“Understandings Democracy and Human Rights in the Middle East.” That’s the reason eleven of my classmates and I found ourselves scrambling to pack our bags and praying for cheaper flight tickets four years ago. Back in October 2011, a group of students and professors from The University of Exeter’s department of politics embarked on an adventure to Tunisia that none of us would forget.
It was a study trip for our course on Middle Eastern politics – we would be in Tunisia for about a week to understand and observe the first democratic elections taking place in the country.
But the process of getting from the U.K. to Tunisia became an adventure of its own.
We had all bought our tickets last minute, in the computer lab inside our departments building. Since we were a group of fifteen students plus staff, traveling all together as one proved to be difficult. Yet in the end tickets were booked, bags packed, and travel plans sorted out. For the most part.
But there was still the issue of making to London the VERY NEXT morning for our 6 a.m. flight. You see, the University of Exeter is located in the county of Devon, in the Southwest part of England, a full two and half hours away from London.
Somehow, I and two other classmates of mine had managed to find bus tickets the next day out of Exeter to London, which would be over a three-hour journey. Only problem? I had a presentation to give in class a little over an hour before we were supposed to leave. So that day, I presented, dashed home, grabbed my suitcase, called a cab to the bus station, and met my classmates there.
Our travel itinerary looked like this: Exeter, London, and Rome. Then, we’d finally arrive in Tunisia. Yep, we had that many stops to make before we landed on the African continent.
We arrived at Victoria Station in London late at night, and had to stay wide-awake till 6 a.m. to catch our flight to Rome. Somehow, fueled by caffeine, sugar, and good company we managed. We boarded our flight, and then remembered that we’d have a six-hour layover in Rome. Well, in Rome, do as the Romans do. So once there, already on day one of no sleep, the five of us wandered around the city, taking in the art, culture, and of course sat down to an amazing meal.
Before we knew it, it was time to head back to the airport to get on another flight, and none of us could believe. Everyone fell asleep on the train to the airport. I’m honestly amazed we made it there.
Once there, all of us students and staff were reunited, and eagerly awaited our flight to Tunisia. The plane was delayed, but soon we were on board, and before we knew, we landed in Tunis, the capital of Tunisia. Once we managed to get through immigration, pick up our bags (mine, of course, being the biggest), we finally made it out of the airport.
What a sight we were. We were tired, sleep deprived, and in desperate need of a shower. We ended up splitting our time between Tunis and Sousse, or Soussa as it is also called. Sousse is 140 kilometers south of the capital Tunis, and is located in the central-east of the country on the Gulf of Hammamet, part of the Mediterranean Sea.
While in Tunisia, we got around mainly by taxis and trains. We took a scenic train ride from Tunis to Sousse from the one of the local train stations, and got to view the incredibly beautiful Tunisian scenery. Sousse has a different vibe from the capital Tunis. While Tunis was and is more crowded, dirty, and polluted, the coastal city of Sousse has a gentler and beachier vibe. While in both cities, we explored markets that looked and felt like mazes, drank some delicious mint tea, and even spent our last night stuffing ourselves with a Tunisian dish called lablabi.
Oh, another thing about Tunisia – there is harissa everywhere. Like, everywhere. It is a North African hot chili pepper paste, and it’s very spicy. I still wince thinking about it.
While we were in Tunisia, we stayed in local hostels the whole time. If you ever have the opportunity to go, that’s what I would recommend – I’m convinced I was able to truly experience more of the culture and environment by staying right in the city rather than staying at a nice hotel, removed from it all.