Saturday, November 12, 2005

Tunis : A Mosaique of Breathtaking Frenchness and Beauty

"En Tunis, si tu oublie quelque chose, tu peux y aller et venire, ca restera au meme place". This is how I would begin a memorable period in a country I never dreamt of visiting – let alone for a UN World Summit on Information Society.

It’s getting to 7pm, or 19heures, over here in Tunis. I’m sitting at an Internet café specially prepared for participants of the WSIS, or SMSI in French. I am the only one here, yet I know that there are WSIS participants staying at the hotel. To my immediate left are transparent doors that look into and outside this place.

Goodlooking—nay, gorgeus-looking—women pass with their boyfriends, friends, etc, passing a poster that says “KILL BILL. Cette Semaine au Cinema”.

How long has the film been out again? I thought it was almost a year. Reminds me of the legendary questionable rights that Tunisians are supposed to have. When I say rights, I am talking about censorship.

I’m actually thinking of checking that film out. Maybe not tonite, though. I have to pretend to myself that I can do something serious whilst I am preparing for the Internet governance discussions to begin 13 November. It ends on 15 November. The following day, 16, is when the Summit ends, only to end on the 18. I get almost two days free time.

Almost.

There are workshops, or ateliers, that I and my colleague are bent on attending, so I am not going to shirk that one.

The information society maybe lost to many people. In the beginning, even I couldn’t get my head round the utility of a conference round it, but now having back-pedalled and seen the bigger picture, I am beginning to think that it’s pretty cool being here.

Especially in Tunis.

We are treated like royalty. We, being those delegates going to the WSIS. These people are far friendlier than I ever anticipated or expected. Many of them after they ask me where I am from say “bienvenue. Tu es chez toi.” Alright so they are tutoieing me, that is not using “vous” since they do not know me, but I am not bothered. They seem to like me, and I certainly find them personable.

They have been very accueuillant, or welcoming, as they say. My French is upping the ante again big time. There is no CNN in my room. Just TF1, France 2 and a host of Tunisian/Arabic stations. I wish I could speak Arabic. Considering it’s a UN language. We sometimes forget don’t we that it’s spoken by a sizeable part of the world.

But a sizeable part of the world do not have signs contemporaneously in French and Arabic. Neither, as far as I know, have predominantly French influence in a country that is supposed to be predominantly Moslem.

There are many Peugeots here—the funk, latest ones—as well as the latest BMWs, even rovers. The buildings like white a lot—as they like blue, shiny faces too. Looks swell.

As I arrived into the town centre (rue de Marseillaise) near the Hotel Oscar, you could have sworn you were approaching Paris. I swear, man.

This is a gorgeous city. It certainly is not reminiscent of Africa, which in many ways is a shame. What happened to the dusty roads?

The security detail (men taking turns in the lobby and outside with their inimitable earpiece) treats you like royalty and you are sure that you will come to no harm.

When I stupidly forgot my suitcase at the badging centre yesterday, I was assured by security that they would find it and bring it back to me. Though they didn’t find it initially, when I was asked to return with the bus people (they did come to the hotel after I reported it), they asked me to tag along.

Within minutes, I found it not far from where I forgot it. It had been on the bus, but in all our haste to get to the badging centre, I forgot it on the bus after I helped a Rwandan delegate who’s bag got torn, leaving all contents trailing. God her colleague was just this side short of very sexy. The slender Rwandan physique, the smooth physiognomy, and that beautifully permed hair she kept on stroking. Wow.

I must have been driven to distraction.

Never again!

The sweat beads that trickled down my face as I pondered over the prospect of losing my suitcase was too great.

And so, when the friendly, congenial and gregarious security man who happened to be a police officer monitoring activity at the badging area late last night told me that "In Tunis, if you forget something somewhere, you can go and come and find it there", I was inclined to believe him.

Just behind us read the gigantic sign "Aeroport Fret".

I was not lost in the irony.
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