He is in his 60s, maybe 70s, he is short and he wears a yellow straw hat in a kind of cowboy-style, that is common in the south. We're on the same "louage" from the mountain village in the center of the country to the north-eastern capital, but we do not get to talk since he is on the front row in this collective taxi minibus, and I am in the very back. When we stop for a cigarette and coffee break, I speak to someone from the middle row, but short straw-cowboy man, who wears squared glasses that are held together by a neckband, a white large button-up shirt and a carry-on bag also made of straw, walks past me tells me that I am welcome and appears shortly after with a yogurt drink. "For you," he says, smiles, and disappears. During the rest of the journey I think about how much I'd like to talk to him, but there is no opportunity.
When we get off by the Northern Bus Station in Tunis, that is awkwardly far away from anything of interest, I see him get a taxi. He notices me and offers to give up his ride, but I explain that I will take the metro. "Will you go to Lafayette?" No, I go to Avenue Habib Bourguiba. But too late, all I see now is heavy and insistent head nodding by him and the taxi driver: it is the same direction, they insist, I should let them take me where I need to be. Alright, I think, maybe I will find out a little more about this man.
"Tu est Francaise? Italiana? English? Deutsch?" It is the usual checklist question. I sit behind the man with hat who gestures cheerfully, while almost yelling over his left shoulder. The evening traffic and the car radio provide sufficient background noise. Before I get to answer, the cab driver jumps in: a tall man - clearly not the ideal taxi driver size - with a big bright smile in a red T-Shirt and with short black hair. "Vous parlez Francais?" he asks me in a perfect accent. "Oui!" Chances have been 50/50 that you find a taxi drivers that actually speak the language. His smile gets bigger, he takes a deep breath and then: "Moi, NON!" Him and cowboy-hat-man fall in laughter, and I quite like the situation. They have humor.
For two seconds I fade out, watching people cross the street not at all minding that there's traffic, and thinking about the street bumps that slow down cars over here much more than necessary. The sun has not quite disappeared yet, tainting everything in a dark orange, which makes the honking crazy-going cars, the many people on the streets, the crowded coffee shops and small convenient stores, and even the garbage that sadly lines the street almost anywhere you are in Tunis look quite peaceful and inviting. Suddenly, the word "thaura" brings me back to where I am. "Revolution." The men speak Arabic, but this is a topic I know well enough by know that I can understand their dialect. "You see. Things here are quite complicated. The people resisted, and Ben Ali had to leave. Like Ali Baba! Hahaha. But now it's difficult. Anyways, I love this country and this city," the taxi driver gestures, laughs, pulling the driving wheel left and right. It seems, however, like man-with-hat will disagree. I come in first: "Where are you from? Le Kef or Tunis?" Baghdad. "I left Iraq 6 years ago. I like Tunisia, but the cities are too crowded and too busy all the time." And that includes the Revolution. I start to wonder if he spent the time in protests in Le Kef, where he owns 4000 hectars and has busy bees producing honey for him, and where he could potentially have escaped the quite rowdy times in otherwise upperclass and calm La Marsa, the Tunis suburb next to mine, from where he manages his bee farms. We arrive in Lafayette.
It takes him many seconds, if not minutes, to count his 1 dinar and 45 to pay in perfect change. Only to then grab another 2 to completely overpay the driver to take me where I need to go. I try to resist, but that is generally impossible in Tunisia. When I get out of the car, sort of hoping I can learn more about this bee keeping Iraqi in Tunisia, he tells me he'll be angry, and that I am like his daughter and must get back into the taxi. From my seat, I see him walking off into the darker-getting night, with a silly grin, swinging his straw-bag back and forth. In the car I also learned that he's a poet, and he looks exactly like I would imagine the author of my childhood novels (Janosch).
"He doesn't understood how important our Revolution was," the cab driver in red pulls me out to my thoughts. "But he is a good man!" I regret not having stayed with him a little longer. It does not happen very often that you meet someone in Tunisia, who does not immediately demand every single contact information you can give her/him to stay in touch. Yet another reason for this man to stand out a little more, in addition to his charming funny habitus and the fact that he's Iraqi. "Oh yes. Has much changed since the Revolution?" I get back on track. "And tourism?" And then the friendly energetic driver goes on about the importance of tourism for the Tunisian economy, about the difficulties after the revolution and that there haven't been many tourists in the last two years, but that he loves talking to them whenever some of the few that make it here are in his taxi. It takes me a few moments to realize we're speaking French.
PS: The photo here is unrelated. But I liked it!