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Sahara

Day 92: Sidi Bou Said

Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia 
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Waiting for a local train from Carthage to Tunis. Carthage was the heart of the great empire established by Phoenician traders, whose power enraged the Romans so much that they destroyed it, ploughed up the fields and sowed them with salt.
Michael Palin - SaharaShe speaks effusively of her country's debt to President Bourguiba. Without his insistence on a secular state, free universal education and equal opportunity for women, she would never have had the chance to go into business, let alone run companies. She is not alone. She reckons there are at least 1000 women of her generation who are entrepreneurs. All of which makes Tunisia quite exceptional in the Arab world. I ask her quite why this should be. The Tunisians, she points out, are a mixture of many races, including Romans, Phoenicians, Turks, Greeks; even the Normans came down here.

'It's a melting pot and that makes the nation a little bit different from other Arab countries.'

How different?

She nods, then stares out across the bay for a moment, before delivering a trenchant, if heretical judgement on the Tunisian male.

'They are educated, they are sweet.' She watches me for a moment. 'But he's quiet, he's not a fighter.' She breaks into a smile. 'We say the Tunisian men are women.'

The smile becomes a surprisingly deep throaty chuckle.

'I mean, I prefer that they are women rather than be men and kill each other.'

I ask her if Tunisia itself feels threatened, a slip of a country sandwiched between the oil- and gas-rich giants of Libya and Algeria. Again, her reaction is not quite what I'd expected. Her eyes seem positively to shine at the prospect of not having oil.

'We are lucky. We are lucky to be in a small country without oil. Oil...is a mal-addiction. God continued not to give us oil so we have to work hard to survive. In a way we feel a little bit more proud than the Libyan and the Algerian. We, not we, I mean Bourguiba, has invested a lot in education, health care and women. And women are leading the country, actually.'
Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia 
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The Carthaginian empire still extends over five stations.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 92
  • Country/sea: Tunisia
  • Place: Sidi Bou Said
  • Book page no: 240

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