Between the bustle of the Medina, the rocky remains of Carthage and the white-washed walls and crisp blue sea views of Sidi Bou Sa’id lie fields, highway divides and alleyways of litter.
While the omnipresence of trash and it’s accompanying odor, flies and wild dogs are something you quickly become accustomed to and learn to look past, it is hard not to think about how much more lovely this city could be without it.
Why, I asked myself, can people not find a better way to get rid of their trash? Don’t they care about their city? An editorial in a local French language paper echoed my thoughts and reported the shame of having to apologize to visitors for the state of their public spaces; asking them to look past the litter to find the beauty of their country.
As a scrupulous sorter of my trash, compost and recycling back home, it was a shock to the system to see all manner of glass, plastic, paper and vegetation strewn willy-nilly along the road leading up to our beautifully maintained and manicured Embassy home. I reduce, reuse and recycle! I care about the the future of the planet my kids will inherit! I could never do such a thing…
And then it came time to dispose of our own garbage.
After a good faith effort to find the proper means of disposal (a thorough search of our premises for bins, asking new friends, inquiring of housing authorities) we got the closest thing to an answer from our new neighbors: there USED TO BE a garbage truck that came to our street, he told us with a shrug. Left unspoken behind that USED TO BE was that the truck, along with the street cleaners, had disappeared around the same time as Tunisia’s recently deposed dictator, Ben Ali.
The sad fact of corrupt regimes is that they are often ruthlessly efficient. Not only at control and intimidation but also at municipal services.
So as Tunisia struggles to find it’s footing after 20 years of stable, albeit authoritarian rule, the niceties and practicalities of a functioning government fall by the way side.
(An ironic side note to this trash battle is that cleaner streets were a pet-project of Ben Ali’s wife, Tunisia’s former first lady Leila Trabelssi, and a prime target of revolutionary hatred due to her reportedly extravagant lifestyle and corrupt family tree.)
Trabelssi’s efforts included a cartoon desert fox or fennec (think a la Smokey the Bear) whose statues were stationed around Tunis to urge citizens to avoid littering. They still stand around the city, covered in graffiti and often surrounded by strategically placed trash heaps as very clear indictment of Trabelssi’s campaign.
This nation has challenges both large and small for its people to confront and I am eager to witness them doing it. But in the meantime, I am still a woman with a festering bag of dirty diapers on my hands and no means of disposal apparent besides the overflowing dumpster in the litter-strewn field on the outskirts of my neighborhood.
So it was in desperation last week and with a healthy dose of self loathing that I added my bags to the pile.
As I drive by days later, I can still pick out the distinct color of the Stop and Shop plastic bag I still had from the US as it adds to the disfigurement of my new home and I roll up the windows to mask the smell of it in the Tunisian heat.
This is an original blog post for World Moms Blog by Natalia Rankine-Galloway