Chapter XX – Tunis – Tunisia

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Leaving Palermo was difficult … not only because of the usual unpleasant border crossing, ferry stuff etc … Leaving the people behind was tough even if I knew I was about to see them again soon.
And the 10 hours of sailing weren’t making my moods better …

I had the time to think about the advises friends gave me to not going to few places, to avoid being foolish trying to see and to understand the dangerous things … Tunisia was still a blurry mystery both, exciting and worrying.
I then arrived in the country by night, passing through the same long and worrying process at the border (you’re always imagining the worst scenario even if you have absolutely nothing to hide …)
snapshot-11Filling the paper works for me, Marcel etc … emptying the whole van at the customs check-up … being arrested three times by the police along the way to Tunis and being almost arrested, fined and enable to drive for not having an original copy of my car insurance … or for simply possessing a chicha in the van …
Well, I think if I wouldn’t tell the truth straight away, explaining to the policemen why I was here and why stopping Marcel in a garage would mean jail for me … they would not have been so kind with me, letting me pass through.
Or perhaps they’re just fooling me as the tourists dumb they might see so often … I couldn’t tell.
Then I finally arrived to the capital at 1.30a.m. and found a place to pass the first night.

The day after, I spent the time walking through the center of Tunis, gathering information about the place, the people and organisation working here and started to contact the ones I already knew.

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Then I met Henda, a independent Tunisian journalist with whom I planned to collaborate on reportage and documentation of the refugees and migrants situation in the country.
Working for the web magazine Nawaat for a while, she had indeed a lot of information she was glad to share with me.

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And I was in great need of information as it was really hard to find them online.
So I went from place to place, introducing myself to the people and the organisations, explaining them my goals etc … to start being in touch with the people who were doing stuff on the ground.

The day after, while I was in a meeting with ngo’s and humanitarian people of the area, the harsh reality of being on the roads in a “not so cool place” strike me back again : being stolen.

Fuck … another time … I start thinking it’s a permanent rule of this nomadic lifestyle.
Well, this time has been a bit worse than the other times as i’ve been stolen my backpack containing all of my working gear : laptop, DSLR, cameras, tablets, hard drive and footages … everything … well the most important things for me.
Though, it wasn’t the end of the troubles.

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After realizing the shit, I went with Kais, a journalist that I met few hours before, at the police station to make complaint and to establish the robbery.
That’s when I realized being nomadic filmmaker working on humanitarian crisi subject wasn’t really the best position to have …
Being asked many things, being suspected of “god knows” whatever spying or dangerous plans … Kais helped me to pass through it and after hours in the police station, we went to the scientific police for them to inspect the vehicle and to gather prints all over Marcel.

And I spent the night at Kais place, worried about the situation as the police called him every 30 minutes asking for my location, information about me etc …
He protected me somehow putting himself in danger and i’m glad he did so.
It was both strange, worrying and exciting at the same time to feels like a fugitive (even if I was everything but dangerous …).

We spent the evening together listening music and talking about life, his country and the way things were changing.
We spoke about the revolution, the Arab spring and all sorts of topics that were fascinating me.
It seemed like he and his fellows journalists were belonging to this kind of freedom fighters, believing in the power of true information and ready to fight for it.
The revolutionary youth of Tunisia …

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Then after a restful night in a bed, I gather enough physical and moral strength to go back to the police station and to explain them what I was doing specifically, how I was living etc … I wanted to make it clear for them to know I wasn’t a troublemaker coming here to mess around the place … I wanted them to know that my only point was to help and understand and, most of all I wanted to take alone the responsibility of my actions and to to endanger the people who’re helping me.

Well … so far it went ok …

And after the police, I went to a garage to fix the van which couldn’t close anymore (as the robbers has fucked up all the locks).

And again I had to postpone … and again I had to switch on survival mode finding a place to park Marcel near by to be able to work and to watch it at the same time … to find a safe place to sleep … I decided to return to the first place I went to “place de la monnaie” which I thought was a good one.

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It’s at 1.30am when I woke up surrounded by three patrol trucks and 20 policemen that I realised it was maybe not a good idea.
I think they were inspecting the van which looked like hell at the moment, covered with products used from the scientific police and with all the locks broken … when I woke up my first reaction was to go out from the van as quick as possible as I knew it couldn’t lock : such a weird situation …
For a frozen time all the cops were speechless to see myself going out of the van : I could read on their eyes “what the fuck is this guy doing inside ?”.

Then, as naturally as the situation would allow, I just went to them, quietly, explaining them the whole situation.

And again … I went to the police station (I think I will know all of them by the end of my stay in the country, 4 different in a matter of 2 days, not bad …)
Then, they told me the risks of parking the van on the street “no really ? I didn’t realised !” … telling me it was unsafe and so on … once I explained them I didn’t have anything left and not much more to be stolen, they kind of understood the situation and asked me to spend the night in front of the station “to be safe” …
I spent 10 minutes before being sent back by another officer … I definitely sounds like chaos here, no one is really aware of what’s going on, everything is changing in a glimpse and everyone is telling you opposite things.
So I returned to “place de la monnsie” where Mr Belkhasem and Mr Am Salama, the two watchmen of the square, helped me to park the van and to stay for the night.
It was 3.30am when I went back to sleep … I had to move again at 5.30 to go in a safer place in front if the lock shop …

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And we spent most of the day after fixing the locks and the doors of Marcel.
By the end of the day, my tiny mobile house was fixed.

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As Jeanne told me once in Morocco “there’s always a moment of “wander” in the nomadic process.”

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She thought it was the critical moment when you’d get lost during the journey … losing your marks, losing your goals and even sometimes losing yourself …
Of course, at the time, we were talking about the migrants situation. About these people getting lost on their difficult way to a better life.

 

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The wandering was the most dangerous moment during their journey as they could fall into drugs, prostitution, traffic of all kind etc … as they were somehow losing their first goal, enable to get it done.
I think this is the most dangerous kind of wander.
Anyhow, the way I feel now is a bit similar.

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Nevertheless, even if things are though, I decided not to give up and, instead of losing myself mindlessly into yhis mood, I decided to embrace it as part of my cure.

As I’ve always been moving focusing on specific things to do, I never been able to wander around etc … I was avoiding it carefully.

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But maybe it’s now the time to embrace this stage of mobility which doesn’t have any precise direction and meaning.
It’s when you’re not looking for something specific that things happen.

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Then I choose to leave for couple of days, foreseeing I would burn out staying in Tunis in this state of mind.
I went to the further place I could go from the city : the southern Tunisian-Algerian border, near the Sahara and the wilderness.

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I spent days moving around the southern border.

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I walk on chott el jerid salt lake, I climbed the mountain of the dghoumes national park, gaze at the tamerza canyons and waterfalls, passed through the chambi mountain and the nebeur forest (which were i’ve been told very dangerous due to the armed terrorists living-hiding over there, well … I haven’t saw them …)

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I slept with the locals, burn fire at night, cooked with the amasir families and enjoy the natural simplicity of their life.

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These moments were what I needed I guess to clear my mind and to return to the essential.

snapshot-161Then I returned to the capital, locked Marcel in a protected car park and tried to get back to the work, which again was something virtually impossible to do as you couldn’t do anything by your own and you could not access to the NGOs or groups responding “Ohh yes … your project sounds great, It’s really good what you’re doing ! Really good, we’ll contact you back as soon as we’ll finish our schedules for the next … and of course they never did”

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I was then left alone, going from place to place, looking for advice, for people who could help me to help … day after day …

Still I collected information about the country global situation, and I’d describe it this way : A weird messy chaos.

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In the country, you could indeed face different situations :

– The sub-saharian migrants in Tunisia are for example for less than in Morocco and are mainly students coming into the country to continue their studies.

– The “Refugees” like the Syrians aren’t recognized in the country, I mean that they’re not given the statue and the statement of UNCHR useless.

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– The Libyan migrants there are a kind of exception as they seems to receive a specific treatment, thanks to an old law from 1973, stipulating that they can come in and out the country as much as they want and stay there without worrying of being thrown out the country.

– The young Tunisians themselves are still willing to flee the country (a huge wave of them has arrived in Italy after the Revolution) because of their shitty and pitiful life conditions.

And it’s just a glimpse of the craziness and the unsuitability of the country situation …

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Then, through this chaos, I made some contacts and start, little by little to realize that the most meaningful work I could do there would be to work in school with the disadvantage kids and people, who’re the first candidates to the exile. By doing so, you’d not help facilitate the migrants journey but you’d save them from the difficult trip by enabling them improving their life at home … no more need to look for an hypothetical “better life” somewhere else if you could get it in your village or home-town. 

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Regarding this, I meet Alessandro who’s working on sociology documentaries here for a while, he introduced me to some people from the Popular University of Tunisia and we could have done something together if I would have not faced another robbery being stolen my phone, losing all of my contacts, plans, access to internet and informations … and with it a lot of moral energy …

Being robbed right in the street is something I’d never imagine, but well, it’s life I guess …

And this last shit achieved to kill me …

It’s not so much losing the phone that upset me, it’s the fact that happened to me twice in a so short period of time … and it somehow made me realized that I was no more “safe” enough to help as the next thing which could happen would put me in a REAL SHIT.

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Then, following people advices, I decided to leave as sometimes it’s better to step back before going further …

Chapter XIX – Palermo – Italy

 

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After 4 days of driving through Italy, I finally got to the city of Palermo in the region of Sicily, which is, to be fair, an Island kind of … but a huge one … nothing compared to Lesvos.

Even through there’s something similar in the scenery, coastal shores, rocky mountains and beaches all over the place … volcano and tiny islands popping up far on the skyline, lost in the Mediterranean sea …

 

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Well, the place feels a bit familiar and at the same time completely different.

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First, the size of it … Sicily is roughly about 200km wide.

 

Secondly the weather … even if Lesvos was cold in winter … here it’s freezing. The wind, the rain and the snow are really making the place completely different than the sunny and bright scenery you’ve in mind when you think about “Sicily”.

exile-2-0-part-ii-6Thirdly, nobody here speaks neither English, french or Spanish … only Italian, and then, to communicate with people is a funny thing made of a mixture of each language ; one kind of “Italospanicofrenchinglish” … it’s a bit weird.

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  Nevertheless, I made my way through it and I first get in touch with Emanuele Cardella who’s running the Astalli Centro, a place taking care of the new comers from Africa in Sicily. I also met Tomasso, Martina, Gabrilele and other people in town involved in the migration issue and the humanitarian work. The place they used to gather was a co-working space and bar called “Moltivolti” like in the pub “Bobiras” of Lesvos …

The first impression I’d from the migrant center was very good.
Emanuele shown me the place and everything they’re bringing to the people in need : breakfast, clothes, shower, Italian classes, juridic advises, etc … It was way better than what I expected and I was happy to get involved in the daily work.

1And then I started working, doing the same old things that is a routine work which is always changing ; preparing food, bread and stuff for the breakfast, tiding the place, taking care of the shower, drying clothes, listing the beneficiaries, etc etc … but as usual, even if the work looks like the same on paper, it’s a whole new thing that you need to learn again.

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Every morning, the center was opening around 8.30am (we’d to prepare everything an hour before) and was serving breakfast to the hundreds of people currently in the city. Sorting the frozen breads coming from the unsold stock of the city’ bakeries, warming it up, splinting it in little pieces, serving bowls, spoons, tissues, milk, coffee to everyone etc …

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After the 1-2 hours of the breakfast, we were then continuing the work with the showers, the Italian classes and administrative requests of the people.

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The different steps of the help were also planned through the week, one or two afternoon per week for clothing, other times for advocacy and paper stuffs etc …

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We’re then doing something different everyday beside of  doing the same routine works.

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As Emanuele told me the center was running for ten years now and has been taking care of roughly 10000 people, which is telling a lot about the ongoing situation of the island, about the fact that migration here is not something new.

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Some people have left their home long time ago and were coming back from Europe, from countries such as Finland, France or Belgium … the most of them have been pushed back, due to a negative answer regarding their asylum seeking or simply because of their absence of legal documents.

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And you could find a huge diversity of origin countries … Pakistan, Bangladesh, Tunisia, Morocco, Gambia, Ghana  and of course, all the other countries I already knew …

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As  matter of fact, you could see many “migrants” in town, living alongside the Italians who don’t seems to see the situation as a problem, at least they’re living with it …  and if the NGO’s were a bit difficult to find on the web (if it wasn’t impossible …) they were definitely operating on the field.

Furthermore, you could feel here that the “travellers” were more welcomed than in other places I’ve been … Local people were helping, caring for the “migranti” setting up collects, donations and fundraising to help ; you could feel that a big bunch of people were really involved … And the migrants were also living in one kind of harmony with the locals, sharing the same places, going to the same events and working with them etc … Of course the well integrated ones had spent a lot of time here and had built there new “european life” step by step, but still, the new-comers did not looked like facing the same hostility I used to notice in other places.

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As instance, Graziella introduced me to one of the action ran by the locals, WelcomeRefugee was enabling families from Palermo to host migrants in need for a period of 6 months or more … the aim was to improve their life by the time they were staying with the family (finding them a job, giving them classes etc …)

The month I spent in the city makes me realise the huge diversity of its community and, more than simply migrants, refugees and humanitarian volunteers fighting against the harsh situation that’s facing the island, I met honourable people, all willing to make a change in their life, city life and the life of the migrants …

Palermo is definitely not the place I expected to struggle in, and even if things remain hard and difficult, I’m confident in the ability of people to face the trouble and to fight with any resources they have.