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In Tunisia, we have more than 3000 years of civilisation – Interview with Amine (Political Science Student & Cultural Activist)

In Tunisia, we have more than 3000 years of civilisation – Interview with Amine (Political Science Student & Cultural Activist)
September 16, 2018 Annett
12 min read

On a sunny morning, I arrived in one of Tunis suburb’s, Ariana, to meet Mohamed Amine Ayari (23). Two days before, we tried to meet at the Grand Mosque in Tunis medina but Amine ran one hour late because of the crazy Tunisian traffic. This time, to avoid the capital’s traffic jam, we decided that I would come to his hometown. It was a 20-minute crazy taxi ride as always and the old man driving the taxi tried to explain me everything we saw on the way – but unfortunately in Arabic. I smiled the whole journey because I knew he wanted to share with me his knowledge and love of the country.

Amine (23) took me to one of his favourite coffee places. He is an engaging history and political science student, currently studying the first year of his Master’s Degree. Amine was born in Tunis and loves the Medina, the history of Tunisia and everything connected to the Antiquities. I really liked to be around him because of his joyful and open-minded attitude, and he even speaks some German!

Discover Amine's Story

Part 1 Each person in unique – Amine’s story as a cultural activist

After his bachelor degree in history, Amine started a Master in political science. He dreams of a career in the field of international relations, and I am sure he would do a great job. Currently, he works as a cultural activist participating in various cultural events in the Medina of Tunis and being a member of the collective ‘Doolesha’ which organizes guided urban tours in the Medina. Amine also writes for the “Journal de la Médina” that is published four times a year.

When I ask Amine what passionates him more, politics or history, he says “Politics! But let’s say it’s not public. I don’t share this interest with a lot of people, only with my close friends, but about history yes. I’m really very interested in the promotion of the history of our country, especially because our history is not very well taught in school. I try together with a lot of fellow comrades and friends to show the other hidden sides of Tunisian history and heritage to Tunisians as well as foreigners.” I think about the medina tour and I would love to do one next time I am in Tunis.

Typical student hardships

What difficulties did he meet in his young life? As a student, he has mainly some financial difficulties. He tells me “maybe sometimes there are events I can’t attend or I can’t be part of the organizing committee because I have university lessons I can’t miss. That’s a problem but not a very serious one. So let’s say I didn’t encounter any problems so far,” and he laughs.

About appearance and reality

Asked about surprises in his life, he mentions the story of a beautiful Tunisian style building in the medina that was owned by a very well situated family in Tunis. The “Kehia” family members were military officers as well as governors – for example, Slimen Kehia was the governor of Beja during the time of the king Sadok Bey during the 19th century. “I felt like it was a really big and very prestigious family, but once I went into the archive with a German friend who researches about the slave trade in Tunisia, I found out that Slimen Kehia tortured slaves. So I was like ‘oh I like his house, but he used to torture people there, so I started kind of hating this place after loving it.’” I think, yes appearances and reality often are two different kinds of shoes.

A very simple and chilled student life

Amine leads a typical chilled student life. “I get up in the morning and I take the bus to go to university. On my way there, I have to cross the Medina from Beb Bhar until the Kasbah because I study at the Humanity Faculty. Lessons begin at 8 or 9 am. When I have time, I go to Anba coffee to I drink a cup of coffee or tea before. I spend a lot of time – let’s say 5-6 hours in university. On my way back, I also go to the cafe. I spend some time with my friends, then I go back home. I see if there is a chapter of a book that I must read for my lessons or I open the internet to do some researches for my studies. Then, I watch some TV, go to sleep or I chat with my friends who live abroad. It’s very simple”, he smiles. I loved being a student too and miss this time of my life, but being honest, every stage in life has its advantages and experiences. I enjoy its richness and hope you too.

I have a dream to travel the world

How does he imagine his future after he finishes his studies? Amine smiles, “it’s true that I study political science but I’m not very interested in a political career. I see myself maybe working in the Foreign Affairs Ministry or in some International NGO because I have a dream to travel around the world. I want to see many places around the world, and well, I’m not very rich to do that by myself. If I want to fulfill that dream, I have to do it through work and not through tourism.” True I think because thanks to my previous job I traveled to different European countries and I really enjoyed it. 

The economic situation in Tunisia is very tight

In regards to Tunisia, Amine hopes that the economic situation gets better “because the government managed to somehow counter-terrorism. Since 2014, we didn’t have any terrorist activities. It’s just some clashes in mountains out of the city and our army is getting them. So for the security matters, I  don’t have any fears, but the economic situation is very tight in Tunisia. It’s very difficult, the unemployment rate is increasing, the value of our national currency is decreasing, so these are very tough times. I hope that we manage to avoid a big crisis and to create new jobs for young people, especially for those who spend 4 or 5 years studying at university.” 

Amine seems really concerned. “My fear is that the economic situation is getting worse because when the economics aren’t going well the crisis may be even bigger. Chaos may find a place and when this happens, we must expect everything. That’s my biggest fear and that’s about Tunisia but in the world, there’s also a lot of crisis. Especially after the last session of the United Nations, some people are talking about ‘total destruction’ of others countries..” He diplomatically didn’t mention that it was US President Trump who is the most undiplomatic political figure next to the President of Thailand the world has seen in the last decennia.

Anticipate if you have big plans

According to which philosophy of life Amine chose to live? “Let’s say, I choose simplicity. I don’t want to make things complicated. Every time I want to make things easier and more flexible. I have some big dreams and I like to make plans for everything. I really like to anticipate. If you have plans, you must be prepared.” I understand Amine very well, but after 10 years in the Mediterranean, I learned to live without plans and planning everything. It worked out very well and I think, the planning issue is also a very personal thing. Some people get it, some people just live with the flow, and in the end, it’s the personal inner experience for yourself that will tell you if you’ve lived a successful life or not.

Do whatever you like the most

When I ask Amine about tips for others that want to engage in culture, he says with conviction “first of all, they must do whatever they like the most. For example, I like writing about historical facts, so when I engage myself, I engage myself in something I like. In the ‘Journal of the Medina’, the head editor knows that very well”.

He continues saying “also if people want to engage in the cultural activities, they must do whatever they like the most. If someone likes to sing, sing and focus on that. If someone likes to draw, paint, write poetry or other texts, do it. When you do something you like, first, you’ll feel better and it’s a very good feeling. Second, you will excel. You will do and give your best, and you will make something good. Everyone who does something he likes, he does it better than something imposed on him.” I totally agree that’s why I started this project.

Part 2 How is it to live in… ? – Amine’s vision on Tunisia

I was born in one of the most beautiful Mediterranean  

How a young student like Amine experiences his life in Tunisia? He smiles and tells me that it’s not really an experience because he was born here and never lived outside Tunisia. Amine nevertheless tries to answer my question “let’s say there are good things and bad things. The good things are that I live among people that I understand and who understand me perfectly. There are no cultural problems, it’s my culture and I thank God that I was born in one of the most beautiful cities in the Mediterranean. I was born in a city who has a lot of history.”

Amine tells me that he realised his luck while talking to a French friend who complained about the distances in France when you want to visit a historic site. “In Tunisia, we have more than 3000 years of civilisation. If we want to see Antique, Roman, Byzantine, Carthaginian ruins and architecture, we can go to Carthage – it’s just 15 km to downtown. If we want to see charming Islamic architecture and charming Islamic cities with all its habits and ways of life, we go to the medina. In Tunis, there’s a lot of colonial architecture like in Bourguiba street. We can find whatever we want in very safe places. Tunis is also a very small city if you compare it to a big metropolis in Europe or even in the close Middle-East or North African region.”

As a citizen, we must take care of our city

Next to all the praise, he also points out some weak points. “I feel lucky to live in such a city, but there are also bad things like the waste in the streets. There are a lot of bad habits like the ambulant street sellers everywhere who put stuff on a carpet and sell it. Hygiene could be better. The only serious problem in Tunis is the car traffic and the noise, but it’s a worldwide problem and no typical local phenomena.”

Confidently he adds, “but you know, as a citizen we must take care of our city and make sure it’s proper and clean. It’s also much easier for every city to work on this problem than on unemployment. Unemployment is a complicated thing and really related to economics, to government choices, to the world market etc. but you know the cities can change. They are the change, they have a duty to change and the citizen can take part and engage easily.” Exactly, so let’s start and be an example for other people.

We need a common Mediterranean economic organization

When I ask about the opportunities for Tunisia, he tells me “we must focus on our Mediterranean and African origins because we use the Mediterranean to trade with each other. The Tunisians used to sell their ships from Lebanon to Spain more than 3000 years ago. The Mediterranean was the center of the human civilization because it was the biggest trade route in the world at one point in history.”

Amine would like to see a common economic organization like the European Union between the Mediterranean countries. ”It’s a very interesting and crucial thing to do because we have various kinds of economics in the Mediterranean. There are industrial countries like France, Spain, Italy, Turkey, Croatia, and there are the North African countries like Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco which have some decent agricultural production. They have raw materials that are needed in the industrial countries in the Mediterranean. We have all the raw materials, we have all that we need to make progress in life so I think that endorsing the economic relation in the Mediterranean is a very crucial  thing to do.”

Part 4 Enjoy Tunisia like a local – Rafét’s insider travel tips for Tunisia

Places to see

“Since I’m a very big lover of food, I would take you to a typical Tunisian restaurant to eat Tunisian food first of all. Then, we would make a tour because when we make it we must have a full stomach and not feel hungry. I will take you to the Bardo museum which has the biggest Roman mosaic collection in the world. I would take you to the medina to discover a very old Islamic city because those are rare in our time. Especially in Egypt, they are demolishing a lot of parts of the city. In Syria is war. So there is a lot of destruction there. Let’s say the last really medieval Islamic sites who exist are especially in Tunisia and Morocco. Let’s say the last of this kind of architecture.”

“Where else? Carthage and  Sidi Bou Said of course! These are one of the most beautiful places in the Mediterranean and in Tunisia. I would also take you to the Roman theater in Djem and to the Roman city of Dougga. Dougga has very well conserved ruins. You can find temples, the forum, a Roman village etc. it’s a very important place to go and feel that time and history as well.”

Festivals

“Let’s begin with the music festivals. There’s Jazz à Carthage. It’s concerts in the ancient theater of Carthage, a Roman theater that is still used until now. There’s also Sicca Jazz in a city called Kef in West-Tunisia where music concerts take place in the historical castle of Kef. In Tunisia, Romans left us a lot of theaters and there are still good and working, almost as new so we still use them now for music concerts. There’s the classic music festival of Djam that takes place in the Roman theater as well. So in every corner of Tunisia, there’s a Roman theater because Romans they used to be big lovers of theater. Thank God they left us a lot of theater. We didn’t have really the necessity to build new ones, to spend money. Maybe they told themselves ‘oh maybe our grandkids will have financial problems in the future, so let’s build some theaters for them so that they can have festivals!”

Another big cultural event is the JCC Les Journées Cinématographiques de Carthage. It’s one of the biggest cinema festivals in Africans countries and it’s the oldest cinema festival in the African world. There’s also the JMC Journées Musicales de Carthage, the same as JCC but for music. There are other new festivals like for example Dream city that will take place 4-8 October. It’s a festival in various locations inside the Medina. It’s about Contemporary Arts such as photography, music, choreography, theater, drawing, plastic arts and it’s a new alternative festival. It’s very interesting.   It’s a way to discover the Medina and at the same time attend various cultural events. Also, there’s Interference which took place one year ago. It’s the lights festival in the Medina. It takes place just at night because it’s a light festival so they take a wall of a building and they put a light on it. It’s like a projection. They change the structure and the look of that portion of the wall or the house. It’s very artistic and a very interesting festival to attend.”

Part 3 What’s the Mediterranean for you? – Amine’s message for the Mediterranean

What’s the Mediterranean for you?

“For me as a history student, it means a lot! I don’t know the word in English but in French, it’s “le berceau”. It means the baby’s bed of the human civilization because let’s say the biggest human civilizations took place in the Mediterranean. The Roman civilization, the Carthaginian civilization, the Egyptian, the Middle Eastern civilization, the Syrian, Phenicien, the Jewish civilization… a lot! Also, if we exclude all the Chinese and Indian civilizations and America as well..”, he laughs remembering all the other civilisations that shaped the world.

He continues “but let’s say that most of the countries now use the Latin alphabet which was invented in the Mediterranean. Every country in the world now has let’s say a Roman-style state because all the institutions like the tribunals, the elections, all this political life around the world were inspired from the Greek and Roman way of life of that time. So let’s say the Mediterranean gave all the world the way of life they are living now, the Mediterranean is somehow the father of the Human civilization. It’s not very nationalist or supremacy but, somehow it’s something we are proud of.”

Amin’s message for the Mediterranean

“Let’s Unite, but not the standard idea of a union. We are people that share a lot of common points and we have somehow the same characters. So when we go to a Mediterranean country, let’s say for example Greece, Italy, Spain, Lebanon or Egypt. We are people who are hot-tempered, very welcoming, we like the fiesta, we like to dance, we are lazy, we like to get up late in the morning, we attend always late. So let’s say it’s easier for Mediterranean people to live in a Mediterranean country, even if it’s foreign, it’s easier than maybe in another country in America or North or East Europe. The weather is important as well, but the temper of the people – for example, we are smiling, we get friendship fast, we can be with someone less than one minute, it’s very fast! The Americans came up with fast food, we came up with fast friending!”

Part 5 Discover new books, films and music groups – Amine’s cultural recommendations

Books

“You really reminded me of a book that might a lot of interest you. Beside historical books that are part of my studies, I really like sarcastic books. Once, we had a big writer in Tunisia, his name is Ali Douaji. Douaji used to have a bohemian lifestyle. He wrote two books about it: one is called “Sahertou menhou el Leyeli” which is collection of small of really funny stories, the other is “Jawla beyna hanet el bahr el abyedh el moutaweset”, it’s a tour of the bars and pubs of the Mediterranean because that guy traveled around the Mediterranean. He used to be a person who likes to drink and get high, it’s a good book and you can find a French translation. It’s really fantastic, I read it and I laughed. I don’t want to read something that makes me sad like “Les Misérables”, “Causette” or “Remy sans famille”. I want to read I want to read something cheerful.”

Music

“I like somehow jazz, rock, and metal music, but I really adore the folk music of every country in the world. So I like folk music which really represents the spirit of the people, the real history of that people. For example, if you take the Armenian music, you find a happy song, but it’s always a kind of sad song, especially with their traditional instrument the duduk. So it really represents what the Armenian people had been through the history. Their tough times reflected in the music. So if you want to understand the temper or the history of some nations, some countries or some people, you listen to their music first.”

Film

“There a lot a lot,  but in the Tunisians movies I like “Asfour stah”. It’s a film that represents Tunis Medina in its golden times. It’s a very funny, very cool and exotic movie. Other movies I like it’s “Lord of War” with Nicolas Cage that talks about firearm dealers and smugglers in the early 90s when the USSR collapsed. It was a very golden time for firearm smugglers and it talks about how an arm from Siberia gets into the hands of an African child soldier. It’s a very deep movie. There are a lot of other, but if I will talk about them, we will stay until night time.” 

Want to share something else?

“I wish you that visit every country of the Mediterranean. I wish you don’t find any obstacles or problems during your work and your life. I wish the best for everyone in this world. I wish the world to become safer and more peaceful. I wish big leaders and big responsible persons in the world make sure they come up with solutions that make the economic situation in the world better and let unemployment rate decrease very fast because the economic problems are the origin of all the other problems like fascism, crime, and then, of course, we have money and the fight for resources and raw materials that are always at the origin…”

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