The hotel is half empty, or maybe even less than a quarter of the rooms are occupied. It feels haunted. The oversized lobby has a dome of over 25 meters high, the marble floor shines and the glass elevators are immaculate, but you see staff fussing over stains which do not exist, others filling up trays in the breakfast hall that don’t need filling yet, several bellboys, technicians hanging around without a real purpose, but still pretending to be busy. The sun shines outside, but the two pools on the premises are empty. The view from the room towards the sea also lacks a sense of direction, yes there is the sea, but no, there are no people on the beach. Perhaps it is the weather, it is hardly 20 degrees, but Tunisians know it is not only that. The tourist season has not started yet, but the question is, will it start again? Two terrorist attacks ago, now nearly 2 years, Tunisia was not doing too well either, after the Arab Spring things have not been easy economically, but now it’s worse. There are no more tourist coming, and while we can all reason why, there is no difference with the attacks in London, Paris or Brussels. Why are those cities not put on orange, the colour of the Ministry of Foreign affairs to indicate to avoid a country unless you have necessary travel? As a Ministry you have to take care of your citizens, hence they usually are on the careful side, but when travelling a lot, you cannot feel how arbitrary and how devastating the advise can be for one country versus another. The best way in the end to beat terrorism is to provide an alternative, an alternative which includes equal economic opportunities for all. Inequalities, whether discriminatory or economic can both be feeding grounds for discontent, a discontent that is now used and abused by terrorist ideology. It is time to fill up those hotels again, to give people a chance to live, because this will be the only way we can help build that alternative and prevent a haunted feeling for all of us.
Across from the table sits Omayma, a Sudanese colleague who turns out to speak Dutch. She has lived in Amsterdam for 6 years and has told me earlier she misses the city a lot. ‘Every day is the same in Addis Ababa, I get up in the morning at the same time, and the sun is at exactly the same spot every morning and I take my same coffee there.’ She has something in common with my other colleague, Stefan, who sits to my left side on the table. She has twins, two boys, now 15 years old. ‘I don’t miss the diaper time either,’ she has said moments before, in response to the stories of Stefan. Stefan is still in the middle of his diaper time, but not of twins, but of his 9 month old triplets. ‘The first week, I thought I was never going to go back to work, the second week I thought I was never going to travel again, the third week I thought, okay maybe I can work again.’ After 6 weeks he returned to work, and here we are in a hotel in Tunis 9 months later. He’s travelling again. It is not his favourite thing to do, and we concluded also earlier that neither of us has the ambition to travel to places amidst of war, my brush with it in Afghanistan was enough and for him it has never been a question to go. ‘You become weak when you have kids’, Stefan states, Omayma confirms, ‘yes there’s always the guilt when you’re not there.’ I see the love in both of their eyes. Weak may be not the correct word, careful seems more appropriate. Stefan’s enthusiasm for his triplets is contagious, ‘I first made a list when we found out, of what we all needed and came up to 10.000 euros of baby stuff and I bought a bigger car.’ I chuckle inside, and imagine a scene of a Hollywood comedy where a man runs out after the first ultra sound, straight to the car dealer to at least have this covered, than to really freak out in his new car realising he has left his wife still at the hospital. Both Stefan and Omayma seem to be lost in thought for a second. Looks like it’s a good thing they are going home to their loved ones soon.
I feel the elation around me, a man sways his hips and looks content, another claps rhythmically along. Is it my imagination or does it look more like a rhythm tapped on a darbouka? I smile and look in front of me, the hall has a Romanesque decoration, one could call it kitsch, but it does have an excellent acoustic. Liam Bailey and his band members literally jump around on stage. These are the gifts of travel. It turned out the half empty hotel did have a particular treat: A jazz festival starting the night before my departure. I look around the hall, there is a mix of young and old, each enjoying in their own way. We are just like Europeans my first driver from the airport had said. His French was not too clear to me, but he really tried to stress the point that Tunisians enjoy life in so many ways as Europeans. I always feel awkward when that needs to be stressed. I’d like to think most human beings like to enjoy life in one way or another and I have found very few exceptions when it comes to music, dancing and live music. The second band of Miles Sanko is of a different character, more funk and soul driven, but equally engaging. The hall continues to clap, sing a long and dance at times. He also brings an old favourite of mine, and I hear myself chanting along: ‘I don’t wanna know what’s evil, all I wanna know is love’. What a perfect night.