I am speechless… in more ways than one. Tunisia, land of ancient Carthage and Hannibal is an experience in itself. And so is the government, which somehow ends up with 99% of the vote. Therefore, my mouth was shut for the time I was in Tunis. I am speechless. But, most importantly, what I learned in Tunis while working there, I could never have got by visiting or traveling in Africa.
People, especially young people, are the same everywhere. They like to drink, hook up with women and watch pirated movies. It was very much the same. The food is great there - with their couscous, lablabi and mlokhiya ( I hope I got that right). And I would be mortified if I did’nt mention harissa. Some of this stuff is unknown to the tourists who come here and stay for a few days, ‘cos it is one of those “kaz” that is exclusively home-made. Oh and did I mention drink - Boukha, distilled out of figs and Sarab, distilled from dates. Yes, it is nice food-wise.
In their work, they are like Europeans, only much more rigid. I have been brought up in the Indian way of working, which is no doubt borrowed entirely from the American way. I am no stranger to arguments with my boss, late night pizza and all-nighters fighting for a deadline. Simultaneously, I have also enjoyed high pay raises and perks. Tunisian work culture is modeled after France’s, with all its insistence on limited work hours, slow work and small raises. This is no small part due to the fact that the few companies to start up centres in Tunisia are French or Italian. I still remember the ritual that a person making eye-contact with you needs to come over and wish you and all the people around you. It is not what I am used to.
But they did have their quirks and idiosyncracies. Like the Arabic premium on virginity for the girl and not for the dude. And of course sentiments about the middle east run high…even in highly educated youngsters. That is somewhat scary, cos while in India and Pakistan, people in the street are only concerned about cricket and Bollywood movies, we dont hate each other. This is not true in the middle east. That is what scares me.
But what gives hope is the fact that Tunisia has one of the best education systems in the Arabic world. If the example of India is anything to go by, one can see wonders that a cheap and highly skilled workforce can do for the economy. But while cheap is very possible in Asia, it is very hard in Tunisia, where the people are paid according to Asian standards but pay for “kaz” (stuff!!) by European standards. Not to mention, the huge number of expatriate Tunisians working in highly skilled jobs in France.
To all my colleagues in Tunis- tisbaH ‘ala kher