Traveling to Tunisia
After three intensive weeks of project preparations, the time finally came to confront my idea with reality. To do the first interviews, I traveled to Tunisia for 10 days in September. For some months, I already planned to go to Tunisia. I wanted to attend the Hors Lits Tunis festival that took place from 22-24 September. I used my stay and the occasion to stay a little bit longer and to do a pilot of my new interview project.
I didn’t plan anything in advance, hoping that my friends there could put me in contact with some interesting people. I thought ‘if I do 3-5 interviews, it will already be a personal success’. At the end, I did 11 interviews with young Tunisian creatives and entrepreneurs. If I had had more energy, I could have done even more! I was totally surprised by the positive dynamics and the wish, as well as need, of the young Tunisians to tell and share their stories!
Hosted by a Tunisian friend!
During my stay, my Tunisian friend Hazem, an art director, hosted me. He was actually so busy shooting a new film, that I hardly have seen him at all. Working in the cinema industry is a hard job, especially in Tunisia, where there are only a few film projects a year! Last December, when I came to Tunisia for the first time, I went to a film pre-premiere with him. Almost all film stars and people working in the industry were present. It’s a small world of around 300 people. Tunisia itself is a small country with about 11 million inhabitants. Today, after over 20 years of dictatorship and a revolution in 2010/2011, Tunisia is transforming into a democracy.
At the end of 2010 and beginning of 2011, the so-called “Tunisian Jasmine Revolution” took place. The movement gained force despite military intervention. All over the country, thousands of Tunisians protested against high unemployment, rising prices, corruption and a lack of political freedoms, including freedom of speech. Longtime president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali resigned and left the country. An interim government took over and allowed all political parties banned during the dictatorship.
In October 2011, Tunisians voted in free and democratic elections a Constituent Assembly. The Assembly rewrote the Tunisian Constitution. Since then, Tunisia is democratizing and modernizing. In 2011/12, the former Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was sentenced in absentia by a Tunisian civil and military court to life imprisonment. He was charged with inciting violence and murder, for drug-trafficking and for violent repression of protests. Read more about the Tunisian Revolution here.
One month later.. missing lovely Tunisia
Like during my first stay in December 2016, I also loved Tunisia and Tunisian people this time. September is a perfect month to travel to Tunisia. Temperatures are still around 25 degrees. There are various weekly direct flight connections from Barcelona to Tunis airport (flight time: 1h35).
When I think back now, I remember a lot of different things. I remember and miss the smell of Jasmine leaving my friends’ residency in Gammarth in the morning. I miss the buzzing maze of Tunis Medina. All the little shops selling perfume, carpets or clothes as well as the small cafés where you stop to sit down for a fresh mint tea or grape juice. I miss the places where young Tunisians gather to enjoy the evening. I went to a short film night at Goethe Institut and to bars and clubs like the Yüka or the Tutu. I miss the wide and empty beaches of La Marsa where I took a break reading the novel “Forty Rules of Love” written by Elif Shafak, a French-born Turkish writer.
I miss the sometimes funny and sometimes annoying taxi rides. Either I had to explain the way using my GPS or the taxi driver talked to me all the time in Arabic. Obviously, I didn’t understand a word, but I always smiled. I remember the adventurous rides in the collective taxis to get to Tunis. These taxis, known as ‘louages’, tend to wait at certain ‘pick up’ points in the cities. Like in a lot of places on the African continent, they only leave when they have enough passengers on board.
I have to admit that road safety in Tunisia is still a topic to seriously work on. It looks and it is sometimes a bit dangerous. Everyone drives where there is space passes left or right, it doesn’t matter. Just go with the flow and you will eventually make it safe to your destination. (If you plan to drive yourself in Tunisia, I recommend this short video “Driving in Tunisia-5 Tips to Drive like a BOSS Overseas”).
I remember so many things, and as well so many great people!
Finding young Tunisian entrepreneurs and creatives to interview
So how did I find the 11 people that I have interviewed you might ask. Surprisingly, it was quite simple! The first day after my arrival, I contacted some of my Tunisian friends. I presented the project and asked for help. I also looked at the website of the artistic network Hors-Lits. There was a list of all the artists that performed in the recent Hors Lits editions (more about it here). I then looked at the artist’s’ facebook profiles, chose the most interesting and contacted them right away. Like this, I found Selim, a dancer, choreographer and organizer of Hors Lits Tunis. I also contacted Bahri, dancer, and choreographer as well. During the revolution, he launched an initiative called “Les Danseurs Citoyens”. They got international media coverage thanks to their dance performances in public spaces (watch “Je danse malgré tout”).
Another, maybe less conventional method was using tinder. Sunday afternoon, I went to the beach in Gammarth and started swiping myself through the Tunisian men. I was looking for guys that stated to be entrepreneurs or creatives, or that had photos that let assume that they might be photographers etc. Of course, some guys said that they are not looking for professional networking on this dating app. Still, some were quite open when I told them about my project and what I was actually looking for using the app here in Tunisia.
Meeting young Tunisians in the medina of Tunis
Right away on Monday, I met Mouheb, a photographer, at the entrance of Tunis Medina. Walking through the maze of small streets and souks, we arrived at a hidden tea place called “Le Café de la Vigne”. The place is lovely, a little green oasis in the medina, full of locals and students. We started talking about life and ordered the first of several fresh mint teas.
Mouheb also invited several friends to join us such as lovely Inès, half-Tunisian, half-Danish. Ines grew up in Denmark and after her A-levels, she came to Tunis to study English literature. She totally fell in love with Tunisia, stayed, and doesn’t think of going back to Denmark. Our tea circle grew with the time when friends passed by chance. Like this, I met Amine and Wajdi, two young men passionate by the medina of Tunis, working for Le Journal de la Medina and Doolesha, that I interviewed later on. I also met the boyfriend of Hanna. He recommended me to speak to her about her work as a consultant for social and socially responsible businesses in Tunisia.
And then the interviews started… and I got more contacts
On Tuesday, my third day in Tunisia, I already did the first two interviews! When I was meeting my friend Nadja later that day, she came up with a lot of ideas of people to contact. She called some of them right away. On Wednesday, I was meeting Dhafer, who is a member of a Tunis medina cultural umbrella organization. He told me a lot about the different cultural and artistic projects going on in Tunis. He also organized for me the interview with Leila, who runs a coworking space called Dar El Harka for young people of the media as well as an international guesthouse. Another evening, I went with Nadja to the music bar Tutu in La Goulette. She presented me Haythem, a musician, and owner of the place, that accepted to share his story the following days.
Hanna as well gave me contacts. For example, Rafet from Sailorsdesk with whom I sympathized immediately when we met at the terrace of the Hotel Sidi Bou Said in Carthage. The view over the bay, by the way, was amazing and I definitely recommend to go there). Inès contacted me again as well with more ideas. Thanks to her, I met Racha, who founded the first Anti-Human-Trafficking NGO called Not4Trade in Tunisia. I also met Brahim who works in the Carthagina project.
A tinder contact recommended me Chupee, an independent singer, and songwriter. With a friend, she published on Youtube cover versions of famous songs, for example from Lana del Rey, mixing them with Tunisian lyrics. The videos were quickly watched and shared and they became famous almost overnight. They then founded the duo Yuma and tour today with their music – a mix of indie and Tunisian folk – at the mayor Tunisian festivals.
Thanks to the people it was easy!
As you see, it was really easy thanks to all the great people I met! Some days I had three interviews a day. At a point, also because I went out in the evenings, I felt my energy level decreasing. I said myself, for the first edition, the contacts and interviews I have are perfect!
You can see and read the interviews in the upcoming weeks. Until then, you have the opportunity to watch a short trailer that I made
Learnings and takeaways for future interviews
Hanna was the first person I interviewed and it went smoothly. In the beginning, I experienced some technical and human issues. I simply forgot to push the play button on my GoPro app, luckily we had the audio recording. During the interview, I had to change batteries. From then on I always checked on twice that everything was running. With Chupee it happened that my phone went out of space and we had to redo a part.
With Bahri, we had as well some memory issues. Even if I cleared the SD card of my GoPro there was no space anymore and we had to format the card. Fortunately, he invited me to his place and we had access to his computer. Meanwhile, we talked with a cup of coffee about life and Tunisia. With other interviews, I noticed later that the place we had chosen for the interview was not the best. They were noisy and the quality of the audio is not perfect due to the background noise (people chatting or cars passing by). Also, the quality of the GoPro images at night is not the best.
For the next interviews, that I will probably make here in Barcelona, I will keep all this in mind!
All in all, everything went great! I am so thankful of having met all these great people that agreed to share their story.
It’s the people who will make the project!