Tunisian adventures


Riots. Flash mobs. Vioelnt protests. Beatings of innocent bystanders.

WTF is wrong with people? And I don’t mean it in a “Double you tee eff, mate?” kind of way. I mean it in a “What the FUCK is going on in this country?” kind of way.

None of this news of violent youth and civil unrest is new lately, and city after city in the US is making headlines now since the spark of the UK violence. Maybe the US attacks would have happened anyways. Or maybe the angsty youth got their inspiration from their British brethren. You’ll have to ask them. And while you’re at it, ask them why they’re doing the things that they’re doing. Ask them why they’re beating up innocent people at state fairs in Milwaukee. Ask them why they’re starting riots in Philadelphia for which they need to be treated like children and have curfews. Ask them why they’re flash robbing a 7-11 in Maryland. Please ask them, because I have absolutely no idea.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about protesting injustice and standing up for what you believe in, rising up against the man and civil disobedience. But let’s put the emphasis on the word “civil.” If I have a problem with the way something’s run, if I’m in a class that’s being put down and kept down, if I see social injustice and I want to do something about it, stealing a Big Gulp is the last way I’d go about doing it. (In fact, one of the ways I recently voiced my discontent was by writing and article to the local paper, and it got more productive attention than any flash mob could have.) Look at all the successful peaceful protestors in history, like Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The entire Civil Rights movement in the United States was based on standing up to injustice in a peaceful, and ultimately successful, manner.

Some equally outraged people tell me, “Yea these riots are stupid, but they’re just dumb teenagers, of course they want to incite violence.” Of course? As in, that’s supposed to be obvious? Personally, I can’t even fathom that desire. Maybe that’s one of my shortcomings, but I honestly have never felt the need or want to destroy something in my community. I have never felt the desire to physically hurt someone, to cause damage to personal property, or to steal something.

Ok, that’s not entirely true. When I was 3 I stole a pack of stickers. My mom made me return them.

But these kids aren’t 3. These kids have hit puberty, they know right from wrong, they know how adults should act. Sure they have a whole swarm of hormones flowing around that they don’t know what to do with, but why the inclination towards destruction? It’s counter intuitive to our entire evolution. You should want to preserve your community, both the physical surroundings and the people within it, to ensure survival. So I repeat: What the fuck are they thinking?

When I read stories about wrongful deaths at the hands of trigger happy police officers, I feel enraged. But when peaceful protests turn awry and then there’s talk about banning cell service and social networking sites, a whole new level of ire surfaces. Do these people not know what cause and effect is? Do they not know what their actions entail? In San Francisco and other cities they’re cutting cell phone service in certain areas so people can’t get texts about where the flash mob should meet. There’s talk in every city of censoring social media websites so that people can’t communicate via Twitter or Facebook. If there’s anything I hate more than violence, it’s censorship.

As the brilliant Ben Franklin once said, “Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

When I lived in Tunisia during Ben Ali’s rule, I learned that the reason why half the Internet was blocked by the government was for our protection, to keep the extremists out and to protect the citizens from violence, obscenity, and radical ideas. Look how well that turned out for them. Living in that restrictive society has made me value my freedoms so much more, and why anyone would ever do something to compromise that is beyond me.

The next step to uncontrollable violence is always censorship. Both the police and the people participating in the flash mobs realize that the citizens outnumber the police force. So when a good ‘ol crack down doesn’t do the trick, instead of actually reflecting on the underlying issues behind the unrest (such as lack of jobs, racism, rising food costs, disappointment in leadership, etc), those in power will choose to point the fingers at our essential 1st Amendment rights.¬† Why? Well that I at least know the answer to: because it’s easier than pointing the finger at themselves. When UK Prime Minister Cameron blamed his country’s riots on the “moral collapse” and lack of personal responsibility and accountability of its citizens, I felt like the same could be said of the government and those in charge.

We know what happens when the people can’t control themselves; the government controls us instead. Is that what we really want? Since these dumbass kids obviously don’t understand the immediate consequences of their reckless actions, I’d be hard pressed to think they understand the devastating long term effects they’re creating. For a generation who grew up with a mouse or smart phone permanently attached to their hands, I’d hope that they will soon come to appreciate how rare that freedom is, and how quickly it can be taken away if they don’t stop their collective temper tantrum.

Kids, you’re not being cool, you’re not starting a movement of reform, you’re not making a good name for yourself, and you’re certainly not above the law. For the love of everything good in the world, grow up already.

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As you may know if you’ve followed my blog or know me in person, I spent a total of 7 months in an Arab-Muslim country in North Africa, Tunisia. Once was a study abroad experience to study Arabic, and then I went back last summer to teach English. Given all the religious debate and Islamaphobia in the country lately, I’d like to take a moment to just share some stories.

My first week in Tunis, our director and his two assistants were more than kind to us and made sure that we were safe at all times. Our teachers gave us lessons in basic Arabic so we wouldn’t be totally helpless, and we were escorted around the city.

My first host family was awesome. A divorcee and her two teenage sons, they took me in and literally treated me like family. She even called me her binti, or daughter, to her friends (which, needless to say, got some strange reactions since we definitely do not look related). She even drove me into the city every morning for class for the first few weeks because she was scared of me taking the bus on my own in an unfamiliar place (not that it wasn’t safe, but she was just overprotective). The other Americans in my group had very similar experiences.

Every Tunisian I met welcomed me into their homes with open arms. They fed (and overfed) me, made sure I was comfortable, and gave me the utmost hospitality. They know that many Americans don’t like Muslims, yet they didn’t let that taint their view of me. I couldn’t even communicate with some of them and yet they still went out of their way to show me that they weren’t like the crazy Muslims I see on TV back home. They were thrilled to be able to break that stereotype to at least one American.

One time we went to the house of a friend of my host mom. I’m not sure her exact position, but she was some religious figure in the local mosque. My host mom was joking about how I have such a small appetite (especially compared to her 2 boys), so I tried to say in Arabic, “No, I like to eat!” Instead I said, “I would like to eat,” nheb nakol. This woman jumped out of her seat to go and make me dinner, even after I insisted that’s not what I meant and she didn’t have to.

The many people my age that I met were eager to talk about American culture: movies, music, Michael Jackson, and even politics (especially in the spring of 2008 during the Presidential primary). They showed me the best cafes and clubs to go to, and were eager to take me out and introduce me to people.

Last summer, I needed to find a place to stay last minute. Both of my bosses immediately jumped at the chance to host me, and my old director also helped me find a house and more teaching opportunities.

Two of my host moms were very religious, but it took me weeks to even find out, as they would pray in their rooms with the doors closed while the kids and I watched TV or did homework. When discussing their religious devotion, they said that it was a very personal thing, their personal connection between them and God. They were not about to impose it on anyone, not even their children (which is more than I can say of most Christian parents in the US). In fact, the only time I debated religion or was pressured to convert was with my American Christian friends who tried to get me to “see the light.”

My real mother, who took some convincing to let me go in the first place, came to visit for a week and absolutely loved it. Everyone treated her the same as me: with open arms, extreme hospitality, and plenty of food. All of the other Americans I met loved their experiences there and want to go back to visit. All of the Tunisians I met were the most open-minded, friendly people ever, eager to learn as much as they could. That’s not to say there weren’t a few assholes I met, but that will be anywhere. Some of my friends observed Ramadan, some merely abstained from drinking during Ramadan. Some never drank, while others rivaled the alcohol tolerance of my college friends. Some considered themselves moderate Muslims, others said they were simply agnostic and didn’t care at all for Islam or any religion. They were laid back (especially due to the heat), and I love them all and still stay in touch with many.

Now, does this sound like the type of people who want to kill us? Do my friends, my 2nd and 3rd families, do they sound like the type of people who hate Americans and want us all killed? Who want Islam to rule the world?

People ask me why I care so much about the Park51 community center in lower Manhattan. As an atheist, and someone who doesn’t particularly care for organized religion in general, I still believe in the freedom to worship. After living in a Muslim country for 7 months, I simply cannot understand why people hate them. I have never felt LESS pressured to convert to a religion as when I was over there. I have never felt LESS unwelcome or judged as when I was over there. I understand that there are extremists in every religion or group, but that has nothing to do with my friends.

Muslims as a group aren’t out to kill us. They want everything that all other Americans want for them and their families, and they shouldn’t feel pressured to sacrifice any of it due to a small fringe group. How many stories must I tell about my Muslim friends until this is clear?

Newsflash: Election day is tomorrow, Tuesday, November 3. New Jersey and Virginia are going to elect a new governor, and Maine is voting on the hot-button issue of same-sex marriage, just to name a few important ballot issues. I ask my friends and co-workers here in the states if they’re voting tomorrow. Most just say, What? When’s that? What are we voting for? Either that, or a definitive, “No, I’m not voting, I hate politics, I never vote.” Never vote? One of the times we actually have a say as to how our government is run and you DON’T VOTE!? Let me tell you a story about living in a totalitarian government where some people don’t have the luxuries we do.

When I first arrived in Tunisia in the Spring of 2008, the other students and I didn’t know much about the small country. One of the first questions we asked our director was, “What type of government does Tunisia have?” His response, as was the response of most of our teachers or other official figures, was an over-emphatic, “Tunisia’s the greatest democracy ever! We’ve been a democracy since 1956 when we gained independence from France. We have 13 political parties, but everyone loves the president!” As evident by the 94.5% vote he got in 2004, and similar figures in other elections. Obviously everyone must vote for him! (Or their voting system is super corrupt, but no one would ever admit that while in the middle of a corrupt, Big Brother-esque government, sort of a Catch 22.) Also omitted was the fact that President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali amended the Tunisian Constitution multiple times so that he could run for more terms than originally allotted.

Ben Ali

Just one of many billboards of Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali you will see traveling the roads of Tunisia.

In the most recent election a few weeks ago, Ben Ali won by 89.9% of the vote, and the U.S. is officially “concerned” by the results (minute 13). Who wouldn’t be concerned with a win that big? Also disconcerning is the fact that I felt like I was living in Orwell’s 1984 while over there. People were afraid to talk about the government, period, especially in a negative manner, and if they were bold enough to educate the American they would whisper about it, look at the sky warily, turn their cell phones off, etc. What was even more 1984-esque was huge billboards and banners in the middle of Tunis and on the sides of the roads, or just basically everywhere.

I asked my Tunisian friends if they voted, and most said no, there was no point. For one, there is no one particular opposition candidate. And even IF the government allowed an opposition candidate to heavily campaign, and IF there was a large voter turn-out and IF the opposition candidate actually did win, there are no independent voting organizations to tally the votes, so Ben Ali would most likely still officially win. Iran, anyone?

When people tell me they don’t vote, that they know they have the right to vote and they make a conscious effort not to go to the polls, that just ticks me off. Heck, in Jersey it’s super easy to vote by mail, absentee, just because you don’t feel like leaving the house. Or you can go to the county clerk’s office the day before the election. It’s so easy!

People in the US take their rights for granted, especially the most fundamental ones like freedom of expression, as I’ve mentioned before regarding the press. I’m not expecting everyone to be super politically involved, or even be kept extremely up-to-date with every single political issue that affects us as Americans and New Jersians. But read a few Star Ledger articles covering the election; they break it down for readers very easily. Be at least slightly informed and go out to the polls.

Maybe I’m asking a lot for people to actually care about their country, about how it’s run. Maybe it’s too much for me to ask people to not be lazy, ungrateful Americans. I’m not even asking people to like who they vote for, as both Christie and Corzine admittedly have their faults (although one more than the other, in my opinion). But even so, I’m asking people now, get up and go vote! Exercise your rights while you still have them.

I’m home. I’ve been home for about 3 weeks now, but the lack of anything to do has made all of my days just meld together. Coming back was at first a bit strange, not going to lie. It’s so green here, people have front lawns instead of walls around their houses. It’s also cold. I’m used to sweating simply from sitting still. I connected in London and spent the night with a friend. It was 15 C (60 F). There was no sun, and I was downright cold! During the past 3 months I’ve felt a chill occasionally, a light breeze, etc, but the actual feeling of cold was so foreign to me. As I shivered in my sweatshirt by the bus stop, my friend walked over in a T-shirt and laughs at me.

I also noticed how much calmer everything is here. Granted, I’m in a fairly rural suburb, but people actually obey traffic laws, cars wait for each other, they stay in their lanes… what is this? I even walked all the way down Main St. and didn’t get cat called a single time. It was glorious. I’ve been so used to being on guard all the time when in public, that I forgot how nice it is to just be able to walk in peace.

The strangest thing for me so far is the fact that everyone speaks English. Not only is it a shock that everyone around me can understand me and I can understand them (unfortunately, at times), but it’s a shock that I can’t speak another language. Even simple things like “Hello” and “Thank you” must be spoken in English, even though my first instinct is to say “Aslaama,” “3ayshek,” or even “Merci.” I worked with my mom at a restaurant twice this week where everyone else who works there is Hispanic. All but one man is fluent in English. While my first reaction was to want to speak to him in a language other than English (because he can’t understand) I found myself going to Arabic first, then told myself no, I need so speak a Romance language, and would go to French. Neither of those is Spanish. I’ve just been so used to speaking those 2 languages (or at least trying to), that even 3 weeks later, and even though Spanish is my best second language, my brain doesn’t automatically switch to Spanish yet. Perhaps if I were saying more complex things, words that I only know in Spanish, then it would be different.

I’d have to say that the most frustrating part about being home is not being able to get around. I do not have a car, and there is nothing to do in town within walking distance except go to the grocery store. Even in La Marsa, a suburb, it was busy and there were many taxis, and it cost about 1 dinar to get across town. Even in the town next to mine, Morristown, which is the county seat and very happening, a taxi would cost at least $5 to get around. Hardly a regular form of transportation.

Of course I also miss the small things, like couscous, eating fish multiple times a week, fresh baked bread at every meal, the constant view of the sea, and naturally, my friends.

I’m currently job-searching within the public health field, specifically women’s health and trying to combine it with some form of advocacy and outreach. Graduate school is of course in the future, but like most college grads these days, I need to garner an income for a little while. As my hard-earned tan slowly fades and the sun periodically peaks through the Northeast clouds, my time spent in New Jersey has yet to be anything comparable to my time abroad. While I do plan to return at some point, until then at least I can say that I dreamed of Africa, and I lived the dream.

I know some Tunisian Arabic. It’s not great, but it’s enough so that I don’t get lost or ripped off in a taxi, I can buy what I want in stores and restaurants, I can communicate where I’m going, comment on the weather and other various phrases, and understand at least the topic of conversation when two Tunisians talk. I’m still learning.

It’s interesting how language shapes a culture, how words that exist say a lot about the people who speak them. For example, the plethora of nicknames for “vagina” that are negative and derogatory (cum dumpster, ever lasting cum stopper, bearded axe wound, etc), or define the vagina as in relation to a penis instead of an entity in and of itself – it reflects the sexist culture that we live in, the negative and inferior way at which women are still looked. Take this in relation to the nicknames for penis that make it sound mighty and large (the shaft, rod, sex pistol, Russell the one-eyed wonder muscle). This indicates that men are stronger, sex machines, etc. Language says a lot.

Now take Arabic, or at least the Tunisian dialect. I recently learned what to call my boyfriend – sa7bi (transliteration because I don’t have Arabic letters on my computer, and some numbers look like Arabic letters that don’t exist in the Roman alphabet, pronounced SAH-bee). Lyoom, bish nimshee fee piscine m3a sa7bi. “Today, I will go in the pool with my boyfriend.” Now, in this instance I am referring to a male who I am dating. However, if I meant a friend that happens to be male who I am not romantically involved with, I would still use sa7bi. In English, we typically use “my boyfriend” to mean romantic partner, and “my guy friend” to indicate a platonic relationship. However, if I said sa7bi, regardless of who I was actually referring to, the person I’m speaking with would probably assume I meant romantic boyfriend. Same goes for men who refer to their sa7ebti (female form of “my friend,” pronounced sa-HEB-tee).

Why the ambiguity? Why is there no way to clearly refer to a platonic friend of another gender? Basically, because much of the Arabic culture thinks that no such thing can exist. Obviously all men are horndogs and are incapable of being “just friends” with a woman. And obviously any woman who’s “just friends” with a guy is leading him on and a slut, because no respectable woman should hang out with men that she’s not married to or related to. (I don’t think that, I’m just trying to see things from their point of view… but still not seeing it.) And also, if I’m female referring to sa7ebti (or a male saying sa7bi), I obviously mean a platonic friend, since homosexuality is so taboo that it’s not talked about, and there certainly isn’t a word to describe it.

I find that “guy friend” is a good way for a woman to refer to a male friend. I can also use “girl friends” to refer to a group of female friends. If I say “girl friend” though, at least in some social circles, it can sometimes be ambiguous, too. If I say it, people who know I’m bisexual may wonder what the relationship is like. In other contexts the ambiguity does not exist, but our culture as a whole has become much more open and accepting of homosexuality. Granted, there is still a LOT of discrimination, but we’re progressing.

It’s interesting that when referring to both romantic and non-romantic female friends we use “girl” as the prefix. Whereas with a romantic male we use “boy” and non-romantic we use “guy.” Perhaps because women are still looked upon as more juvenile? Who knows.

No real point to this post. Just an interesting reflection on how language shapes a culture, and how culture shapes language. Since different-gendered, platonic relationships don’t exist in Arabic culture (at least not until recently), there’s no need to have a word to describe an impossible situation. This also makes me appreciate the English language for having gender-neutral nouns to avoid this mess. And also, sometimes I like ambiguity.

On job applications I always say that I’m very friendly and work well with people. It’s true. Ask anyone who knows me: I always have a smile when I meet people and make them feel very comfortable. It’s especially important given the sensitive nature of the field I want to go into, reproductive health and sexual education. At Wheaton, I had many people who felt comfortable coming to me with very sensitive questions because they trusted that I not only knew the answer or at least knew where to point them to find the answer, but that I would keep their stories confidential and not judge them based on what they asked. These people would not just be close friends of mine, but students that I had one class with, or a friend of a friend who was sitting at lunch with us, or even people I had never met before would approach me when I sat at the Sexual Health Awareness Club (SHAC) table at the Women’s Health Day fair.

But even in the 110F (43C) degree weather, I feel like Tunisia has made me cold. At home when I walk around campus or even down the streets of Boston, I hold my head up, look at people as they pass, smile, make eye contact and sometimes say a friendly hello in passing. Often it’s reciprocated. More often than not when I’m in the city, I’ll never see these people again, yet I’m still friendly.

Here, however, I only do that with women on the street. If it’s a man I know, like the shop keeper near where I work or the sandwich place I frequent, then it’s a different story. But more often than not, if a random man on the street is trying to make eye contact with me, it’s not because he wants to say a friendly hello: he’s looking at me like a piece of meat on display.

I go out in public because I need to go to work, to do errands, to get from point A to point B. I go out to meet friends and have a good time, because I shouldn’t feel intimidated and forced to stay at home simply because I’m a woman. I do NOT go out in public to be put on display, to be stared at and judged by every man I pass. I do not go out for their viewing pleasure, nor do I dress the way that I do for such. As I said, it’s 110F degrees here some days. I have no idea how women who wear hijab handle it, but I could not bear to be covered head to toe. I wear tank tops and T-shirts, as do many Tunisian women here, if not most in this area. I wear long skirts, and dresses and shorts that don’t go above my knees. I’m not breaking some cultural custom, nor am I being offensive to anyone. I’m acting just like any other woman here. Although, it’s interesting to see how many people from home, especially male friends, are so quick to suggest I wear hijab to avoid street harassment. For one, I’m white so it probably wouldn’t make a difference. Second, why should the burden be put on me to cover up simply because the men can’t act respectably?

If I see a man on the street here, my initial reaction is to ignore them. If they look at me, I look away. I do not make eye contact, I do not smile, and I especially do not say hello. If a man calls out to me as I pass, I ignore him. (Sometimes I’ll pick my nose as a non-verbal way to say, “Think I’m still sexy now?”) Most often they just want to get a reaction out of me, have the exotic, white woman look at them and make them feel more manly. I do not give them such an honor. However, there are the rare instances where someone legitimately is trying to be friendly and just say hello, but it’s often hard to tell the difference. One time a man pulled over in his car to ask me for directions. I ignored him because all the past times men pulled over it was to hit on me and try to pick me up. However, I didn’t realize what he was asking until after he drove off. I felt bad, because he needed help and I could have helped him. But how was I to know?

As a foreigner and especially as a Westerner, it is expected that I should just act nice; I should accept that blatant disrespect for women is a regular occurrence¬† and not try to impose my evil, Western views onto their culture. I should just behave, not try to offend anyone, and keep quiet. Granted, it’s totally okay for a man to offend me, to degrade me in public, feel as though he has free reign to comment on my physical appearance in any way he sees fit. But, especially seeing as things like cursing and giving the finger are taken much more seriously here, it would be very disrespectful for me to show my disgust at his behavior by reacting in such a way, one of the few ways I can react given the language barrier.

Does that seem not okay to anyone else? He’s allowed to disrespect me because he’s a Tunisian, a native, and most importantly a man, but in return I have to make sure I don’t disrespect him? I have to be the quiet woman and just put up with it? I’m not saying two wrongs make a right, because more often than not they don’t. I’m also not trying to create a social reform movement here; it’s not my place. I also do not want to make all Westerners look like horribly disrespectful people and further the negative stereotypes people have of us. But as a self-respecting woman, regardless of where I come from, it is not okay that a man thinks such behavior is okay. It is not okay that he will teach said behavior to his son and perpetuate the cycle of sexism. I’m not expecting things to change, especially not in the month left that I have here. However, don’t expect me to be a nice girl anymore.

I’ve noticed that the sense of independence and even maturity is very different among people my age here in Tunisia. For a number of reasons, people usually live at home until they get married, or perhaps move to a different country if they so choose. Even if someone wanted to move out, it would be seen as odd, “What’s wrong with your family that you don’t want to live with them?” Naturally, this impairs young people from learning how to take care of themselves: they don’t know how to pay rent, manage money, cook for themselves, and even little things like how to do laundry, or how to take care of themselves when they’re sick and mommy isn’t around to make soup.

I’ve met a wide range of families from both of my visits here. I’ve met helicopter parents who do absolutely everything for their children, give them whatever money they need, think their kids are the most brilliant children on the face of the earth, and if something ever goes wrong, they push the blame onto someone else because their child is perfect and couldn’t possibly be at fault. This is the worst way to raise a child, because not only do they not learn how to take care of themselves, but they never learn a sense of responsibility. They learn that if they screw up, it’s not their fault and mommy will take care of it.

I’ve also met parents who push their kids to be more responsible, by making them get jobs over the summer even though they’re still in school and the family’s financially well off, by making them help out with chores around the house even if they have a maid, and by allowing them to do more things on their own, such as go out with friends without having to know every minute detail of their whereabouts. However, even these more open and liberal families view these young adults as children… especially the women.

Perhaps it’s more of a common courtesy thing, but my friends here treat women much better than at home. (I am not of course talking about the men on the street who feel they have a right to comment on my appearance in a derogatory fashion, but the people in my peer group who I’ve become close with.) Both men and women always drive me to my doorstep at night, or even offer to walk me back. They always offer seats to me if we’re at a bar or cafe, and they generally just look after women better. Perhaps it’s because they realize their world is still a bit more dangerous for women than it is for men, or maybe they still believe women need more looking after than men. Maybe a little bit of both.

Even adults, though, view my peer group as needing more looking after. For example, a friend of mine went on vacation with her family for a long weekend. Her younger sister stayed at home, but her parents won’t let her stay in the house by herself. Thankfully, she has plenty of family and friends close by who are willing to take her in. However, she’s 19 years old, and as someone who left home at 18 and has hardly been back since, I find this very shocking. But it’s not just that her parents are overprotective of her or don’t trust her. She also feels that she’s not capable of being on her own even for a few days.

When I talk to parents here about my experience with being idependent versus what I’ve observed here, they all tell me that they think 18 is too young. Sure I know some 25 year olds who partied their way through college and are barely capable of taking care of themselves now in the real world. They drank away their college years and went to mommy and dadddy when they failed a class and had them call the professor to change the grade. I also know some students who tried to drink away their college years but had a brutal wake up call when mommy and daddy wouldn’t bail them out. I know some people who hit the ground running and came to college already extremely independent. However, I would say that the majority of people I knew in college graduated with a sense of independence, even if they didn’t start with it. Sure, some of them may have had a year or two of wild college life to let loose and get used to being away from home, but those 4 years forced them to become independent, forced them to learn how to think for themselves and how to take care of themselves. (Granted, some still don’t know how to cook due to the unlimited meal plan at Wheaton, but they’ll be forced to once they’re in the “real world.”)

I have noticed a difference in maturity levels from my peers at home versus some of my peers in Tunisia. For example, since this is a Muslim country, alcohol is rather taboo, even for those of age. Granted, in certain social circles it’s just as prevalent as at home, but it’s treated a lot differently. Often times, people in their mid-20’s will treat going out to a club and drinking as if they’re breaking some law and being super cool rebels, get trashed and then drive home. Whereas I’ll have a glass of wine with dinner and think nothing of it, and will also take the keys of anyone who even thinks of drinking and driving.

Perhaps many of my peers here in Tunisia aren’t ready to be on their own, aren’t mature enough to handle much of what life has to bring. But how will they learn if they remain sheltered? You can’t learn to swim without going in the water.

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