The Jasmine Revolution
My parents were having dinner and watching Al-Jazeera English at the same time, which had become an informative habit on their part. My parents had not only developed the habit of watching the news as they dined but they had also developed the habit of calling me over to the living area to do so with them every night at about 8 p.m. As I leaned back alongside my mother, having a small discussion with her about my plans for the weekend, I saw my father tilt his head out of the corner of my eye. This meant something good was on. I heard a woman with a British accent, the reporter, say “Tunisia” and I turned my head so quickly I thought I heard something crack. As I listened to the news, I knew that, in reality, what had actually cracked were the morals, faith, and confidence in the government of a group of demonstrators in Sidi Bou Zid. The facts were that a young and educated man had poured gasoline all over himself to later burn himself to death after police officers had confiscated his vegetables and fruits due to him not having the authority and the permission to own a stand and to actually sell to the public. What else could he have done? The whole country was suffering from lack of jobs and inflation. I thought a fair warning would suffice for the young man, but to take away his only means of survival was a completely unreasonable gesture. On the television I could see locals protesting with big banners many of which said the inevitable: “RCD EST MORT” and things like “RCD THE END.”
My parents assured themselves that nothing would go wrong. They said that what was happening was far away from Tunis and where we lived and that I had nothing to worry about, but I was not a child anymore, I understood what was coming. This was in December, but it was the week of January 10 when things starting heating up in Tunis. Something I knew so well would happen was in progress; Tunisians began rioting, street by street, and city by city, each day getting closer to the capital city. This eventually led to the Ministry of Education shutting down all educational institutions throughout the country, but the American School (where I attend) didn’t close until later.
Bright and early morning on the morning of January 13, I got a phone call as I was getting ready to go to school in the morning, anticipating my English oral presentation that I had been working on throughout the previous week. It was my father. He told me school was not going to happen that day. Many thoughts rushed through my head. Was this a re-run of what happened in Ivory Coast, where I grew up? What was going to happen to us? Where are the rioters? What’s happening outside? Am I going to have to do my English presentation through Skype? I definitely did not want that. I logged on to my Facebook account and it was chaos! My news feed was being infiltrated by pictures and videos of people being sniped and shot in the capital, people’s statuses ever so frightening, with the occasional optimistic status reading “YES, NO SCHOOL.”
At my household everything was running smoothly. Things were getting worse though, more and more news channels were broadcasting what was happening in Tunis, and Al-Jazeera hardly ever got “Tunisia” off its agenda. All I was hoping was for things to get better soon but on January 14 it was confirmed that there would be no school, yet again: yet another rush of thoughts, and more videos, and more pictures, and more startling statuses. Word was that there was a curfew of 6 p.m. Whoever was to be seen on the streets later than that would be asked questions and may even be antagonized by the police. It was also said that one of these days there was going to be a day of strike and no one would be working. This meant no transportation, no cafes, and no shops would be open. I began to lose hope, but as the days progressed the situation did not decline.
Then, one by one, I began receiving text messages from close friends saying they were at the airport and that they were leaving the country, they wanted me to “take care”. It was official, optional evacuation of foreigners had begun by major companies, bureaus, and embassies. The situation was getting out of hand. People were being killed like flies and no one felt safe at night, especially after hearing that a thousand inmates from a prison down south had escaped after a fire and were terrorizing civilians in their own homes. Throughout the nights, gunshots, people screaming, and dogs barking out of control could be heard from a distance which sent waves of shivers throughout the heart and soul of everyone. We have been stuck at home for almost four days and down in the kitchen, we were running out of milk, bread, sugar, and all the good stuff. The following afternoon my mom, sister, and I decided to try our luck and go down to one of the nearby shops to buy what we needed. As the gate of my house opened, I became frightful and began asking myself questions. Were people going to run into my house and kill us all? Were we in danger at this point? Most importantly, were people going to run into my room and steal my x-box? I definitely did not want that.
Silence. Nothing happened. We were on the main road in no time and that’s when I realized the catastrophe that had happened in my area. Red lights were smashed and pulled out of the ground, little government made gardens here and there at the traffic circles were torn apart, leaves were everywhere, and roads were deserted. I thought I was in New Orleans after Katrina hit, but the reality of the situation was that I was in Tunisia, where a dictator has been in power for 23 years, and finally, the people wanted him out!
Our old Mazda station wagon didn’t let us down, we were at the nearest bakery in no time where for each little shop, there was a line of people of about twenty meters long – unbelievable. My mother asked a man who was already far up in the line to get us some bread. He did so very kindly. Meanwhile, I was told to go purchase the milk from a small shop opposite the bakery where the line wasn’t so long. I arrived at the front of the line in around 10 minutes. The owner of the shop was at the door, blocking entry and allowing only a few people in at a time, but it was my turn so I grabbed a six pack of milk and the shop owner yelled out: “Deux!” “Deux lait, c’est tout!” He took the six pack from my arms and ripped the plastic off of it aggressively, gave me two cartons out of it and shooed me along. Back in the car I told my mom that the shops were only giving out two cartons of milk per person. She started laughing, but I wasn’t laughing. I was scared.
Click here to continue reading and to view a slideshow of photos from the protests.