Europe is my girlfriend, Tunisia is my mother.

den deutschen (gleichen) Post findet ihr weiter unten! German post is one below

Ahmed walks fast, sometimes I can not follow quick enough and then it takes a while until he notices and stops. We walk through the Calanques. This is a protected area a few miles outside of Marseille. In the summer it will be very crowded here, today no one is here. Typically for Marseille the wind blows hard. It messes with the bushes and sometimes it pushes me so hard in the back that I feel like I don’t have to walk anymore.

There is a lot of silence between Ahmed and me. Sometimes I feel uncomfortable with it and desperately try to find something to talk about. I’m the guest, I have to be entertaining.
The Calanques are huge rocks, a bit like I imagine the Rocky Mountains. At the foot of the cliffs is a bay with flat stones where the whole of Marseille gets sunburned in the Summer. The descent is steep and sometimes I slip on loose rocks. Once or twice I fall down, every time Ahmed turns around and asks if everything is ok. I’m glad he never tries to take my hand to help me.
At the bottom, the wind whips us against the swirling water. Vast swaths of small droplets drive up the mountains. We meet a couple from South Africa. Somehow we get talking and I tell them that I know Ahmed and Marseille only since a few days. The woman is surprised. “You seem like old friends,” she says. From this moment on, I can enjoy the scenery in silence. For old friends you don’t have to put on a show.


When Ahmed says something, it’s mostly about Tunisia. Nearly three years ago he left Tunisia to study in France. He was 22 years old at that time. He just missed the Arab Spring.
“Did you ever think about going back when it started?” I ask him.
“Yes of course,” he says and talks about friends with whom he skyped almost daily and that he soaked up every message from Tunisia like a sponge. It was always clear to him and all his friends that it had to happen. Everyone knew that the dictatorship had to be overthrown, only everyone had always said “someday” and no one would have just started it. Ahmed still believes in the revolution, despite all the bad news. He is sure that everything will be fine, he says with a convincing smile. I tell him about Paul Murphy and his hope for a revolution in Europe. Ahmed smiles again, he is sure that there is enough reason for a revolution in Europe, too. But the status quo was very different in Tunesia from nowadays Europe. But then again, no one in Tunisia thought that it could literally happen tomorrow either.

Ahmed points to a mountain top and tells me that he climbed up there last summer with some friends. Particularly the descent through rubble had been difficult, he says. Afterwards they all had torn trousers . But they wanted to know if the black spot on the bright wall actually is a cave. “And, is it a cave?”. “Nah,” says Ahmed, “only a small hole.” Ahmed doesn’t seem unhappy when he talks about his life in Marseille, but his eyes do light up only when he talks about Tunisia.

He grew up in a small town, where everyone knows everyone. The moment he screwed up something, people did not say: It was Ahmed. Instead people said that was the son of so and so.
But isn’t that a lot of pressure?
Indeed he has more freedom here. He is responsible only for himself, not for his family. However, he misses them a lot.
Ahmed’s father is a very intelligent man. When Ahmed was young his father took him often on tours. They never took supplies with them. Instead, the father showed his son to eat what nature provides . “Today I have forgotten everything,” he says as we pluck leaves from a bush and crush thembetween our fingers. They smell good but we don’t know if they are edible.

“And your mother?”
He tells of a strong and funny woman. For many years she would only leave the house covered up. Then she decided against it for a while and now she has again chosen to wear the veil. I didn’t say a word but Ahmed immediately begins to defend his mother. It is her very own decision, his father would never ever force her to do so. He says sometimes he feels like women have more freedom in Tunisia than in Europe. In Tunisia, no one judges you for wearing a veil or not.

It’s my last evening in Marseille. I will stay with a friend of Ahmed, but first I want tosay goodbye to the Hello Marseille Hostel. The hostel was my home base in Marseille. I came every morning, put my backpack in the corner and had breakfast. When I found a place to sleep for the night I would come back to pick up my backpack and join in the shared dinner with the hostel staff and guests. Ahmed also knows the hostel. Some of his friends are helping with the renovation of the bathrooms. And since they always join dinner, Ahmed does so too.


“Is there some freedom in Europe, which does not exist in Tunisia?”
“Yeah, sure”, he says. Even alone that Europe is wealthier, allows for a lot more freedom. The democracies are established here. Talking about that reminds him of something. Before he went to Europe he thought every European is a good citizen. He was actually quite shocked when he saw people littering the streets and letting their dogs shit everywhere.
Sometimes, he says, he feels as thought the people in Europe have pets instead of children. In Tunisia, no one really keeps dogs in the house. However, Ahmed’s father once met a man who kept a very lovely dog as a pet. That had inspired him so much that at Ahmed home dogs are now allowed in the house even though the neighbors give funny looks. Nevertheless,Ahmed prefers children over dogs.
“And could you imagineto stay in Europe anyway?”
“Europe is my girlfriend, Tunisia is Mother.” he says, and he definitely wants to return someday. But first he wants to see a bit more of Europe. With his student visa he can travel to all Schengen-countries without any problems.

Ahmed describes himself not as a European, he is Tunisian. Nevertheless, he is a Muslim living in Europe. Honestly, I had been unaware of that. Up until an evening at the hostel, where we had pork fried with vegetables.Simply because it was by far the cheapest meat in the supermarket. Ahmed and one of the construction workers did not want to eat any of the food. Luckily we had enough salads and baguettes. That evening one of the hostel guests talked about evolution at the table. He had read something in a newspaper and wanted to share it with us. Someone asked Ahmedhis opinion and he said that he did not believe in evolution. He believes that everything was created by a Creator. For him it seems absurd that humans should be related to monkeys. I thought about it for a while and finally I asked him: “Do you think then, that man and woman were created and it is against creation, if a man loves a man or woman a woman?” Ahmed laughed. He does not see the connection. Everyone should live how they want. Creation has nothing to do with that.

After dinner at the hostel, we missed the last subway. That is very easy in Marseille since the last subway runs long before midnight. At least from Monday till Friday. Luckily there are the Vélos – silver bicycles waiting at their stations all over Marseille for riders. In the rain we cycle all the way from the harbor uphill to Ahmed’s friend Anne-Charlotte who gives me a place to sleep for the last night. Anne-Charlotte is a French government official, who confessed to me that she enjoys her job which she never tells anybody because everyone hates the French administration. Asked where she works, she usually says: something with communication. But that’s another story.
Ahmed is waiting in the fine drizzle until Anne-Charlotte opens the door, and then he goes on his Vélo down the road again.

2 thoughts on “Europe is my girlfriend, Tunisia is my mother.

  1. I got a notice on facebook, that a friend shared a link in my timeline, many ideas got up in my mind, but none of them was that he shared what you’re writing about me, actually I dont know how he can find that. any way I’m so glad that you’re writing that 😉

    • I’m very glad you like it! ( and quite relieved…) 🙂
      I sended you a message on couchsurfing so you’d be the first one to see it but obviously it didn’t work… I’m sorry!
      greets from Romania

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