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Final Thoughts and Reflection

This is the final in a series of blog posts from Rebecca Christianson, an Associate Professor of Applied Physics at Olin College who was in Tunisia as a Fulbright Specialist. She blogged about her experiences while she was away.

I will miss:

Hot fresh bread in the morning from the corner bakery for 200 millemes (about 5 cents).

Warm, open, welcoming people.

People generous with their time.  Never ‘too busy.’

Brik, couscous, lablebi, kefteji.

Maltese oranges. 

Beautifully decorated buildings, colored tiles, carvings.

Spontaneity

Diversity

The morning call to prayer at 4:30 AM.

I won’t miss:

Feeling unsafe when walking on the street.

Crazy drivers

Trash everywhere.

Students late to class….by a half hour, or just skipping.

Never knowing what the plan is

Bad internet connection

The morning call to prayer at 4:30 AM. 

Vignettes:

I bought a small carpet in Kairouan, which is famous for them.  The salesman promised to tell me the magic words to make it fly, but he vanished as soon as I paid for it.  I was very sad. 

I went out to dinner with a group of faculty and administrators from Esprit to a very fancy restaurant in a former palace.  We drank a lot and got VERY silly, laughing uproariously in this very proper restaurant.  This was particularly amusing because we were drinking…water. Most practicing Muslims never drink alcohol. 

I visited the Bardo National Museum in Tunis.  This museum holds the largest collection of Roman mosaics in the world, and many other really awesome relics.  It was also the site of one of a terrorist attack in 2015 which killed 22 people—bullet holes are still visible on some of the display cases and walls. 

The only thing you need to know to drive in Tunisia is how to use the horn on your car: there are no rules.  People do not follow lanes, people do not follow signs, and rotaries are insane free-for-alls where you better have a neurological connection to the edges of your car so you can squeeze through the smallest possible gaps.  You will occasionally have to pass a horse-pulled cart or an underpowered motorbike with too many people on it.

Many of the Tunisians I met have friends and relatives who are now living in France and Germany.  These Tunisians are lawyers, doctors, engineers and other skilled professionals, and represent a huge ‘brain drain’ from Tunisia as people face the tough choice between sticking with their homeland through the current tough situation, or using their valuable skills to buy a new life for themselves and their children abroad.  Hearing about this put a whole different spin on the news coverage I have heard about issues with Muslim immigrants in France and Germany.  These skilled, thoughtful Tunisians just seeking a better life are part of the ‘problem’ that is getting so much air time in Europe. 

Thanks

I owe many, many thanks for this trip.  Thanks particularly to Salah, Asma, Jihene, Rania, Lamjed and Jihen for making me feel so welcome.  Thanks to the students, faculty and administrators of Esprit for making me feel helpful.  Thank you to Paul and Siddhartan and Bruce for helping me prepare for the trip, and to everyone who has helped cover for me at Olin while I have been gone.  Thanks to Anne-Marie for helping with this blog, and to Gillian for giving me excellent writing advice.  Thanks to my sister Nikki for sharing adventures with me in Tunisia for a week.  And finally, of course, I need to thank my wonderful husband for watching the kids for three weeks, and to my dad for coming out to help for a week of this time.   

Final Thoughts

My goal for the trip was to really dive in and experience a place and culture very different from my own.  I feel that I was both successful and unsuccessful in this goal.  Successful, thanks particularly to my friends in Tunisia who welcomed me so generously into their lives, and unsuccessful because, when you come that close, you find that our similarities outnumber our differences.  That said, I was frequently and forcibly reminded of the saying that ‘talent is universal, opportunity is not.’ I feel for the lack of opportunity for so many people in Tunisia and Tunisia is much better off than many other places in the world.  

It makes me want to seek out more opportunities to try and help in whatever small way I can.