"We, err, we thought about traveling to Tunisia this summer," I say. "Please sit down." He smiles; very friendly! "Just the two of you?" I'm with a friend. The friend's a she. "Ermm… yeah. Right." He pauses, smiles, then: "That's a really bad idea!" He owns a travel agency.
Objecting, one could find this man to have been a poor salesman. Don't tell us not to go, then you will not make any money! Realistically, however, he did exactly the right thing. First of all, Germans like their honesty; if you're too optimistic, Germans will be skeptical. Secondly, people that walk into travel agencies don't just look for traveling, they also look for certainty and a good sense of direction. The man we spoke to was extremely kind and seemed to have a lot of confidence. So maybe even I, a girl that never went to offices like that before, could possibly have been convinced that traveling to Greece (even now) was actually much much better; never mind the extra money, if I feel safe and certain! But I do not mean to say that there is tourism-conspiracy; it's just that that's their job.
Something was more troubling however. "So," I asked. "Is it safe to go to Tunisia right now. I mean, after everything that happened, with the revolution and all that?" He understands, and shakes his head. "Egypt actually is better." Funny; even the New York Times and definitely all my friends who've been there say the opposite: more violence in Egypt, less security, a lack of national identity and unity right now; later, Egypt may hopefully be better, but for now the smoothness of Tunisia's transition is actually unthinkable. "In Tunisia, there may be a little more democracy right now, but otherwise nothing there has changed. The people are the same." I start to understand that he is more concerned with our safety than with the country; when he says that people are the same he means that cat-calling and such attempts, especially by men, that put Western women in extremely uncomfortable situations. "If you go, you must stay in the hotel all the time. And young girls lie you often want to see something and have experiences. But over all Tunisia really doesn't have a lot to offer. Not even sights or anything."
Little did the travel agent know that starting a few months ago I have been telling everyone that the one place in the world that I would like to visit currently was Tunisia. And that I was, in fact, headed to Tunisia within only a few days. I had only stepped into his office because I meant to get a feeling for how a tourist could or would book a vacation in Tunisia. Well, they would not book here, it turns out. He would send them to Greece instead. But other places, that I know for sure, send lots of Germans to Tunisia, mostly to hotels, sandy beaches and the like. Or at least they used to send them!
Tunisian tourism right now is fightingly low for a country that used to greatly depend on this industry. In other words, the revolution did not only not bring the jobs that it has risen up for, it also destroyed part of its own economy. Sure, eventually tourists will forget and come back; but for now prospects are really not the best. And this is where my project comes from.
I want to better understand realities in Tunisia today. I want to learn how to navigate this place, and see what it might have to offer. I want to meet people and learn from them. Then, I want to share. I invented a travel guide as an excuse to tell the stories that I hear. I want to allow people abroad to shape a clearer picture of what life here looks and feels like. News and papers can be irritating or impersonal.
Hopefully, I also can achieve a little more: by combining travel information with narratives and anecdotes I want to present, offer and inspire what I call "alternative tourism." Inspired by the many words that Tunisia at the turning point right now alliterates with, I suggest three pillars of the tourism that I want to embrace: travel to a country; talk to and really meet the people there; tell the stories that you learn to the people back at home. Travel. Talk. Tell.