Friday, July 29, 2011

The Pen, Part II: Living Through a Revolution

In case you haven't heard, Tunisians got rid of their dictator, Z. Ben Ali, after demonstrations that lasted a month and ended on January 14, 2011 when he slipped out of the country--his mafiosi family had preceded him, taking with them millions and bleeding the country. Although the demonstrations remained peaceful, there was bloodshed because the police shot at protesters, killed over three hundred, and wounded thousands. The Tunisian revolution was a first in the Arab world, followed by a successful movement in Egypt that involved millions of demonstrators, and massive protests in Bahrain, Yemen, Syria and Libya.  In Tunisia, a major factor was unemployment with 180,000 of the 700,000 unemployed (total population 10 million) being university graduates. Unemployment in some areas, especially interior towns, is still around 80 percent. So here was a mass of people with nothing to lose. The spark: a young man couldn't find work in his town, so he started selling vegetables from a wheelbarrow. The police told him he couldn't do it, there was some kind of altercation (the details remain fuzzy), so he went to the local government building and set himself on fire, a human torch. Now if he had done this in Tunis, nobody would've noticed, but in the towns, everyone is related to everyone else, so the protest marches started immediately and soon all of Tunisia joined in. Taken by surprise, the West just watched, while the French offered to send law enforcement "aid" to the Tunisian police, creating an awkward diplomatic situation after the dictator fled.
       The toughest part has been accomplished--dislodging a dictator generally approved of by the West. Serious problems remain. There were organized looters that arrived in towns at night and burned certain structures, especially the police and national guard stations. These people were presidential guards and the ruling party militia who were paid to provoke chaos and create a vacuum in power and social order so that Tunisians would beg the dictator to come back. Hmmmfff. Fat chance. Tunisians are no longer afraid. After 23 years of fear, they are freed and proud. They organized by neighborhoods to stop the thugs. All things were quiet in my street thanks to a neighborhood watch organized by people who sometimes hadn’t talked to each other in years. There suddenly appeared feelings of solidarity and responsibility. I find this impressive and very positive, for Tunisians have been unable to organize into any kind of real civil society because government policies have promoted fear and division in order to rule.
        Unfortunately, the corrupt infrastructure that served Ben Ali will be difficult to change. The press still appears to have serious problems and seems to be playing to mob rule rather than to the formation of a democracy “by the people and for the people.” After the initial euphoria (suddenly the internet worked right, everyone was critisizing everything, bureaucratic paperwork became more restrained, etc.—it feels so good to stop hitting your head against the wall), the “transition” period has been prolonged until elections in October, making it hard to enforce policies. People are discouraged because changes have not come about fast enough. To make matters worse, the Libyan people's very violent struggle to depose their very violent dictator, Gadaffi, is putting pressure on a fragile Tunisian economy and destabilizing the entire region.  
On a positive note and returning to the idea of the power of the Pen: One of the things that helped the Revolution was technology. People communicated by written text that included image (photos, videos) through Facebook, Twitter, and other internet sites. Thanks to Al-Jazira TV, news coverage was excellent and information flowed and continues to be available. Satellite dishes are all over Tunisia, even in poor areas, so everyone was on the same page. 
I propose, then, that the power of the Pen has adapted to the times and that there is hope that notions of truth and reason will not be muffled. The positive/negative reflecting images of this art quilt--with only a change in language--show that no matter what language, freedom, knowledge, and truth are the same for everyone, they are universal. 
The pens are executed in French knots. The model for this piece was my daughter's favorite fountain pen that she used through secondary school and--more importantly--it persevered in her sweaty hand through the grueling baccalaureate exams. Many years ago she said "That's the quilt I want on my office wall someday." She forgot that she said it, but I didn't. This summer "The Pen" has finally found a home in my daughter's office at an American university.

And I am honored to be a witness to Tunisian courage and the monumental changes that Tunisia has undergone. 

20 comments:

fiberchick said...

You work is exquisite! I am so glad you left a comment on my blog so that I could find you. You may be the most interesting person I have read about in blogland in a long time... How did you end up in Tunisia?

LynCC said...

Hello from Florida. I am surfing quilt blogs and am touched by your journaling. This is an astonishing quilt. Is that thousands of french knots?

LynCC said...

Ahhh. . . I see - yes. Just read the next older post. ;D

Mary Zeran said...

I think I must have fallen in a black hole or something. I missed the last three posts of yours and they were all fantastic. Wonderful work lady. And the quilt and is fantastic. I can't imagine the time and patience it would take to create all those knots.

Carole said...

Hello again. I just love coming to your blog to hear about your life in Tunisia. We get so little news here in Canada. Your daughter will be able to share your story with others when others ask about your magnificent quilt.

Victoria @ BUMBLE BEANS said...

Nadia, I am so pleased you stopped by my blog, or I might not have found your lovely site. Amazing beautiful work.

Laurie said...

Absolutely terrific! I love French knots too. The thought behind it is powerful. I look forward to following your blog.

Notjustnat said...

Thanks Nadia, how nice of you to visit my blog. I cannot reply to this comment so I will post it on your blog. How fascinating living in the farm in Tunisia! We used to be your neighbor Libya (at war at present). We also lived in the Persian Gulf for 7 years. I love and miss Arabic culture. Seeing your pens almost make me cry. Thanks for sharing and please keep in touch.
Hugs
Nat
PS: I will be back and read all your posts!

Judys Fiber Art said...

Thank you Nadia for your lovely comment on my blog. I knew there was some reason that I like French Knots so much, but you really take them to a new level. Enjoyed reading you insights into the culture in Tunisia.

Anneliese said...

This is just a wonderful blog - your texts - your art!

Sarah said...

Hi! Thanks for leaving me a comment on my blog, (I dashed off an email reply right away but have just noticed it was a no-reply so you wouldnt have got it.. d'oh!) it was lovely to hear from you and I wouldnt have found your blog otherwise! That pen quilt is simply stunning!

Diane Wright said...

I'm so glad you were too hot and took relief in searching the blog-o-sphere. Your comment allowed me to find you!

BTW I LOVE your pens! Everything about them. Positive space, negative space, French knots....

Thank you.

Marti said...

I had no idea all that was happening in Tunisia. Your blog is fascinating and I am really enjoying reading about your life there. Your quilts are gorgeous. I can totally see why your daughter wanted that quilt too.

Thank you for visiting my blog. I recognized your pots from a post on Better After too. I have a friend who does mosaics too, everything from mannikins to counters. I can't wait to show her your paint cans.

When I saw your concrete irrigation pipes in your garden, I thought they were tree stumps with moss growing out of them. They blend with the trees really well.

Mitzi said...

Thank you so much for visiting my blog and for your nice comments. I'm so glad I followed the link back to your blog. Wow! I love the peek into your life in Tunisia. I've just finished reading all your posts and I will continue to follow you. Your art quilts are gorgeous and like nothing I've ever seen. I like your renovation posts also. Thanks!

American Homestead said...

Hi, this is Ellen From American Homestead. So happy to hear from you from all the way over in Tunisia. I too am a city girl (NYC) who now lives in the country. Is quilting popular where you live or is this something you became interested in in the US? I just became a follower on your blog and look forward to reading more.
All the best, Ellen

Daintytime said...

These are really something. How big are they? Powerful work coming directly from your experience. Thanks for visiting me at daintytime. I'll look forward to seeing more.

Morna said...

I am so glad you left a comment at my blog - it is how I have now found YOUR blog - and I am loving it. This lesson in history/politics/current event is fascinating. I will keep reading. And your stitching - humbling. I look forward to seeing more.

menduca said...

One word: Beautiful!

Ferret said...

These pens are lovely, and very clever. I like the idea behind them too.

quilteuseforever said...

I begin to read your blog instead of jumping to pictures. How informative ! In France we follow what is on in Tunisia and Lybia carefully, but your post is more interesting than most newspapers.
I read that your Pen was made in 1996 and its message is still so actual ! Great quilt.
Katell