With newspapers reporting on the Arab Spring in North Africa and the Middle East, people often ask me Is it safe to travel to Tunisia?  As a foreigner working in Tunisia I would like to share about my experience living here.

I have been in Tunisia with my family for five years.  During our time we have sought to make the most of our experience living in two cities, Sousse and Tunis.  My children attend a local school taught in Arabic and French and participate in activities such as ballet and football (soccer) with Tunisian children. We have made friendships with families from school, within the business community and with neighbors. In summer we go to the local beaches and attend weddings late into the night.  We share couscous meals with friends, mourn with families at funerals, celebrate their achievements, shop at local markets, and participate in local holidays with Tunisians.  As much as possible, we have attempted to walk in their shoes.

Cooking with locals in Tunisia

Recently, a Tunisian family invited us to spend the Eid el Kbir holiday at their modest beach house north of the capital city, Tunis.  As with most holidays, the table overflowed with food. Over a period of two days we shared Tunisian specialties like shorba, brik, macarona, olives and dates, and especially lots of fresh, grilled lamb.  What stood out to me was how our friends spoiled us with hospitality fit for a king and at the same time invited us to share ordinary responsibilities like washing up and preparing food together.  We felt honored to participate in an important holiday with them as if we were part of their family.  The experience reminded me that Tunisians enjoy meeting foreigners and have much to offer from their rich culture and tradition of hospitality.

In October I organized a Sahara tour for a group of North Americans, led by four men from a local village located at the edge of the vast desert.  Upon arriving we found the men waiting with twelve camels to load our bags, tents, food and other supplies.  A group of curious children from the village ran up to talk to us.  Like the Eid experience, what I loved most about this adventure was that we did it with locals.  It was authentic.  Mabrouk, the eldest and head guide, told me that spending the night in the open sands with his friends is his favorite thing to do and that, group or not, he would do it anyway.  As we caravanned out into the dunes, or “waves” as the men called them, something in the sand caught the eye of another guide, Mohammed.  He reached down and carefully brushed off sand from a hunting arrowhead dating possibly hundreds of years or more. Mohammed and I had just been talking about our families so he gave it to me as a gift for my son.

Around Campfire Sahara Tunisia

Mohammed’s thoughtful act reminded me of another event that took place in my neighborhood in Sousse several years ago.  One day while walking home from work I was surprised to find a group in front of my house engaged in a heated exchange with a man in a white truck.  Apparently the local utility company had come to turn off our electricity (I had thought my wife paid the bill, and she thought I had). Fearing what was about to happen, the neighbors called each other and quickly pooled their money to pay the bill for me.  When I arrived they smiled and collectively told me to not run my air conditioner so much!  Many other times the same neighbors brought hot meals when one of us was sick or traditional food on holidays, watched our house while we were traveling, or helped our children with difficult homework assignments.  We have always felt welcomed and protected in the streets of our neighborhoods.

Is it safe to travel to Tunisia?  The best response I can give is to share stories about the warmth of the people who live here.  And there are many more stories.  Open-minded travelers will discover that Tunisia’s greatest treasure, beyond its white beaches, Roman ruins, and tasty food, is the people themselves.

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