Hello, it’s me.
It’s been a while. 🙂
As you’ve probably already seen, this Christmas finds me in Africa, as per best tradition started 4 years ago after a traumatic end of the year when me and my husband felt the need to escape. Tunisia has given us beauty to look at, immense space to move into, amazing African sunsets, my first encounter with the desert where I stomped into the sand like a child squealing with delight, lovely people who greeted us with smiles and courtesy, eastern music that sings to my own eastern roots, not to mention the food that resuscitates even the most beaten of the souls. And as they often say, once you get to experience the gravitational pull Africa has, you’ll never be able to resist again. Utterly true, my friends.
It might have a lot to do with the fact that we drive motorbikes, and very few countries with a decent temperature are within reach of Europeans who don’t have unlimited vacations. The roads are amazing, often endless spaces where the earth kisses the sky as far as you can see, interrupted occasionally by the palm patches of the oasis, and the Sahara – even in its mildest form – is entirely fascinating to someone who has always lived in Europe with limited traveling options caused by bureaucratic issues. So, I remember coming back from that first vacation with my heart a bit mended (we had just lost a fundamental family member) and with my clothes smelling of spices and African sand. It never felt so good to ditch heels and spend two weeks on the road, never even bothering to do makeup.
Consequently, every Christmas since then was spent in absolutely blissful lack of holiday cheer. Don’t get me wrong, I love my holidays just as much as any kid around, but I often find it tiring when all the streets and shops are decorated already in early November, reminding me to buy buy buy gifts, as if the true spirit of Christmas was ever translatable into cash and pretty wrapping paper. I’m not a Catholic but coming from a multi-religious background I gladly celebrate everything with a pure heart and joy, and apparently so do Tunisians: you can find Christmas ornaments everywhere, and even Santa makes his appearance in Muslim houses. Perhaps it has a lot to do with the fact that working Tunisians come back from abroad for the holidays – as the countries they work in are mainly Christian – bringing gifts to their families in homeland, so Christmas is an universally recognized feeling of joy, as it should be. I was never a religiously obsessed person, to me my relationship with God is strictly personal and never affects any other sphere of my life, nor it touches my views on people depending on their or my own religion, hence it is possible to celebrate with a smile.
As today is Christmas Eve, here’s yours truly in Lady Santa outfit, in one of the most stunning oasis I’ve ever seen – Mides. Used as setting for the movie The English Patient, it stands proudly not far from the Algerian border and nearby other lovely oasis such as Tamerza and Chebika.
You should know that I first visited this oasis two years ago, and it was completely swamped with tourists snapping every sort of picture and selfie known to mankind. It just made me wish to go away (and I did) as it wasn’t even enjoyable to look at: it was lovely that tourists recognized the value of the place, but they ended up inevitably ruining it too, a common destiny for any beautiful place, I fear.
This year – there was no one. And that isn’t even a figure of speech: I mean literally no living soul except for an elderly local seller of minerals. We talked over some mint tea and he said that ever since the Sousse terrorist attack happened no foreign tourist has set foot in there. No prizes for guessing what was the fate of local businesses and local youth. So, even though I really loved taking pictures with that jaw-dropping backdrop, I did it with a broken heart: my beloved Tunisia’s main source of income was killed with those poor people in Sousse at the hands of insane murderers that claimed doing it in the name of a supposed God, while just being savages with no respect for the same God they dared mention.
After enjoying the first hours of the sunset approaching with its warm light, we moved a couple of km from there to the oasis of Tamerza. Once humming with Berber music and rhythm, people climbing up palms to get dates, and lovely little places where one could enjoy mint tea, it was now completely empty and abandoned. It hurt my soul to recognize the same place I’ve seen, to recall Berber women shouting in delight, even those tourists I disliked seemed like a better option than what was in front of my eyes yesterday. I refuse to publish the desolating picture of the abandoned oasis: that will remain with me. But I cannot shake off that feeling of guilt: Europeans have abandoned Tunis, making it pay the ultimate price for the Isis madness.
I was never so glad of my own decision to come back as I am today. While in the area of Tozeur, I am staying at a friends’ house: we met these lovely people through booking, when we booked a room in their guesthouse in 2012. It was impossible not to become friends, and for me it was impossible not to adore the host’s wife whose soul connected to mine. Their guesthouse has been empty since the Sousse attack: no foreigners are here today on Christmas Eve. Last year it couldn’t have been different: we celebrated Christmas at a table that was full of French, Italians, Spanish, Tunisians, and at least 3 different languages were spoken. You know, smiles are universal. 🙂 The memory of that dinner breaks my heart now, but I am even more convinced that we cannot give into the psychosis of fear. We will not damage the murderers, we will just kill a source of income for honest people who dedicate their lives and work their behinds off in order to give their children the best possible future.
Not only I am back in Tunisia and I’ve been feeling safe: I will shout it to the world with every chance I have. Terrorism has no religion, terrorism has no home country, and the locals hate Isis as much as any other European I know: they have taken away their lives and livelihoods.
So, while you celebrate Christmas with your families – as I wish for every single one of you, my friend – spare a thought for the world we live in. Spare a thought for what our actions mean. And decide not to live in fear of anyone: evil only wins if we allow it to.
Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Let your heart be light
From now on,
our troubles will be out of sight
LOCATION: the oasis of Mides and Tamerza, Tunisia
DRESS: MARENA Y SOL (no longer active)