Wednesday, 2 February 2011

The Gallery - Shapes of Tunisia

It's been a while since I took part in the Gallery, what with one thing and another, and I've come back on a particularly tricky week.

Not only does Tara want  the wonderfully vague and innocent-sounding Shapes, but she also wants us to go out and actually take pictures of them rather than scrolling through our archives of pictures.

Well, sorry Tara, I'll give you shapes, but I didn't take the pictures this week. The most exotic place I've been this week is the bathroom showroom and I forgot my camera anyway, so these are a few months old, but the thoughts are recent, so I hope that counts.


Because we had a holiday in Tunisia last October, and one of the things I loved most about it (because I wasn't that enthusiastic about the resort) was Tunisia itself: how friendly the people were, how happy they all seemed, and how safe a country it felt.   One day B and I put the children into childcare for the morning and went off to Carthage with a guide. Just us and her.  We talked a lot about modern Tunisia, and why it works and what the political system is, and why hasn't Islamic radicalism taken over, and what is the position of women, and how does the electoral system operate and what's the major source of income and and and, and I came away thinking "Tunisia works"....

Only, apparently it doesn't. Or didn't.  And apparently everyone knew that actually former President Ben Ali was horrid, that opposition was suppressed, that elections were rigged.

Well, I didn't.  And I didn't until two weeks ago.  And I didn't know that the same was true about Egypt either, where we'd also considered going on holiday.

And I consider myself, if not as well informed as I was when I had time to read a newspaper every day, and could actually listen to what John Humphries was saying rather than interrupting him with, "Will you just eat your rice krispies and no, you can't have any more apple juice", at least relatively politically aware, and, perhaps more importantly, politically responsible. 

So why didn't I know? Why weren't we, as a nation, being encouraged to boycott a country that imprisoned journalists and other dissidents and falsified purportededly democratic polls?  Why are we being told not to visit, say, Burma, because in so doing we are supporting the junta there, but not given the same advice for Tunisia, or Egypt, or probably, presumably, others?

I get it, of course I do.  It's not in our interests to interfere in a country which, however unattractive the government, is stable and which, perhaps more importantly in Egypt's case, has influence in areas in which we want to have a say.  The British (and US) governments needed Tunisia and Egypt, and so they turned a blind eye, and that meant that the media also turned a blind eye, and people like me, who perhaps didn't do the full research they should have, didn't know.

But nonetheless I feel really stupid.  I feel like I should have known. I feel as though I've been misled, and I feel cross that I allowed myself to be.  That I took what I was told at face value.

Now, I accept that had we gone to Portugal (not a dictatorship, as far as I know) instead, it wouldn't have made the blindest bit of difference either to the ruling groups in Tunisia, or to the (I now discover) oppressed majority, but I wish I had known. I wish I had been able to make my own choices and decisions in full possession of the facts.

None of this really matters now, Tunisia and Egypt will change, for better or worse, and what I did or didn't do is hardly going to influence that, but for myself it has made me suspicious, and much more sceptical about what I am told.  Where Wikileaks failed, Tunisia has succeeded.  And that may not necessarily be a bad thing.


  1. A lot to think about here; as tourists what do we really know about the countries we are visiting apart from the things we are shown and told?

    Beautiful photos - the blue colour seems to seep into all of them. The door is quite stunning.

  2. Stunning selection of photos. I especially like the first one showing the plates they reallynstand out don't they?
    I think we are kept in the dark about a lot of things about other countries and probably even the one we live in I suspect. Maybe it is better to live in ignorance some of the time because the truth can be an ugly shock. difficult one.
    Great post though

  3. Such a fabulous selection of photographs- I feel like I've been there now!

  4. Nice photos, much better than bathroom taps and really interesting context. Problem is our front line media need to catch eyes so 'Tunisia still undemocratic' is not going to sell as many papers as 'social mum gets boob job on state' and it's not in the travel industy's interests to tell you any unpleasantries: "thinking of Eygpt madam? get in quick the unstable political system is about to blow a gasket" hmmm I think not. I guess it's up to us to go hunting for the truth but in reality how much do we really care..very thought provoking post, well done

  5. I must admit unless there is a danger to my family I dont think too hard about the government of the country Im visiting. Now I feel a little thick for being so blase about it.

    These photos are beautiful though, and I can imagine Tunisia to be a perfect place for shapes with all the Moorish influence.

  6. Very valid points - and beautiful photos.
    As with all things, I suppose things are never quite black and white - levels of oppression vary, and it must be difficult to judge where you draw the line. Very thought-provoking, thank you.

  7. In many places tourism is the only form of subsistence the locals have. Do we deny them a living because they live under the rule of a despot? Much food for thought. Great photos.

  8. Great post, very well written, and gorgeous photos. Funnily enough there is what could be the sister of your blue door on my "Shapes" post!

  9. Great post & beautiful pictures. I need to look back at sunshine filled photos from my archive on days like this so thanks for sharing yours too.

    MD x

  10. Oh wow! These shapes are fantastic! :)

  11. Trish - I hadn't noticed that about the blue but you're right. I think that may be some artistic preference there too though - I just love that colour....

    Mummy Mishaps - true. Do we actually want to know the stuff that makes us feel guilty or uncomfortable? It's very easy for me with highsight to say I'd have wanted to know, but would I?

    Domestic Goddesque - you should! It really was lovely. Just hope it stays so.

    Kelloggsville - made me laugh! Am thinking you'd be best off not in the travel industry... And true too that it's not just a political choice, the media don't have to go along with it. I think I overlooked that.

    Michelloui - it was beautiful, and the people were lovely. I hope (she says glibly) that life gets better for them now and not worse. But you're right too. I say I'd have thought about it, but would I really when given a cheap offer of some autumnal sunshine....?

    JulieB - thank you! And a big thank you for following too. I suppose I just, as I said, felt stupid and naive for believing what I was told.

    Him Up North - I know. It's one of those difficult decisions as to where the responsibility lies, and how best we can help... And of course it's made all the harder if we don't have or aren't given, all the facts. Although of course that then begs the question of whether the facts are ever what they seem anyway....

    Funky Wellies - hello and loving your name! That aside, off to check out your door...

    MD - I've never thought of doing that, but you're so right. I perked up a lot just looking at the sunshine when I was loading them up (despite the irritations of trying to move pictures around in blogger...)

    Emma - thank you! Enjoyed revisiting them!


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