Moving beyond the soot & ashes: 3 things I learned from Tunisia

A few years back my husband and I worked in Tunis, Tunisia. I remember looking out the plane window as we descended into the dusty August haze. Flat and arid, our new city contrasted sharply to that of lush Medellin, Colombia where we had just been for years.

I will be frank. The transition was challenging: work, home, language, enviornment, culture. It felt quite foreign. But, I’d had felt this before..the feeling of the world being so much larger than I had experienced.

Countries such as Spain and Colombia held comforting elements due to familiarity. Language is a prime source of connectedness and Spanish had linked me to those realms in profound ways. Tunisia, however, is an Arabic and French speaking country; I had learned neither language before. For that reason and my slow pace at adapting, the comforts revealed themselves later through experiences, travel of the country, and daily interactions with others.

Living internationally presents countless lessons. Among other things, here are 3 things I learned from Tunisia:
1. Revere history. Historically, Tunisia was the hotspot of many settlements: from the Phoenicians to the Romans, from the Arab and Berber dynasties to the Turks and the French. Obtaining independence in 1957, Tunisia’s identity includes influences from its past as well as a maintenance of strong values in family, faith, and patriotism.
2. Uphold beauty. Aside from the preservation of historical sites like El Jem and ruins found throughout Carthage, Tunisia inspires both geographical and artistic beauty. No one can deny the magic of trekking across the Sahara or floating along the Meditteranean. Tunisian pottery reflects striking colors from its environment; artists manifest beauty in the form of paintings, hand-blown glass, and textiles.
3. Inspire change. Taking the lead of challenging despotism through the Jasmine Revolution, Tunisia became an example to the Arab world of the power of change. The country’s first free elections since independence in 1956 were held on October 23, 2011 with voter turnout estimated at 90%. This thirst for justice and progress has been the source of inspiration for all who seek the same.

Tunisia is a place of promise. So, it is with heavy sadness that I ruminate over the recent violent events ignited throughout the Arab world including Tunis. What makes it hit more close to home is the fact that the school we worked at ACST, the American Cooperative School of Tunis took a big hit in those attacks. Set across the street from the American Embassy, this K-12 school which includes teaching character development (patience, problem solving, acceptance) in the curriculum became a target for anger, chaos,and destruction. Within hours school vehicles and classrooms were torched, supplies looted. A school which caters to and represents an international community (in my 2nd grade class, 1 out of my 20 students was American; the rest from all over) suffered the cost. The outcome is heartbreaking.

Regarding the school’s aftermath, Ben Jafaar, Speaker of the National Constituent Assembly of Tunisia, stated:

“Today I felt so much anger. The beautiful image of our revolution was distorted. Tunisians are tolerant, having witnessed so many civilizations. We respect other people and their differences. This is a crime. Tunisia’s image today is distorted. In order to improve and rebuild it, huge efforts need to be taken from all of us, especially from you, the media.”

After a week of tireless efforts, teachers, administrators, staff and parents have united in a spirit of healing and restoration to create a fitting environment for children to return to their learning. The courage of this community is inspiring, the perseverance admirable.

For those of us who feel helpless in making a difference toward events that happen across the world, there is something we can do. The ACST site asks:

Please Donate to the ACST Recovery Fund
Help ACST rebuild following the devastating attack of September 14, which burned our Elementary Library, destroyed many classrooms and left us virtually without computers. Please help us continue to open doors, hearts and minds for our students by donating below. Your generous support is deeply appreciated.
The school mission statement as mentioned above is this: Opening doors, hearts and minds. Let us join ACST and Tunisia in this noble pledge.
{photo credit: Crystal Lang}
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