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Sahara

Day 92: Sidi Bou Said

Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia 
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A fine old Arabic doorway in the tidy, house-proud town of Sidi Bou Said.
Michael Palin - SaharaOut early. Sidi Bou Said is very walkable. It's spotlessly clean with almost every wall and house and building painted white and cerulean blue. Bougainvillea and morning- glory burst out of tight, green gardens and spill over into the streets. The national flag is everywhere, red and white crescent and stars wrapped round lampposts and on bunting hung across the street. Tomorrow is the fourteenth anniversary of what the Tunisians celebrate as 'Le Changement', the day in 1987 when the great founding president, Habib Bourguiba, was declared senile and unfit to rule and power was painlessly transferred to his deputy, Ben Ali.

Ben Ali's likeness is everywhere. A fleshy, pleasant-looking man staring glassily down from the posters and wearing a purple sash. He is almost as popular as Bourguiba and credited with bringing in young well-educated technocrats to modernise industry and business. Ben Ali and the Technocrats may sound like a 1960s rock band but they are hailed here as the new saviours of Tunisia.

One of those Tunisians who has benefited from all this lives nearby, in a sprawling 100-year-old mansion next to a golf course in Carthage. Three seriously impressive satellite dishes sprout from the roof. Leaves blow across a tennis court and gather in the swimming pool. Over the hedges there's a glimpse of orange orchard, and at least a dozen oddly assorted dogs caper about beneath palms, pines and cypress trees at the top of a long drive. All it needs is a shooting party and a crowd of Tunisian country gentlemen to complete the picture. In fact, one small middle-aged woman emerges from the front door to welcome us. She's short and compact with thick dark hair and a strong broad face. Her name is Hyett Alouami. She's fifty and has two children. Her husband died of an aneurysm at the age of forty-six.
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  • Day: 92
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