated from the broader context of Sufi teaching and tradition, and whether or not spectacles that introduce western musical elements are going too far. An article I read by Richard C. Jankowsky describes the two sides of the coin perfectly: there is the risk of “de-sacralisation” of the Hadra, but there is also the potential for the “re-sacralisation” of public space. It’s an interesting debate that I certainly don’t have an answer to, but in any case I am deeply grateful to have shared in this small moment of spirituality in Tunis.

Though I didn’t take any photos or videos of the performance I attended, here is a link to a video of another Hadra to give you an idea of what it was like: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mt4DfltIWgQ

Sources:

Jankowsky, Richard C. “Absence and ‘presence: el-Hadra and the cultural politics of staging Sufi music in Tunisia.” The Journal of North African Studies 22, no. 5 (2017): 860-887. doi:10.1010/13629387.2017.1364632

Louden, Sarah R. “Political Islamism in Tunisia: A History of Repression and a Complex Forum for Potential Change.” Mathal 4, issue 1, article 2 (2015). http://ir.uiowa.edu/mathal/vol4/iss1/2

“Sufism.” BBC online. Last modified September 8, 2009 http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/islam/subdivisions/sufism_1.shtml

Lancement du projet «Autonomisation des Femmes pour des Rôles de Leadership dans la région MENA (Tunisie, Jordanie, Maroc)»

February 16, 2018 | Isabelle, Maîtrise DVM, Forum des fédérations, Tunisie, stagiaire

Il y a quelques semaines à peine je faisais mon arrivée dans les bureaux du Forum des Fédérations, cette organisation internationale qui œuvre aux quatre coins du monde via le développement de projets misant tant sur la gouvernance, la décentralisation que la transition démocratique.

C’est après avoir travaillé pratiquement plus d’un mois sur le développement d’articles de communication et de marketing que le grand jour est arrivé : le lancement du projet «Autonomisation des Femmes pour des Rôles de Leadership dans la région MENA (Tunisie, Jordanie, Maroc)».

Ce projet est une nouvelle initiative menée par le Forum qui s’étalera jusqu’en 2023. En fait, l’objectif premier d’un tel projet est nul autre qu’une gouvernance plus inclusive dans la région MENA et plus spécifiquement en Tunisie, en Jordanie et au Maroc. Ce projet misera sur l’augmentation de la participation des femmes dans diverses structures de pouvoir et dans des postes décisionnels ainsi que sur l’amélioration de la capacité des femmes et des hommes à concevoir des politiques, des programmes et des activités gouvernementales et non gouvernementales influençant l’inclusion des femmes.

Ce 1er février marquait donc, la toute première réunion d’information, de partage et d’échange entre partenaires du Forum. Cette réunion a, entre autres, permis à plusieurs partenaires du Forum de se rencontrer, discuter, débattre et échanger leurs coordonnées. C’était pour moi une occasion en or pour parfaire mon réseautage et en apprendre davantage sur leurs rôles, leurs engagements et le développement d’activités contribuant à l’autonomisation des femmes et au leadership féminin via la sensibilisation, le dialogue et la formation.

Lors de cette réunion, on pouvait notamment y compter des représentants tant d’Aswat Nissa, de l’Association tunisienne des femmes démocrates (ATFD), du Centre de recherches, d’études, de documentation et d’information sur la femme (CREDIF), du Center of Arab Women for Training and Research (CAWTAR), de la Faculté de Droit et des Sciences Politiques de Sousse, de la Ligue des électrices tunisiennes (LET) que du Ministère de la Femme, de la Famille et de l’Enfance (MFFE).

Durant cette même journée et dans le cadre du lancement officiel du projet du Forum, j’ai eu la chance d’assister à une réception organisée par l’ambassade du Canada en Tunisie. Parmi les invités de cette réception on pouvait y compter le Président du Forum des Fédérations, l’Ambassadrice du Canada en Tunisie et Neziha Laabidi, Ministre du Ministère de la Femme, de la Famille et de l’Enfance (MFFE). C’est lors de cette réception que j’ai d’ailleurs eu la chance de rencontrer l’Ambassadeur de Jordanie en Tunisie, l’Ambassadrice du Maroc en Tunisie et bien d’autres.

De plus, le 2 février 2018, toute l’équipe du Forum Tunisie, dont moi-même, a été accueillie dans les bureaux du Ministère de la Femme, de la Famille et de l’Enfance (MFFE). Cette date marque, en fait, la signature de l’entente entre le Forum et le Ministère. Cette entente formalise le partenariat entre ces deux partis en vue de mener à terme diverses activités promouvant à la fois l’autonomisation et le leadership féminin en sol tunisien.

Bref, c’est après ces deux jours, trois réceptions, 200 photos que je peux affirmer que mon stage semble désormais se dessiner et prendre forme de manière dynamique et enrichissante. Ce projet démontre cet engouement toujours grandissant pour la question de leadership et d’autonomisation des femmes dans la région MENA et la Tunisie plus spécifiquement. Ce projet démontre, entre autres, l’actualité de ces problématiques et m’amène à regarder d’un œil toujours positif les six prochaines semaines qui m’attendent au sein du Forum des Fédérations Tunisie.

The story of Carthage - something we can learn from the Tunisian example

February 7, 2018 | Manuela, Major - Political Science, TUNIS, Forum des fédérations, stagiaire à l’autonomisation des femmes

This weekend’s adventure was to the ruins of Carthage, an ancient city on the northeastern shore of Tunisia, which now belongs to the greater metropolitan area of Tunis. Personally, I’m not usually a big fan of ancient history, but the story of Carthage really struck me, as I’ll explain below.

It all starts in the 9th century BCE with a Phoenician princess named Dido in the ancient city of Tyre (in what we now know as Lebanon). Dido’s father, the king, had arranged for both Dido and her brother, Pygmalion, to jointly inherit his thrown. Pygmalion had other plans, however, and promptly took the crown for himself upon his father’s death. To add insult to injury, he also murdered Acerbas, who was not only Dido’s husband, but also her uncle and the former right hand man of the king.

Dido knew that Pygmalion was after her husband’s fortune, so she tricked him into helping her escape. She sent word to her brother that she wanted to move in with him, so he sent a group of attendants to help her move her things (and her husband’s wealth) into his palace. When the attendants arrived, Dido made up some baloney about wanting to sacrifice her husband’s fortune to his spirit and ordered them to throw the bags of his treasures into the sea. Really, the bags she gave them were filled with sand and her fortune was hidden elsewhere, but the attendants were so scared of telling Pygmalion what they did that they agreed to escape with Dido and take her as their new queen.

When Dido and her crew arrived on the shores North Africa, she negotiated the purchase of land from the local Berber king. They agreed that she could have only as much land as could be encompassed by a single oxhide. The king probably didn’t expect that Dido would then cut the oxhide into super thin strips to form a long chain that would encircle an entire hill. This original settlement of the new city of Carthage became known as Byrsa, which means “hide” in Greek.

Later, as the city expanded and became an economic hub for the region, Larbas, another Berber king, threatened war upon Carthage if Dido would not agree to be his wife. Before hearing the full terms of Larbas’ deal, Dido put her foot in her mouth by saying that she would sacrifice just about anything, even lives, in order to protect Carthage. After saying something like that she knew she couldn’t really get away with refusing to marry Larbas, even if she wasn’t his biggest fan. So she agreed, but sent word to Larbas that she needed to first perform a ceremony to properly end her former marriage to Acerbas. She arranged a ceremonial funeral pyre and a series of sacrifices for her late husband under the pretense that this was a final honouring of his spirit. Once the pyre was lit, she threw herself into the fire, announced she was returning to her husband, and slew herself with her own sword.

Despite its somewhat gruesome ending, I love this story for a couple of reasons. First of all it has all the intrigue of a hit soap opera: betrayal, murder, heartbreak, but with the bonus of a fiery female lead who is assertive, complex, and imperfect. Second, and perhaps even more importantly, it is extremely well known. I have been impressed by how many of Tunisians I have met know this story and can tell it in detail. In fact, I’ve heard Dido’s name evoked a number of times in formal discourses on Tunisian identity and the Tunisian women’s movement since I arrived a month ago. It is amazing to me that a woman who lived over 1000 years ago can still contribute to Tunisian identity today. I find it hard to think of an equivalent figure in Canadian history, not because our country is lacking in impressive historical figures, but because I think we don’t valorize them enough - especially when it comes to women. In fact, I don’t believe that I, or the majority of my friends, would be able to recount the life of an influential woman who marked Canada’s history on the spot. I think a greater appreciation for those who came before us is something we can learn from the Tunisian example.

Living in between two worlds

December 20, 2013 | Erika, DVM, Alternatives, Tunisie

All good things come to an end. My three month internship has officially ended, and I still can’t believe I lived in Tunisia for three months. Right now, walking down the cold, snowy streets of Canada, my time in Tunis seems like a dream, something that happened a long time ago. At the same time, after creating a life for myself there, establishing a routine and building a social network, I feel like something is missing, as if I’ve lost something important. During the post-internship reintegration week, it was mentioned that after traveling and living in different parts of the world it becomes harder to identify one real “home”. Home takes on a different meaning, and particularly in this case, I feel as if I’ve left some part of home behind in Tunis. Coming back to Canada, I have the impression that I am living in between two worlds, not fully reintegrated into my first home but not living in Tunis anymore either. Although this in-between stage can be confusing, I feel like there is a lot to learn from living in between two worlds and having an outsider’s perspective on both countries.

Looking back, one of the biggest learning opportunities I had was the international work experience itself, with Alternatives. This internship helped me gain an immense understanding as to what working in the field looks like and how varied work is as an international solidarity worker. Our project focused on building technical capacities in cyber-security and supporting the advocacy work of local organizations for the promotion of freedom of expression on the internet. Our role within the project was to produce a needs assessment report on the context of cyber-security in Tunisia and establish a network of partners to facilitate the implementation of the project next year. The best part of our work was meeting with human rights activists and organizations from Tunisia’s civil society to create potential partnerships. We had the chance to meet with passionate people who are knowledgeable on many topics and demonstrate impressive experience in their field. Not only did these meetings help to advance the cyber-security project and build a network of contacts for our organization, but I also feel like they contributed to my own personal and professional development. I gained communication skills, solidified my research skills, and learned a whole lot from Tunisian activists and organizations.

Particularly concerning cyber-censorship, many Tunisian activists were forced to learn to defy censorship and protect their private information online under the previous regime, in order to pursue their activities and denounce human rights violations. Although internet censorship has technically been abolished in Tunisia after the revolution, surveillance activities and limits to online freedom of expression continue to threaten human rights defenders. The center on cyber-security also hopes to encourage a regional dialogue and the sharing of experiences between activists and organizations in North African and Middle Eastern countries where internet censorship still operates in full force. I am truly impressed with the work accomplished by the Tunisian civil society, and the solidarity work Alternatives conducts with local organizations and social movements around the world.

Ultimately, I realize with sadness and angst that my life in Canada will go on and so will the lives of the people I met and the friends I made in Tunisia, with only memories, pictures, and souvenirs left to remember the experience. Even though I have been invited to come back next summer to attend a friend’s wedding and celebrate Ramadan with another friend’s family, I can only repeat the overly used phrase “inchallah” (God willing) as I just don’t know if and when I will have the opportunity to go back. In the end though, I feel like this experience has left a footprint in my life that surpasses pictures and souvenirs. I have created lasting friendships, gained immeasurable work experience, and discovered a different way of life, and I hope that somehow I also had a small impact in the lives of the people I met. I know I gained more than what I left behind, but I also know that Tunisia has captured a piece of me that it won’t let go.

Beslema Tunis! Inchallah, je reviendrai!

This is the end

December 4, 2013 | Waleed. MDG, Tunisie, Alternatives

The end of my tenure at Alternatives in Tunis, Tunisia is a sad and fast approaching reality. Tunis has become an intriguing and beautiful city for me to live in, and I must admit that I have quite easily adapted to the hustle and bustle of the city. The diverse sounds of the city include honking car horns, yelling merchants and screeching felines. Nonetheless, the rough sounds cradle and comfort me after a long day’s work.

With my return to Canada I am fearful of having difficulty re-adjusting back into student life. My life in Ottawa, Canada, I assure you, will be a lot quieter than my life currently is in Tunisia. But it is the Tunisian people that I will truly miss when I return to Canada.

What I love the most about Tunisians is their friendliness and generosity. Once a Tunisian discovers that I am a foreigner, they are quick to ask inquisitively about my origins and about life in Canada. This is soon followed by invitations to their homes for couscous. I hope that their friendliness and generosity will inspire me to be a helpful and friendly individual when I return to Canada.

Another thing that I appreciate about Tunisians is their ability to navigate organized chaos. Lines do not exist in Tunisia, in its place is a clump of individuals crowded around whatever it is they are after. Consequently, it takes a person to assertively demand whatever it is that they need. This assertiveness comes from an inner confidence that is both charming and wonderful. It is a beautiful quality that I hope to take back with me to Canada.

Tunisia has been a wonderful experience that has shaped me into a more confident, friendly and helpful individual and I hope that this will continue after my return to Canada and for the rest of my life.

More than halfway there

November 7, 2013 | Erika, DVM, Alternatives, Tunisie

Two months have gone by, and I still remember our arrival day as if it were yesterday. I keep thinking back to our first glimpse of the Tunisian coastline as we were flying over the Mediterranean Sea: the soaring mountains in the distance, the shipping boats heading towards the port, the sun shining down on Tunis. I was definitely not sure what to expect of the city and of my internship experience, but so far, it has been an immense learning opportunity, to say the least. I have gained incredible adaptability skills by living and working in an international setting that is completely different than what I am used to.

Living in Tunis, even if only for three months, will have allowed me to get a good taste of Tunisian society, culture, language and norms. For example, I was recently invited by one of my Tunisian friends to spend the religious holiday of Eid Al-Adha with her family. Spending the weekend at her house, getting to know her large family, and participating in the celebrations of the sacrifice of the lamb was an amazing experience. I am very happy to have had the chance to live with a family for a few days, since I usually live in an apartment with another intern, and I feel like my knowledge of Arabic has increased exponentially since then. I have also been lucky enough to experience Tunisians’ enthusiasm for their national soccer team by attending a match (Tunisia vs. Cameroun), as well as participate in a traditional wedding ceremony of a friend’s friend, explore several colorful markets and souks, eat a variety of local dishes and get used to the spiciness of harissa (a red pepper paste added to practically all foods). At the same time, some of the norms I have had to deal with living in Tunis have been a bit less amazing, and at times, frustrating when it comes to, for example, the lack of proper garbage disposal systems which renders the streets in our neighborhood smelly and unhygienic, or the transportation difficulties we face trying to get to work. It is disheartening to hear about how the waste management system or even the salaries of certain types of workers were better under the dictatorship and how some people prefer the security and order before the revolution to the chaos and insecurity facing the country today. Living in a country which has just experienced a revolution less than three years ago is not easy, and shouldn’t necessarily be easy. The revolution brought down a corrupt dictatorship, allowed for the liberalization of civil society, and resulted in huge gains in freedoms for Tunisians, among many other advantages, though many are now frustrated with the slow change-making process.

Working in Tunis has also helped me better understand Tunisia, since my work requires me to meet with organizations and activists who are knowledgeable of the context and have a direct stake in the country’s current situation. Their passion and drive to change things for the better and get things moving in Tunis is inspiring and promising. Tunisian civil society, individuals and associations, comprised mostly of youth, were and continue to form the backbone of the revolution, and their fight to improve their country is far from over. At the same time, I have also had the chance to attend conferences and awareness campaigns outside of work on a variety of topics including migration, women’s rights, worker’s rights, etc. which have allowed me to witness and hear about cases that I had only previously studied in class. For example, I recently had the chance to sit in on a meeting organized by a women’s association in support of a group of workers who were laid off by a multinational company after fighting for better working conditions. Our workplace is also filled with interesting activists, some of who work directly with migrants and who have fought for the rights of refugees in the Choucha camp in Southern Tunisia which was closed down this summer.

Ultimately, I recognize the privilege I have as a young, undergraduate student to complete such an internship. I recently looked back at my motivations and expectations of living and working in Tunis that I wrote down during the pre-departure training, and I was surprised to see how much they came true. Some of my motivations were: exploring a different culture, learning about another part of the world, learning a new language, learning to live differently and outside of my comfort zone, getting away from Canada, working with activists, preparing myself for my future career, etc. As for my expectations, they also proved to be right on the dot: meeting people who are passionate about their cause and their country, living in chaos (at times), experiencing post-revolution dynamics in Tunisia, making a small contribution to the development of an NGO, solidifying my future career interests, etc. With each internship I complete during my degree, I learn more about what it means to be a development worker and how varied the work is in this field. I can only hope that this international work experience will be the beginning of many more to come. Looking forward to the many things I have yet to learn during my last month in Tunis!

Yearning for Culture Shock?

November 7, 2013 | Waleed. MDG, Tunisie, Alternatives

I feel like I am missing something that many other interns are experiencing on their international internships. I have yet to feel the complete and total culture shock that many of my fellow interns frequently discuss. I am an Arabic speaker and I have spent significant amounts of time in six different Arabic speaking countries in the Middle East and North Africa. I already faced the cultural shock approximately twelve years ago when I first visited the Arabic speaking world. I am cognisant of the slower work pace, the clash/fusion of western and indigenous cultures, and the mannerisms/etiquette of Tunisians But even so, each Arabic country differs from the other regarding the political context, the colonial experience, and the cultural landscape of the country.

For instance, Tunisia has a long history of secular governance and is the only Arabic speaking country which whose family law is governed by secularism rather than religion. Additionally, the modern cultural landscape of Tunisia was directly and indirectly shaped by the colonial experience it faced being occupied from France from the late 1800s until 1956. This experience has greatly shaped Tunisia’s cultural landscape and sets it apart from many other Arabic speaking countries.

Tunisians are also known to be quite socially progressive in comparison to many other Arabic speaking countries such as Libya, Egypt, or Algeria. Women’s rights are safeguarded in the constitution and they participate quite regularly in the work force. Many Tunisians are also quite cultured and educated about Europe and much of the Western world. This is evidenced by the fact that many Tunisians are bilingual in French, as well as Arabic, as both languages are taught in the public education system. Some Tunisians are also knowledgeable of Italian and/or English.

The biggest culture shock I faced when I moved to Tunisia, was the prevalence of French in everyday society. I did not expect French to be as popular as it is, and to be as pervasive. As an Anglophone with a limited grasp of French, I have spent a significant amount of time in the country trying to improve my French.  It has still been easier for me communicate with the local population as all Tunisians speak Arabic on an everyday basis. In most cases in Tunisia, it is preferable to speak Arabic than it is to speak French, unless it is related to work or academia.

All of these characteristics differentiate Tunisia from many other Arab speaking countries, and it is due to these same characteristics that gives me a culture shock. But ultimately the culture shock is easier for me to adjust to than for other interns who cannot speak the local language or have not been exposed to the culture previously