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Tunisia 2023

Tunis Days 1, 2 (First Impressions)

Our first night in Tunis came with some unexpected challenges. After a long day of travel, we arrived at the airport around midnight. Our lovely travel heads had coordinated with a driver to take us to our accommodation. However, he unfortunately fell asleep waiting for us, and we could not reach him. The lack of transportation wasn’t a huge deal as we could find a local taxi, but it presented a more significant issue when we realized the sleeping driver was also the person with keys to two of our three apartments. Therefore, at 2 a.m., we arrived at our accommodation and realized we would have to squeeze ten people into a space meant for 4. Though this wasn’t ideal, everyone was a good sport, and it certainly made for a memorable initial bonding experience.
The next day, we woke up eager to explore this new city. We headed to Sidi Bou Said, a beautiful coastal town with picturesque white buildings and blue doors. There we enjoyed our first Tunisian meal, couscous! We explored the area, soaking up the ocean views, petting stray cats, and walking along famous local roads. We even fit in a swim in the ocean before heading to dinner nearby.

The travel heads in Sidi Bou Said.

Tunis Days 3, 4, 5 (Meetings)

On Tuesday, we had our first full day of meetings. We started at the Swedish Embassy, where we got some background on the situation in Tunisia and insight into the embassy’s work in the region. Next, we had a meeting with UNHCR. As we approached the building, we noticed several Sudanese refugees protesting outside the office. This discovery led to a few group members deciding not to attend the meeting, instead spending time talking to the protestors. It was fascinating to compare and contrast what UNHCR shared in the meeting to what was learned by talking to those outside. Later that day, we met with Al Kawakibi Democracy Transition Center, a local organization promoting democracy in Tunisia. It was a harrowing but fascinating discussion, where we learned about the triumphs and failures of the 2011 revolution and how that has led Tunisia to the tricky political situation they have now.
Wednesday brought another full day of exciting meetings. We started at Lawyers Without Borders, where we met a local group of women working on protecting human rights and providing legal support to Tunisians. The conversation was extensive, including topics like Tunisian gender roles, barriers to social change, and local grassroots activism. We then enjoyed lunch before attending a highly anticipated meeting with a local LGBTQ activist group, MawJoudin. Getting this meeting was especially exciting as UPF has tried to meet with queer groups many times in the past, but for safety reasons it has often not been feasible. At MawJoudin, we learned how the organization can exist despite the Tunisian government’s opposition to same-sex relations. We also learned about how the local queer community supports itself and watched several beautiful videos that were crafted by the organization in an attempt to destigmatize and educate citizens of Tunis.

Thursday was our final day of meetings. We started with another local Queer activist group, Damj. Their focus is more on intersectionality and on-the-ground protesting. It was an insightful and humbling conversation, with lots of opportunities for questions from the group. After that, we headed to the EU Delegation, where we met with their staff and discussed the current geopolitical situation. The room was very official, and we were all slightly intimidated at first. Still, we found our footing fast and discussed topics like diplomatic relations, the upcoming Tunisian election, and the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Palestine. We then had lunch before heading to the UNDP’s office for our final meeting of the trip. The meeting was incredibly educational. We learned about the ups and downs of being a civil servant, the projects that UNDP is implementing in Tunisia, and the career paths that led the current staff to their posts. We ended the day with swimming and watching the sunset at La Marsa beach before enjoying dinner and drinks at a local bar.

Meeting with Lawyers Without Borders.

Swimming at La Marsa beach.

Tunis Days 6, 7 (Exploring)

On Friday, we headed to Uthina to check out the archeological ruins. We were the only visitors there, and it felt surreal taking in the amphitheater and castle with no other tourists around. We then had some delicious local food for lunch before checking out the metropolitan market and then heading to the Bardo Museum. The exhibits were beautiful, and it was incredible to see all the intricate details in the tiles and sculptures.
Saturday was our last day in Tunisia, and we soaked every last minute up. A few of us headed to Hammamet, a beach town a bit outside Tunis, while the rest of us took a guided biking tour of Carthage, an area packed with ancient archaeological ruins. We visited five different areas and learned so much about the architecture and lifestyle of the former inhabitants. We finished the day back at La Marsa, playing with friendly stray dogs and swimming in the warm water. It was a beautiful end to an incredible week.

Soaking up the art at Bardo Museum.

Walking to the castle at Uthina.