To the motherland: A New Tunisia?
In exactly 36 hours from now, I will be on a plane on my way to my home, Tunisia. Though only half Tunisian, my Maghrebi identity has shaped much of my life. My father decided to raise his 5 children away from his home because of the chains that the government run by Ben Ali placed on the ankles of freedom: freedom of religious practices and beliefs being the most important to my family. Sure, we’d visit during the summers here and there; but his eyes were always clouded by the desire to return to the homeland. “One day, one day all of you will graduate, and we’ll go back. You’ll love studying at university over there! Oh and I’ll get you French lessons from now so you’re prepared”. It meant everything to my father that he goes back to take care of his widowed mother, his niece and nephew who lost their father in a car accident. It never happened.
Why not? You may ask. Well, when he can’t pray in the mosque in-between prayers in fear of being arrested and labeled an “extremest”, when his daughters can’t proudly wear the hijab to school in fear of being expelled or having it torn off their heads by force, and when his wife would have to go through the same as she tries to find a job, what choice did he have?
In 36 hours, I will see a different Tunisia…maybe. I will see a Tunisia that draws a smile across my father’s face…maybe. And perhaps, I will witness a Tunisia where men, women and children alike can go to the mosques, sit there reading from the Qura’an or simply sitting waiting for the next prayer to be called, all this without fear of nothing and no one, no one but God, that is. But I may also smell a different Tunisia: will there still be gun powder in the air of my small town? I may hear a different Tunisia: yelling and cussing back and forth as a ruthless fight is about to break out is a common phenomena witnessed by my cousins who report current events to me regularly, after the revolution took place.
In 36 hours from now, I hope to see the Tunisia that my father has dreamed to return to. I hope to be able to proudly say, “Yes! I’m Tunisian! I can go to school, work and wear my hijab and in fact am respected for it! And yes, I can go to the mosque whenever I please and not fear no one but my Lord. And guess what? My father decided to return to Tunisia. We live with my grandmother now, and my siblings study there with great promise for job opportunities after graduating. And haven’t you heard? My father… he can never stop smiling now”.