Highs and Lows in Tunisia

Florita Botts

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I traveled to Tunisia repeatedly from 1974 to 1978 to work for five FAO projects for improvement of agriculture and livestock, in different parts of the country. They each wanted my assistance to produce audio-visual aids to getting across their identity, their subjects and messages to different audiences at different levels-- farmers, students in agricultural schools, technicians and even policy makers.
In meetings with the project managers, we agreed that simple, easy-to-operate projection and sound equipment would be best, with color slides and accompanying scripts which could be produced in many copies for distribution to schools and institutions throughout the country. We worked out lists of priority subjects for each project.

The projects would pool their funds and I produce the audio-visual packages, working alongside their experts in their various specialities After many years of testing, I'd been able to verify that any technical subject, any kind of technical operation, could be taught by well-worked-out slide sequences with a good accompanying text, either recorded on cassette or read by the user. We used color slides copied onto a 35mm indestructible cinema film, called filmstrips. Filmstrip projectors came in all sizes and quality, as they were first developed for use in U.S. classrooms. Film was attached to a hand-operated roller on the projector. The slides kept in sequence, and on one strip of film were easy to handle and show anywhere, even on cheap projectors attached to generators or car battery. They could be kept wound-up in small cans. And many copies could be turned out cheaply and distributed widely.

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In Bizerte, not far from Tunis on my first day of photography, I was teamed with Andreyevich, a Serbian Yugoslav, with the title "Expert in Extension and Training in Vegetable Production." We’d bashed out the shooting scripts together in broken French.

Asparagus was our theme: Improved techniques for growing. It was high on our list of filmstrips on cash crops. Asparagus is a good export item to France. The Tunisians needed and wanted to learn how to grow it.

Our workplace was at a regional agricultural school, picked as an easy site for the photography. First steps were preparation of the seedbed.

The school director helped us pick a student--Ahmed---to do the work and to be our "actor." I used Ahmed in the scenes of hoeing, measuring, planting, mounding, digging up the roots, comparing a ripe asparagus with one that was overripe.

A cold rain had stopped by the time we arrived from Tunis, but there was no promise of sun. The March wind can be cruel in Tunisia. My hands were frozen, but I couldn’t wear gloves while working with two cameras and flash.

Ahmed didn’t seem to notice the cold. He said he was used to being out in it. Andreyevich was thoroughly bundled up, wool scarf wound around and covering his pointed chin, wool-lined leather jacket, thick gloves. He wasn’t an outdoor type. Putty complexion, balding at forty, had headaches and stomach aches and was afraid of drafts. He was the Bureaucrat Supreme. In his project office in Tunis where we wrote the shooting scripts, at 5:00 p.m. we had to stop writing mid-sentence because it was five p.m. and he just didn’t work beyond that time. It wasn’t in his terms of reference. He balked at my suggestion of being present at a farmers’ meeting at night. It was the only time that the extension agents would be meeting with the farmers, after their work was over for the day, and I wanted to attend some of these sessions, meet farmers, get a picture of how these meetings were conducted.

I visualized him perfectly at home behind a counter as a postal clerk, weighing envelopes and packages, stamping them. I wondered if he'd ever planted and tended and harvested asparagus or any other vegetable in Yugoslavia. And then if he’d ever taught Serbian peasants how to do it.

We took a lunch-break, toured classrooms with the director of the school. Andreyevich had said how poorly equipped the school was. In fact, there were no teaching materials in sight, not even a poster. In the middle of the bare room hung a framed color photo of President Bourghiba, le Combatant Supreme he was called, the father of Tunisia’s independence from the French colonialists.

"What about projection equipment, and films, filmstrips, slides?" I asked.

A closet was unlocked. A Kodak Carousel slide projector, most expensive model donated by U.S.AID, lay on a bare shelf.

"It’s brand-new. But it doesn’t work," the director said.

We plugged it in, nothing happened.

"The quartz lamp is burned out," I said. "Do you have a spare?"

"There's no spare. Unfortunately we have no funds to buy a new one. They're very expensive."

Spare parts were imported, and Tunisia had little foreign exchange to pay. This was the Third-World refrain: There's no spare part. We can't afford to buy it with foreign currency.

The beautiful useless projector was examined. We saw that it was set for U.S.A.110 volts. Whoever switched it on for its inauguration didn’t check the voltage setting: Tunisia's 220 volts popped the lamp. Its first day out of the wrapping. The countless examples of sophisticated projection equipment I’d seen, donated by well-intentioned foreign donors to Third-World schools turned into useless junk in no time. And often never used, rusting in their wrappings, because no one thought about the software and there was nothing to project.

Tunisia had 63 schools for training in agriculture and livestock breeding of different levels. That was an amazing figure for this little country. But most of them were bare buildings with some chairs and tables, poorly paid instructors. Farm machinery, yes, plenty, thanks to donor countries ready to send their own manufactured tractors, combine harvesters, sophisticated planters and seeders etc. Probably not one of these schools had proper training manuals, nor audio-visual software, nor the appropriate functioning hardware. But I was determined to do something about it that time. With our production program and pooling of resources, we'd be able to equip these schools with the teaching aids made in Tunisia and with simple and sturdy--and cheap--projectors. And we'd teach the teachers how to use them properly.
After we went as far as we could with asparagus for the day, I clumped out in the mud to attempt some journalistic photos of two of our fellow FAO experts who had come with us in the car from the project office in Tunis.

Novez, French, and Bleard, Belgian, were supervising some of the trainees. Bleard demonstrated tractor attachments to one group. One student was in the driver's seat of a Fiat tractor, while another linked it to a mowing machine and Bleard explained the cutter bar.

The other Tunisian kids--they're just kids, late teens-- stood around it in the cold mud ruining their city shoes, skinny shoulders hunched in cheap jackets whipped by the nasty wind. I wondered why they weren't wearing the sheep’s-wool hooded burnoose, the best invention against North African wind. The fathers of these kids wore them for sure. Not hip modern, I supposed.

Novez explained olive-tree pruning to another group. I took a few routine photos of them under a tree while Novez pointed to a branch and one student began to saw it off.

Bleard and Novez were both thin-lipped, not friendly, bored. I didn’t warm to them, nor they to me.

Bleard wore a gold diamond ring on his puffy little finger. I tried to keep it out of the photo while he pointed to the blades of the cutter bar. Both of these men had already worked for other UN development projects, up to now always in tropical Africa. Their wives were installed in Tunis. They were happy to be out of black Africa and close to Europe, even though they didn't like Tunis nor the Tunisians, whom they called les Arabes. Their children studied in the international lycée, school tuition paid for by FAO. When they graduated, if they went to universities in Belgium and France, tuition would be paid for. Bleard and Novez were both part of what we in Headquarters called "the Belgian Mafia" "The French Mafia": already pals with the Belgian and French administrators in FAO through ex-colonial-service connections, always assured of new project assignments.

There were no Tunisian instructors around. It was odd that these super-experts weren’t helping the instructors to improve their technical knowledge, instead of directly teaching this group of kids. If they worked this way they wouldn't spread themselves around the 63 agriculture schools in the country.


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Back another time at the Bizerte agricultural school. We started on the artichoke. It’s a complicated plant, with many operations involved in growing it over a two-year cycle. The artichoke is propagated in nurseries, and it's such a complex operation that we needed to dedicate an entire film to propagation. A second one would be on growing and harvesting.

When I saw how many times during their growing cycle the plants had to be sprayed with insecticide and fungicide I decided that I'd never eat another artichoke. They're attacked by blight, aphids, several kinds of caterpillars-- from underground, and inside the stalks, and in the heads. And snails, white clusters of small snails. Even while the plants were in the nursery they had to be sprayed every fifteen days.

* * * * *

Then it was to Beja, in the fertile central plain of Tunisia, at a flourishing farm which had been established and well-run by French colonists, as were all the big farms in this country. After independence, they were taken over by the Tunisian élite or the State.

This farm was owned by a Colonel. The perfectly white-washed home with blue shutters, geraniums, bougainvillea, grape arbor, healthy apricot and peach trees, all sparkled well-being, and proclaimed that this country home and farm and stables were privately owned by someone who had money and knew how to make more. He was cozy with our Improvement of Beef Production Project. He should have been. He was getting free technical advice from our experts, and made sure his foreman and laborers applied it.

In a stable, a Swiss Brown cow was giving birth and I photographed the sequence. We’d had just enough time to set up the scene before the birthing: a clean bed of straw, the worker in charge of the cows--Slah-- in decent overalls, hair combed (the "actor" in our slide-film). Mounot, French, whose title was Expert in Cattle Production, was in charge, barking orders in staccato French to Slah and to me. He hopped and jerked non-stop. Mounot didn't fit the portrait of an expert in cattle management. He'd have convinced me as the floorwalker in ladies' wear in a department store. Jittery, glaring at his frumpish sales girls, snapping orders, transmitting his strung-up nerve waves to cowed creatures; withering, humiliating. Sneering at the cashier if she took out her compact to top up her lipstick. How in the hell had he ended up in cow barns, this spiff in black-and-white checkered suit, hair dyed black to match?

Mounot is keen on a series of filmstrips: insemination artificial; rearing calves; fattening young steers; hand-milking - cleanliness and proper procedure. "Les Arabes are filthy," was his refrain. "They never wash their hands, nor the cow's teats before milking". I had a heavy list of related subjects to be worked out with other experts: how to make silage; the right way to grow and harvest hay; operation and servicing of forage harvesters. We'd do most of the photography on the Colonel's farm, because it was a wealthy farm and was so perfect.

The mother cow was allowed to clean her newborn calf, and then Slah took over, rubbed it down with clean sacking. He tied the umbilical cord; cut it with scissors; disinfected it, and I recorded these operations in close-up on color film. Before the mother could suckle it even once her newborn was snatched and whisked away to a barn, weighed, plunked in a narrow pen, a "boxe" it was called in French, and its ear tagged. Mama was milked by hand for her colostrum. While it was still warm it went in a pail back to Baby and it was taught right away to drink from it. I could hear the mother cow calling to her calf from her stable while I photographed a close-up of Slah's finger in the calf's muzzle over the pail, imitating a teat, the rich yellow colostrum dripping from it as the calf got a taste and its head was lowered into the pail. It started to drink.

The dam would never suckle her calf. It would drink her milk in the bucket, live in its boxe and I'd have to photograph it during its life of confinement.

"This is so inhuman, cruel," I said.

"Efficient production," Mounot snapped. "It’s the way it’s done. The mother doesn't suffer. The calf doesn't either."

"Like hell she doesn't. And like hell it doesn't," I muttered.

There were other "boxes" containing Swiss Brown calves at different stages of growth. After one month they were grouped together in pens according to age. We decided to photograph one of each stage as though they were "our calf" growing up and weaned. There was a three-month-old with a diet of six liters of milk per day, hay and concentrates. Then a seven-month-old, sleek, muscular and clean.
The females were separated from the males at that seven-month stage.

When the male calf reached the baby-beef stage, he was put in a stable, chained to his feeding and drinking troughs. All he could do was stand up and lie down, eat, eat, fattened for you-know-what. I couldn't show my pain to Mounot, he would scoff and say the obvious: "Hypocrite. You do appreciate a good steak, I'm sure." He barely tolerated me. I was a female. Oh, the young green-eyed dark-eyed Tunisian males! Mounot's chemistry fluviated when he was surrounded by his trainees.

He treated Tunisian petty officials with contempt. (Not the Colonel, I noticed.) He was usually in a rage of intolerance and impatience, which he didn't hide.

When we were in search of a cow ready to calve we’d driven to one of the state-run cooperative farms in the central plain. We’d entered the cow barn, the foreman told us that their forty Friesian cows were in heat and their Friesian bull couldn't perform: he was dying. Mounot blurted: "Typical! These cows were brought by plane from Amsterdam, donated by the Dutch government. All pregnant when they were shipped, they calved here. This year there won’t be any new calves. Dégoutant! "

There, in the calf barn the calves were bellowing in unison, hungry. The foreman had explained that the coop had run out of feed and funds to purchase more. Mounot exploded. "You hear that? That's Arab planning for you!"

He’d stalked out of the barn, rudely ignoring the foreman. To me he said: "I want to show you the horrible quality of their hay, so you'll understand why we should make a film on proper hay-making. Harvested too late, so it's lost all nutritional value. Vetch turned into pure straw. These cows produce eight liters per day on their diet of pure straw and weeds instead of the twenty-five they could produce. The hay cutter—a Danish model, a Danish government donation of course-- broke down and no one knows how to repair it. So the hay wasn't cut in time. By the time they got off their asses and picked up their hand scythes the hay’d turned to worthless straw in the fields. Just take a look at this harvester! Brand-new! Still not repaired. Never will be."

All this was an obvious reason why the FAO projects were in Tunisia, I’d thought while Mounot ranted. To teach farm management to ex-colonial laborers who were brusquely, brutally converted into farmers and managers without training of any kind. These cooperative enterprises were the State's attempt to take over some of the flourishing French colonial farms when the French were kicked out. From 1968 the whole country was under the cooperative system. But no one knew anything about organizing to cooperate, few knew anything about farm management, let alone the cooperative system, and this socialist rhetoric was a disaster, the cooperatives in chaos.

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Another day back at the Colonel's pretty farm. More sequences on calf rearing: drenching syringe for parasites; vaccination of a five-month-old heifer, and the trimming of her toes. One-month-old calf in box, drinking milk from the bucket. Transferred to a collective stall with others of same age. Weaning program. Depressing day. Mounot was a jackhammer, jabbing, raving, repeating the same notes over and over, Why do you take the photo from here?…..Take it from this angle. Vite. VITE! Before he moves! … Le salaud!… Les Arabes! Sales, incompetents......

I wanted to shout cut it out, stop it, shut up, basta. I can't stand you and can't stand to photograph the cruel beef industry.

After our day’s work we’d drive back to Tunis, Mounot at the wheel, swerving, jerking the car. "Bandes de sauvages!" he’d shriek. "Now what's he doing in the middle of the road?....Look at that! Look at that car edging over to the left. You see how they are here? You see?.... Oh no you don't, mister, I won't let you get away with that...." etc. He hopped in the driver's seat, honking, driving too fast, slamming brakes. Cords swelling in his thin neck.

* * * * *

Another of the FAO projects was at Medjes el Bab: Project Tunisia18 College de Machinisme agricole, in the heart of the fertile central plain, a few hours’ drive from Tunis. A training school, well endowed with five international experts, turning out fifty graduates a year with the title of Agricultural Machinery Technician.

We'd had meetings at the college to discuss what teaching films would be useful in their field. The experts told me that this little country probably had more farm machinery than any other developing country, ninety percent of it coming from foreign donors. And most of it was turned to junk, rusting, rotting, after the first breakdown, for lack of spare parts. And broken-down for lack of proper maintenance.

Vic Deman, the director, was a Flemish Belgian, short and round, bustling, friendly. He put me at ease with his all-male staff. "I'm glad we can produce some training materials," he said. "What the wretched agricultural schools in this country need are a complete series of filmstrips on farm-machinery maintenance. Nothing like that exists in any country. They'd replace the manufacturers’ instruction booklets that are too technical to read."

"No one ever reads them," added Daniel Dumont, French. "Our students don’t either."

I couldn’t resist thinking: finally an attractive man! There weren't any others like Dumont in the room. The rest of the staff was lack-luster, washed-out, anonymous. Glum. Dreary like many of our FAO experts. He sparkled. Sun-tanned, thick butterscotch hair. His biceps were a little too exaggerated but he was shapely. I sat next to him at lunch, liked his merry rust-colored eyes and the laugh-lines spreading out toward his ears. He said he’d worked in Syria before this assignment, where single-handedly he turned ten thousand acres of desert into cotton. That was probably bragging, but he was a blast of positive energy. Said he was happiest when driving a bulldozer across vast undeveloped land. He had a generous mouth that he obviously liked to open wide and show his small even teeth when he smiled and laughed. I asked Dumont what he was doing at this college teaching three-point linkage, adjusting lengths of transmissions, when he could have other more challenging assignments. He said that he needed to rest for a while, but it didn’t seem likely that he would ever rest anywhere. There seemed to be a volcano inside.

"We could start with the wheeled tractor," Vic Deman said. "Daily maintenance. And then go on to periodic maintenance."

"Is this film series going to be for mechanics?" I asked. "I don't see how we can provide lessons to mechanics."

"No! It should be for ordinary tractor drivers," Dumont said. "They're the ones killing their machines. There isn't even the simplest cleaning operation that they'll do."

Vic Deman: "Just take the oil filter for an example. We try over and over to explain why it must be cleaned. With a clean rag!"

Dumont: "La jauge! Any old greasy filthy piece of paper or rag lying in the dirt!"

Me to Vic (in English): "What’s la jauge?" He was the only one of the staff who spoke English.
"Dipstick."

I gagged on the mouthfuls of technical-machinery vocabulary in French that I’d have to master. My college French was Racine, Le Cid, Moliere, Baudelaire.... ball joints, sump capacity, swath, the grease nipples, screwing the clevis.

Le chiffon. French for "rag".

It made me think. I imagined that our concept of a clean rag differed from a Tunisian peasant’s. I doubted that there were expendable rags hanging on a nail in a Tunisian worker’s hut.
The tractor drivers, like all the laborers, were at the poverty line. Even if they were working for rich landowners, like the Colonel, they received starvation wages. When we worked on a hay-making sequence in the Colonel's well-tended alfalfa, the driver of his Ford tractor with mobile baler wore a threadbare U.S. army coat from World War II, remnant of the allied battle against the Germans in North Africa in the 1940's. How many men were kept warm in these remnants, worn every cold winter and handed down for thirty years, cuffs frayed, sleeves patched, all buttons missing?

I had another vivid memory while these men talked on about instructing the cleaning operations. On the road, at Jendouba, when we’d had to have a flat tire repaired. While we waited I made a study of the evolution of ragged clothing on two boys at work on the inner tube. First to go are the buttons. Then the zipper breaks on the pants; the crotch is worn thin. The behind splits open and stays open. Knees wear through. The pockets tear open. Cuffs ravel. Elbows burst through the sleeves. The shoulder ends wear through. Sweater is ripped open under the armpits. But layers of split clothing are worn so that one covers the split of the other.

Le chiffon to wipe the dipstick, to clean the oil filter.

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Memory of a free week end on the Island of Kerkennah, unspoiled, undiscovered, no cars. The clean water, the clean air. Cycling all morning on the bicycle that I’d rented in the port of Sfax and brought with me to the island on the ferry. The fery was just a converted fishing boat. The bicycle’s pedal fell off, the seat kept tilting back; the brakes didn't work, the handlebar slipped down constantly and I’d pull it up. The tires were worn thin. It was the worst bike I'd ever ridden. But riding across the tiny island on it was a pure joy, was gold wheat against pink maguey flowering yellow, wind ruffling the date palms; the blue sea winking through white houses and a camel grazing. The open friendly way I was greeted—it was with genuine interest in welcoming a traveler, the people still unspoiled. A woman with a camel pulling a tiller stopped to wave gaily to me. Those women threshing grain greeted me as I stopped to watch them guiding their camel in a circle around the threshing floor. They grasped my hand warmly, in sisterhood. There was no undercurrent of suspicion.

It would all change. A 200-bed hotel was going up. Cars and tour busses would soon be zooming around the tiny island. The people and the children would become crafty, would yell baksheesh bonbon at the tour-bus passengers.

My dinky hotel was the only one on the island, my box room smelled of raw cement. I was the only guest. That morning at 6:15 the peasant youth improvising as desk clerk/bellboy looked in my shutter-less bedroom window, just as I was coming out of the bathroom naked. He had such a stunned look on his face; I can still see his saucer eyes as I quickly stepped back into the bathroom and slammed the door.
My weekend over, it was time to return to the ferry on my junkheap of a bicycle. The mason who supervised the building of the 200-bed hotel came along on his motorbike just as I was struggling to tie my suitcase on the rack. He sweetly offered to tow my bike, he was also going to the ferry to Sfax. He clamped my suitcase between his knees on his motorbike. I hung on to my slipping handlebar with one hand, with the other gripped his arm and off we went side by side. He wasn't sly or fresh, didn't treat me as a freak, was only helping a female in distress on a rickety bicycle.

On the bus back to Tunis, I chatted with the passenger sitting next to me. He was a Libyan, sporting a brand-new red corduroy shirt. He was traveling from Tripoli to Tunis to see an eye doctor. Butane gas had spurted in one of his eyes three weeks ago. The eye was swollen, and he couldn't see from it. The Libyan doc had given him some ointment but it had no effect. He said there were few doctors in Libya; when Ghedaffi took over all the European doctors left abruptly. Anyone who could afford it went to Tunis for treatment. "Libya is dead with Ghedaffi. Work, and nothing else. No wine, no women. Prohibited."

Libyans went to Tunis for alcohol and sex, as well.

He pulled out a package of almonds, offered some to me: "Almonds, the fruit of friendship."

In Sfax I’d seen lines of Tunisian males in front of the Libyan Embassy, applying for work permits. Oil-rich Libya needed manual laborers.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Sidi Thabet, outside Tunis. With Mounot at the National Center for Artificial Insemination of cattle. We were working on the sequences of sperm collecting, the labs, refrigeration. In the cattle yard, a cow—called "a teaser"-- was held in the mounting stall. A magnificent Friesian stud bull with an extraordinary pedigree was being led to the cow. I was very tense. I had to capture the instants when the stud bull would mount her, the worker in a flash would slip an artificial vagina in place of the cow’s and the bull would ejaculate into it. To do this I had to stand very close by the side of this enormous, terrifyingly powerful creature, to photograph the procedure. I’d have to crouch and be eye-level with the bull’s penis.

A group of young Tunisian males—Mounot’s trainees—were in the yard, assembling to witness this operation. They giggled together, elbow-jabbed each other. It was obvious that they were making the usual schoolboy remarks. They watched me, lone female about to photograph this gigantic mating. I felt alone on a stage with blinding headlights on me. A grinning worker held the artificial vagina – long plastic cylinder lined with rubber, glass tube at its tip to hold the collected sperm—and demonstrated to the group of tittering youth how it was lubricated with vaseline so the bull’s penis could slip in easily. He leered with them. The atmosphere was awful. I don’t feel that Mounot was on my side. He was showing off in front of his pets, he strutted, barked useless orders at me.

The bull lumbered toward me and the cow, sniffed her vulva sounding like bellows fanning a fire. With a low groan he heaved his ponderous body to mount her. I felt the earth tremble with the weight of this animal, out slithered his huge red penis glistening with the light of my flash, the worker on his other side caught it with the cylinder and it slipped in. The bull shook and the worker’s hold on the cylinder faltered, it jerked away just when the bull ejaculated, spraying me with semen.

The uproar, hilarity from the workers, trainees, scorners of females, while I mopped my face, camera, flash with my bandana. I was sick about my precious Leica, my favorite 28 mm lens, dripping with semen. Mounot was splitting his sides. No one came to assist me. Was it a put-up job, I kept thinking, grotesque theater at my expense?

* * * * * * * * *

Another time during those years in the 1970s: heading south with Daoud, a young Tunisian agronomist. He was gentle, on the melancholy side. He'd had a scholarship for a degree in agronomy in France. Told me about the two summers as a farm laborer in France when he was nineteen and twenty. What he learned about French family and social life during those months, how attracted he was to the easy relationship between couples, child/parents, and how he realized that this rigid severity of stifling Tunisian family life had to be altered.

The young Tunisians I worked with were planners of their lives: the engagement was planned and saved for, the marriage was planned and saved for, sometimes for years. The little plot of land, gold jewelry for the engagement, the furniture. They couldn’t marry until all that was taken care of.

Daoud invited me to his wedding for next fall after Ramadan. He’d already bought the gold for his wife—necklace, earrings, bracelet, ring, costing him the equivalent of $1,250. By the time he’d arrive at the wedding he would have spent $5,000 in dinars. He dreamt of buying a farm that he would never have. The price for one hectare of dry land--no water source --was $500. He’d need a minimum of twenty hectares in order to raise steers and earn a modest living with the same management system he was advising at the twenty-five farms in his district. But his salary was only $250 a month. That was his reward for a degree in agriculture from Montpellier University.

He took me to Bou Slim farm for photographs of a model stable for beef cattle. The owner was a rich olive oil exporter who lived in Tunis. We met Mohamed, his tall son, who was expecting us, handsome, already the stereotype of a country gentleman with Liberty silk neck scarf and cashmere sweater, loafers. He managed the 200-hectare farm and was enthusiastic about the help Daoud’s project was giving him. He was eager to show off his well-fattened steers in their clean stables, and the good quality silage they were being fed.


We were invited to a lunch of mechouiya and chicken couscous.

"It’s easy to adopt the new fattening system and technology your project teaches when you’ve two hundred hectares, and are rich to begin with," I said to Daoud when we drove back to Tunis in the early evening.

"I know that," he said.

* * * * * * *

On the road, where we stopped to photograph erosion and stunted barley in stony soil. Two women walked toward us. Purple cloth clung to their bodies against the dry hot wind. They wound their way slowly along the edges of the barley fields, balancing large sacks on their heads. They were barefoot. We asked them where they were going. To Siliana, to sell what they had in their bags. "What are you selling?" "Baboush." One of the women lowered the sack to the ground to show us. I saw her breasts and tattooed Berber crosses on her chest as she leaned over. Her body was as lean and dry as the barley.
She was carrying a sack full of snails, thousands of tiny white snails. These snails were everywhere, on the windbreaks of eucalyptus trees along the highways, sucking on the tree trunks, on thistles in dry fields, covering prickly pear cacti. I’d seen a rusty plow in an artichoke field encrusted with these small pearly snails.

We took the two women and their snails in our car to Siliana. When they descended, they put on their shoes which were tied to their belts.


* * * * *

A trip deeper into the south: on the way to Ouled M'hamed. Daniel Dumont, the expert in farm machinery, was driving.

It was stimulating to be with him. He was level, didn’t need to maintain the show of being l'expert. He was passionate about agriculture. Told me about his farm that he owned in Provence. "It’s my greatest love." He was happy when he was with farmers. And they sensed that right away. He had the bonus of being able to speak to them in Arabic, which should be one of the requisites for l'expert in North Africa. He was a terrific communicator, the Tunisians had great laughs with him, they liked the wicked twinkle in his merry eyes. Sometimes he was too revved-up and would start roaring, but I noticed that the Tunisians liked it.

We were heading for a one-man project in the middle of nowhere, kilometers from the nearest town and far from the coast, far from Tunis. Scrub, brush, tumbleweed, salt washes, a dirt road that went on and on. We were on the edge of the Sahara, a treeless prairie. Daniel, who spoke no English, called it "badlands."

I laughed. "It's not badlands, that's an English expression for much worse land than this." He insisted it was a French word and this was what it was, and I let it go, agreeing that it was pretty awful there.


These badlands were once the granary of the Roman empire. We stopped to examine massive stone menhirs standing alone in this desolate plain: what was left of Roman olive presses. Enormous grinding stones lay on the prairie floor. Purple thistles pricked through the holes in their centers. We figured out that there were three distinct presses. Olive presses of this dimension indicated that they were central among masses of olive groves.


Now nothing, not a tree of any kind. Further along the road Daniel pointed out a copious Roman cistern, sand drifts filling up inside it, its walls intact in fine Roman brickwork.

The project we were traveling to was called "Tunisia 17 - Démonstrations agricoles". Its aim was to demonstrate how good management of agriculture could make grain and olives possible there, and when the local population (shepherds and goatherds) saw it, they'd follow the healing light. It was truly lit up, from far away. Gleaming on the horizon were patterns of emerald winter wheat, alfalfa, lines of feathery windbreaks, olive groves.

Daniel, who worked with me on the farm-machinery series and said he was wildly happy driving a bulldozer, also insisted that we produce a program on animal traction. He’d organized our trip to this project where we could get good sequences on cultivation using draft animals, particularly camels, mules or donkeys. Animal-drawn steel tillers and other implements, like clod-crushing rollers, seed drills, levelers, weeders, had been perfected that Daniel said must be well advertised, and were being used at the Ouled M’hamed project. He--and only a handful of other foreign experts--were convinced that camels and mules should not become obsolete. He was concerned about the small farmers in this country. Tunisia had thousands of small farmers who couldn't afford farm machinery, and didn't even need it on their small plots. But "appropriate technology" was not a buzzword in FAO, and it wasn’t among the French-educated Tunisians.

We drove into the farm. The first sight through casuarina windbreaks was a camel with man guiding a ridger through a potato field. The camel's head was high, his bird-legs stepped delicately between the rows of plants, but you could feel camel power, the turbaned worker behind him holding reins and ridger handles and they moved rapidly together, straight, effortlessly consonant. Daniel stopped the car, we watched the plow sliding along. "The soil's sandy, light, not as heavy as in the north," he said. "It's easier work for the camel. Even though camels are really strong."


"What a straight line he keeps. Not a single plant is stepped on."

"That's a well-trained camel--and driver. The distance between rows is probably no more than fifty centimeters." He mused: "I must ask Fons what potato variety he's planted here, probably Alpha or Singer."

Fons and a worker were on the edge of a wheat field fitting irrigation pipes. They both wore the Tunisian farmer's straw hat, both were in old ripped faded sweaters, baggy pants, rubber boots. Fons had a black beard, black mustache, sun-browned face; the worker was beardless, with a brown mustache, sun-browned face. I knew who was who because Fons gave directions, pointing to a locking lever at the pipe connections. He delivered energy, the other man was passive, waited to turn on when he had to.
Fons got into our car, gave me a leathery handshake. Daniel had already told me that Fons was a very experienced agronomist, grew up in Morocco, son of a French colonial farmer, spoke perfect Arabic.

"He's a field man."

It could almost be called pioneering. Well, almost. One French agronomist in this remote and desolate plain, in a few years had turned three thousand acres of brush into an incredible list of crops and orchards.


Pistachio, almonds, olives, peaches, chickpeas, alfalfa, sunflowers, fava beans, tomatoes, peppers, sorghum, wheat. Anything would grow there. With pumping stations and irrigation systems, however. That was the secret underlining this scintillating corner of badlands: pumped water. Plus $80,000 of U.N. money a year. I didn’t gulp at that. It was cheap. Of course it wasn’t pioneering, though, I took that back.
Fons had experimented with several species of windbreaks to protect his orchards from the Saharan sand and hot winds. He also planted Australian species of acacias that could survive without watering and were good animal fodder.

He and his gentle wife installed us in the rudimentary guest house, invited us to share a superb beef carbonnade in their own simple kitchen. There was no electricity; at night a generator was switched on. No Tunisian professionals lived or worked there. You would never find one stuck in Ouled M'hamed or in any other isolated corner of the country. I didn't say this with sarcasm. Why should they, with their low salaries. Fons was paid over twenty times more, spent nothing and filled up a bank account in France.

* * * * *

"So, is it démonstrations agricoles?" I asked Daniel, while Fons was busy giving an order to a laborer.

"To whom is it demonstrating?"

Once in a while there were demonstration days, he said; a few professionals and extension agents from the Ministry of Agriculture were dislodged from their desks in Tunis and sent to stand on the edges of these beautiful fields and ask questions with Fons answering. "Is the variety Inia or Geral?" "No, it's Tobari." "Our chickpeas were sown on December 17 and on January 12, with two spacings 60/20 and 60/15." "When did you sow the barley?" "The end of October." They'd discuss how many millimeters of irrigation it needed. They'd watch a hand-worked machine cutting barley for fodder and pretend to be interested. Special implements would be attached to a camel to demonstrate what it could do with them, and they'd pretend to be interested but couldn't care less.


No farmers came to these demonstrations, because there weren't any on the prairie, only poor shepherds and their families in huts that cropped up around the water point after the government drilled for water to irrigate this project.


Some of them were paid laborers in Fons's project. He gave them orders, oversaw the results. They also saw the results. Is that what démonstration meant?

There was a presumption here--and in most of the projects I'd seen-- of an automatic spread of the benefits of development. It was presumed that these shepherds who had settled around the water supply, after seeing what was being done, would strike out, clear the prairie of the brush (with hand hoes?), level the earth, plant windbreaks, apricots, put in sprinklers and know that the dosage for wheat was 10 millimeters per hour, sow chickpeas with correct spacing, because they'd already done it for pay. But there wouldn't be any government back-up, no services to help them. They were so poor they would never be able to get credit even to buy the basic tools to start with.

Education was not the central thrust of this project. Fons was not an educator. He didn't even know that he was supposed to be. He had such a surprised look when I asked him if he organized any teaching sessions with the local people. He was a pure technician. Excellent without doubt. He saw the problems of development only as a technical one, like all his peers, like his father in Morocco who’d turned scrub land into a rich farm, giving orders to cheap laborers.

I was in a hot shower heated with scarce, precious firewood, when Daniel, naked, entered the stall, grabbed the soap. "There’s only enough hot water for one shower," he said, grinning but wary, daring me. I felt very hospitable. I laughed, delighted. "Bienvenu!" I soaped him, he soaped me, we clung, rubbed, it was delicious to caress his slick muscles, his powerful shoulders, backside, the hot shower going to tepid.

* * * * *

Memory of a photograph I didn't take but will always regret not taking. A woman riding a horse--a beautiful young woman riding a beautiful horse--across the scalloped Tunisian hills. She had a white scarf that floated in the wind, long loose white trousers, black boots, and carried herself on that horse with stature, with knowledge of her beauty. A princess! Her saddle and harnesses in red leather were regally decorated in yellow and green embroidery, the saddle blanket red with yellow fringe. Behind her followed a man riding a donkey, clearly a peasant, her guard.

I now think I must have dreamed that image, it was so incredible in this landscape where all I saw every day were women staggering along the road with loads of firewood or animal fodder on their backs. The men would be on horse- or donkey-back, and the women on foot, on bare feet.

* * * * *

Back at the farm machinery college in Medjes el Bab to work in a shed on photos of daily maintenance of the wheeled tractor. An invitation for a lunch break in the home of Vic Deman, the director, and his wife Sophie. Lunch for one guest—me. I sat down at the table. The menu was written out on a neat card, standing inside a silver dachshund in the center of the table. (Sophie was mad about dachshunds, she said. A live one was already sitting by our legs, quivering to start begging when the food came) Table was set with impeccably polished silverware, a silver dachshund for toothpicks, two sizes of drinking glasses, and the linen napkin was folded in a most complicated pyramid. A Tunisian girl-maid in powder-blue uniform poured water in the larger glasses, red wine in the smaller. We ate our soufflé, after which Sophie asked Vic to please change places. He was sitting in his usual place, but with a female guest the one man must sit between the women, she said. The steaks had crepe paper and tin foil decorations on the tip of the bone. The potatoes had been cut into perfect little balls.

Before lunch we were served white wine and triangles of paté canapés topped with a walnut on each, and dates filled with butter, and cheese squares stabbed by plastic toothpicks.

The conversation was about the differences between the Tunisians and the Europeans. Vic said that the Tunisians weren’t technicians, had no mechanical sense. They were literary, poetic. But they thought they understood our technology. Or at least they wouldn’t ever admit that they didn’t understand. They always said when you attempted to give them technical information or transmit a skill: "Je sais, je sais," invariably.

"It’s amazing to me that they don’t know what a Rolls Royce is, or a Bentley! My son is six years old and he knows a Rolls Royce!" Vic exclaimed.

For dessert we had rich chocolate and nut pudding, with whip-cream squiggles. All this on a working day in rural Tunisia.

After this rich lunch I staggered back to the hot tractor shed where we were working on photos of the fourteen greasing operations to be carried out every fifty hours.

* * * * *

One of the times I occasionally stopped over in Jendouba, an ugly market town in the direction of the Algerian border, to break up a long drive toward the southwestern side of the country. I got up early in the morning, to take a walk. The sun was already sizzling hot. The buyers and sellers were already milling about It was souk day. Sounds were the agonized bleating of the goats and lambs trussed and tied to the baggage rack on top of the rickety bus in the blistering sun. A billy goat raised his head and cried loudly. It wasn't a bleat, but a long cry, a thumping of his struggling body, his trussed hooves, against the bus roof. Next to him lay bodies of panting lambs, sides heaving with rapid breathing. Under this roof of trussed thumping animals the bus passengers sat, looking idly out of the window, conversing, waiting for the bus to leave.

I took a walk along the Medjerda river, which turned out to be everyone's toilet. Children throwing stones and shouting Bonjour.

Not a female in sight on the main street, or in the crowded square of cafés and shops. The cafés were full of shouting males, playing cards, having a shoeshine, staring at the passersby, greeting each other with slaps and kisses. I had a coffee at Café de la Jeunesse. The all-male youth lounging around tables stared insolently at me, a lone female in jeans.

I thought of describing my filthy hotel room in my notebook that morning when I got up. It was typical of many that I slept in during my time in Tunisia. The spotted wooden floor, hairy dustballs under the bed, the torn piece of bruised rug, splatted walls the color of parrot shit, the stinking toilet, cruddy wash basin....and so on and on. But filth was so much the same everywhere. I was tired of describing it. There was nothing new to be said about filth. It was monotonous.

I would have liked to describe the morning noise outside my hotel window (and inside my room). Like sounds being fed into a wind tunnel: volume-broken radios, Arab music, its monotonous scraping and bumping and wailing that went on and on; men shouting, engines churning, nasal prayers over a crackling loudspeaker from a nearby mosque, a generator putt-putting in the cafe below. Endless gusts of sound propelled by some diabolical machine.

From my window I saw the quaint train station, all-white French colonial, roof with Tunisian-blue ornamental trim of metal like lace. A child’s-book station. Storks were nesting on its gabled roof, unperturbed by the arrival of the noisy engine below. One stork landed, a snake in its beak, walked gingerly along the peak of the roof, wobbled dangerously, balanced with its wings. Two fledglings rose up from the nest, grabbed at the snake.

* * * * *

Daniel and I were traveling north of Tunis, along the edge of the few remaining forests.

For our filmstrip on maintenance of forage harvesters, Daniel had a list of a few well-managed farms where we could do the photography. "There’s one farmer I want you to meet," he said. "He’s a real farmer, not a paid laborer nor a rich Colonel. Made it all on his own hard work, without foreign aid. He runs a fifty-cow dairy. He’s got a flail-type forage harvester—Danish model, bought with his own money. You’ll be happy to see one machine in the country that works, properly maintained."

The farm had its back to an oak forest that extended up a mountain. One of the rare forests in the country. Below were the farmer’s fields of alfalfa, vetch, barley. We drove into the farmyard, met by friendly barking dogs of various sizes. In the middle of this barnyard a tremendous wild boar lay on its side. It didn’t move, except to lift its massive head complete with tusks to have a look at us, flick its tail. "Daniel! I can’t believe it!" A wild boar! "Un sanglier!" Tunisians—Muslims-- regarded wild boars as abhorrent; after all they were pigs, and there wasn’t a pig in sight in this country.

"She’s completely tame. She’s Yussef’s pet."

We got out of the car near her. "Here comes Yussef . Ha’ssalemma! "

A tall man in blue overalls came toward us from a barn, handsome, gray hair, clean shaven, a big smile of recognition, enthusiastically greeting Daniel in gusty Arabic; both slap each other on their backs, hold hands, old friends. To me, in French, courteous greeting, warm handshake, "Welcome."

I was fascinated by the wild boar, wild sow, lying at our feet. She was obviously a conversation piece and Yussef was pleased to introduce her to me. He gave her an affectionate slap on her short rump, murmured in Arabic and she got up, shaking her stiff mane of black hair. Another phrase in Arabic and she lay down, did a complete roll, then another. She stood up again, her discerning little eyes and attenuated ears on Yussef while he extracted a sugar cube from his pocket, rewarded her for her trick. Like any pig in a barnyard, she lay down again, and the dogs settled around her, all good friends.
Her story: Yussef found her in the forest when she was a baby. Her mother was killed by Italian hunters. Tunisians aren’t hunters; they abominate pigs and their wild boar cousins but don’t kill them. Yussef bottle-fed her, raised her as his pet. Taught her tricks. "She’s very intelligent," Yussef said.
In the autumn, when she was in heat, she disappeared into the forest. Returned to the farm during gestation, but in the spring she went back to the forest, prepared a nest of ferns, branches and dry leaves to form a soft bed and to gave birth, and raised her boarlets in the wild. She only came back when she was single again.

I asked Yussef why he didn’t regard the boar with contempt like his fellow muslims, and he laughed. "It’s foolish. I don’t have that silly prejudice. I don’t believe everything in the Koran."

* * * * *

One of the filmstrips that I loved working on was on growing irrigated potatoes.


No one could imagine what lyric delight I felt while I worked on that subject. The potato! Growing under earth, becoming this great food under earth’s pressure. Teaching me to love the world, connect with the earth. I felt such a closeness to life, recognized the privilege of being in this process of creation, lying on my belly between the rows at soil and plant level, through my lens was Ali’s hand holding back the pleated leaves while the other carefully dug away the soil to expose the new tubers and I clicked the shutter. That was to show how the plants appear when they were ready for the first ridging, done with a mule-drawn cultivator followed by my camera. Then the second ridging when the tubers were expanding and I was there again to photograph the process, the soil banked around them to keep them from sunburn. After fertilizing and irrigation, and when the leaves at the base of the plants began to turn yellow, we came to harvest-time, appearance of the gift under the hoe. The earthly beauty of a new potato. An archetype. I had my camera to immortalize the potato.


Takahashi immortalized it in a haiku:

Inside of one potato

There are mountains and rivers.

* * * * *

Photos I didn't take. On the highway, Bedouins on the move, carrying themselves and their belongings on a long train of camels and donkeys, driving great flocks of sheep, goats. An awesome sight. The women riding camels, loose magenta costumes flapping in the wind, gypsy bandanas tied around their heads, huge silver earrings bobbing and flashing. Their fierce, lean faces-- they smiled magnificently when I smiled at them.

If I'd taken out my camera and aimed it at them, that instant and thrilling connection we made--females to female-- would have snapped.

Three puppies clinging to the back of a camel. Beautiful curly-headed children riding donkeys. There must have been five families on the move. Camels carrying firewood and cooking pots, clay water jugs. At least 300 sheep; they faltered to snatch mouthfuls of barley in the fields as they passed and had to be driven out, kept moving.

"Where do they come from? Where are they going?" I asked Daoud.

He'd stopped the car when we faced this great procession approaching, filling the road, and I'd jumped out to watch it pass us.

"From the south. Now they're heading north, for the summer. The wheat is being harvested now. Their animals will graze the stubble. They set up their tents made of camel skins."

* * * * *

Another year, my last year in Tunisia. At Sidi Bouzid, deeper in the south on the edge of the Sahara. Here, a messy and unplanned village was growing fast and turning into a town because water was being piped across the dry prairies to this area.

The aim of the FAO project there, called Tunisia 12: project for Agricultural Extension in the Irrigated Lands of Sidi Bouzid, was to introduce and develop irrigated crops in a perimeter outside of the town.

Funding was donated to FAO by the Swedish government. I’d made several trips there during my period in Tunisia to work on a series of training aids on irrigation techniques, and irrigated crops.
It was the only project in Tunisia that made sense to me, because its mandate was assisting poor peasants by teaching them to become farmers. Up to that time, the population of Sidi Bouzid was nomadic shepherds. They began to settle around artesian wells being drilled by the government. They planted traditional barley but nothing else.


As the water supply increased and irrigation networks were built, the FAO project was created to help turn the settled nomads into farmers, teach them proper irrigation and crop-growing. Sidi Bouzid wasn't far from Sfax, an important port city, promising a market for produce. Out-of-season vegetables and fruit could be grown, good for export to France and the rest of Europe.

There I had the chance to show and to test the completed program of filmstrips on irrigation: different methods, the equipment, correct water use, recommended methods of cultivating irrigated crops. The French commentaries had been translated into Arabic. We tested them while I supervised the extension agents as they set up projections and conducted teaching sessions for the farmers in villages within the irrigated perimeter.

It was the second week of my training workshop for the Project's eight extension agents. They'd learned how to work the projection equipment, change projection lamps, tape record the commentaries in Arabic, work generators or batteries for the electricity supply. For the second week our program was fieldwork practice. That night I was with serious and hard-working Abdelhamid; he couldn't have been more than twenty-five but he had adult dignity, authority, he was proud to be from this region, had Berber markings on his forehead under his crinkly black curls.

It was eight o’clock in the evening. We were in a seed and fertilizer storehouse which also served as a meeting point for farmers in Abdelhamid's district. Twenty-one farmers had come in, seating themselves on fertilizer sacks, a few chairs, some standing, smoking. They were all ages. The older ones wore turbans, or the red Tunisian skullcaps, some with shawls wrapped around neck and head, some in burnoose. The younger had rejected Tunisian dress; all were bareheaded and uncombed, no keffiya, no burnoose, only cheap jackets.

Two kerosene lamps were lit. The projector was attached to a car battery. A white wall served as projection screen. The show that evening was my filmstrip on growing irrigated potatoes. It was one of the important cash crops being introduced into the area.

Abdelhamid didn't read from the printed script or use the tape-recorded commentary. He used it as notes while he talked and handled the projector. He was lively, a good teacher. Even though he was speaking in Tunisian dialect it was clear that he was a communicator of his subject. The farmers showed interest, made comments, peered intensely at the slides.

At image number 48 there was a long discussion.


It was a close-up of the seed potato, the mother potato I called it, surrounded by about eleven already good-sized "baby" tubers plus a few tiny ones growing from it. During photography, we'd dug up a healthy plant to show how much had grown when the plants were ready for the second ridging.


One of the older men was talking in a loud voice, pointing to the array of stolons and tubers. Abdelhamid answered, and the talk continued.

"What are they saying?" I asked.

"They're saying that this photo is a fake. It’s impossible. One seed potato doesn’t produce as many tubers as these. Their potatoes never looked like that."

"Tell them I’m glad to be here tonight to verify the photos, since I took them. They were taken in Mefta’s field in Oum Ladam" [a nearby village in the irrigated perimeter] "last year. Mefta Ben Amor. The plant is absolutely authentic. Mefta can tell you. He followed the Project’s guidelines. He had a good crop, as you can see."

Some images of Abdelhamid at work

*********************************************************************

In May, 2001, long retired, I returned to Tunisia for a visit, accompanied by two friends.

We drove into Sidi Bouzid on a wide palm-lined street proclaiming its name with a huge sign: Avenue de l’Environnement. I didn’t recognize anything. It was a dusty village with squat houses and unpaved rutted lanes in 1976, now a big town, paved streets busy with trucks and pick-ups and cars, new buildings with three, four stories on all sides, and this rhetorical Avenue of the Environment.

We had to ask at several places where the CRDA --the Regional Agricultural Development Office—was located.

What should I have expected?

It was 25 years since I carried my heavy camera bags and my ideals through plowed fields and over ditches, with my cameras taught drip irrigation, siphon, furrow and border irrigation, basin irrigation, vegetable nurseries under plastic tunnels, potatoes, fruit-tree grafting, olive pruning and so on in the villages around Sidi Bouzid. I believed in my work, believed in the Project’s aims to help small farmers. Out of the hundreds of projects I’d been sent to in Asia, Africa, Latin America, Middle East, the Sidi Bouzid project remained fixed in my mind as one of the few I could count on my fingers as making sense and an impact.

I dreamed of paying an unofficial visit to see if its commitment had led to the desired outcome.

We found the government building, modern Tunisian architecture, long white façade protecting a large courtyard with well-tended geraniums, bougainvillea, offices on all sides. A far cry from the dump where we’d improvised our offices. We were taken to the office of the Chief of Agricultural Extension.

I was speechless! Who stood up from behind a big desk? Abdelhamid, my pet trainee from Sidi Sayah!

Now the chief. His curls now gray and cropped, otherwise he was exactly the same.

He was amazed as I was.

We had a lot of years to cover. His wife taught in the town high school, his four daughters were all studying, one already in college; his mother managed a vegetable greenhouse on the family farm. He was eager to tell me how much progress was made since the Project.

"The Sidi Bouzid region now produces one-third of Tunisia’s vegetables and fruit!"

We looked at charts, statistics, maps; he took me to lunch; we talked and talked.

"It couldn’t have been done without the Project," he said. "Without that systematic showing of filmstrips in every village, the systematic follow-up with fieldworkers living in the villages, meeting regularly with the farmers, visiting them in their fields, we couldn’t have gotten anywhere. We’re still doing it, we’ve expanded. We’re expanding all the time."

He broke his appointments to take me personally to Sidi Sayah, his village. It was transformed. It now had all the basics: shops, pharmacy, school, running water. He wanted to show me the beautiful apricot and olive orchards inside the irrigated perimeter. The apricots were almost ready to be picked and looked marvelous. A cooperative to sell apricots directly to the wholesale market in Sfax was organized by the Project, and it was successful, established the Project’s credibility. The olive trees were thick with flowers. Abdelhamid pointed out a new system of valves connected to each farmer’s plot, said drip irrigation was adopted by everyone. Among the orchards we saw plastic greenhouses filled with green pepper and tomato seedlings. "The women are completely in charge of the greenhouses," he said proudly. "We persuaded them to attend training courses, and it worked."

We stood in the opening of one greenhouse and a damp warm gust of chemical smell hit us in the face. I covered my face as we moved quickly away.

Unfortunately, this was "progress," this was standard greenhouse culture, pesticides and fungicides as we’d taught it everywhere, as I had to teach it in our filmstrips, as every country in the world practiced. I shrugged, and so did he. He knew what I was thinking. "It’s only very recently that the Ministry of Agriculture begins to mention organic farming," he said.

We walked in silence through the orchards, I found a ripe and delicious apricot, we came to an open field, cultivated. I saw the familiar dark-green plants in furrows. "Abdelhamid! How about the potatoes? Our potatoes?"

"The best potatoes in all Tunisia!"

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