"You see the passage of history here," says Wafa Ben Hassine in this interview with Your Middle East. She is eager to share her ideas on how to better sell Tunisia to the world.
2014 was without doubt Tunisia’s year. The Economist dubbed the country the Middle East’s only democracy and succeeded in securing three (one Parliamentary and two Presidential) elections. As if that wasn’t enough the Tunisian capital Tunis has entered the National Geographic Traveller’s annual ranking of the world’s top travel destinations. Writer and law student Wafa Ben Hassine told Your Middle East about her hopes for 2015, her recommendations for visitors, and some insider tips for a visit to the capital.
What do you hope for Tunisia in 2015?
“I hope for more transparency. For example, different media outlets report inconsistent information, so it is hard for people to actually know what is happening, in turn making it difficult for them to form their own opinions. There is a lot of propaganda and misinformation floating around. Unfortunately, I see many media outlets falling into the pit of disseminating incorrect information.
Whereas a lot has changed politically since the revolution, not much has changed in how society works. It will not take a ministry or a program to change society, either; it will take a change in mentality and most importantly, a full reform of the interior ministry. I don’t want to use the word ‘impossible’, but suffice to say that this is an extraordinary task. All in all, I hope for a more transparent and more honest 2015 where we address our societal issues head on. Before we aim to solve our problems, we must at least acknowledge them.”
What would you like to see happen in terms of tourism?
“I think all of Tunisia is so underestimated, sadly not only by outsiders and tourists but also by the Tunisian government itself. There is a lot to do in terms of heritage sites. For example, the Carthage museum is currently only partially open and will only open fully in two years. Apparently, museum officials are attempting to collect the archaeological artifacts that were stolen by the Ben Ali clan. In the meantime, the museum is only 15% of what it should be! Also the weak infrastructure makes it very difficult to get to places in Tunisia. Getting to beautiful Tozeur for example, just takes too long since the roads are so terrible. I think the whole of Tunisia is underestimated by the government and by our people because the government does not do enough to encourage internal tourism. However, one lesson I have learned is that the government does not hold the solution to everything. It is also the private sector that needs to reform itself and escape all the bureaucratic red tape put in place! We so desperately need policy innovation and reform because there is so much potential here.”
How would you sell Tunisia in a couple of sentences?
“You see the passage of history here. That is it.
I took my two brothers to Kairouan and El Jem and we went to see Carthage. There we met a gardener and because we were the only people there he started to tell us about the ruins. This guy had so much information and went through the country’s entire history. One thing he said that really stuck with me was that in Tunisia we have always been welcoming guests, and these guests have all left their marks on our country. He explained the ruins of Carthage as a site where you discover layers upon layers of civilization. I thought of this as a metaphor for Tunisian society: it’s like an onion.
So if I were to sell Tunisia I would focus on its extraordinary history and how the country played its role as a civilizational meeting point. It was at the centre of the Mediterranean, which at that time was the centre of everything.”
Wafa’s tips if you’re in Tunis…
1. Dar Ben Gacem: Hidden between the narrow streets of the medina is Dar Ben Gacem, an upscale bed-and-breakfast where Tunisian heritage reigns supreme. Be sure to stop by, and make sure you talk with the project’s mastermind, Leila Ben Gacem, while there.
Get in touch: 71 563 742
Get here: 38 Rue du Pacha, La Medina, Tunis.
2. Villa 78: Also a bed and breakfast, Villa 78 has a garden café in the back that is bound to help you unwind after a long day. The café offers espresso drinks, breakfast and brunch, as well as alcoholic drinks.
Get in touch: 71 840 589
Get here: 78 Mohamed V Avenue, Tunis.
3. Foundouq el-Attarine: A unique combination between restaurant and boutique, Foundouq el-Attarine is a two-storey establishment that offers lunch and dinner every weekday and live maalouf music (Tunisian adaptation of Andalusian tunes) every Saturday from 17:00-19:00. Beyond the interior design of the place and the boutiques upstairs, the food is delicious!
Get in touch: 71 322 244
Get here: 9 bis Souk el Attarine, La Medina, Tunis.