To those readers who don't know the history, here's a little more context that will lead into today's blog:
Remember remember the 13th of January... 2011... Tunisia...
Yesterday was a pretty significant day in my current life; it was the last day of work before our winter break. The day was a beauty (most days are here in Istanbul, this city that needs me to dwell in it like an addict's vein needs heroin). Yes, I can't stop this city, as much as I would like to not be victim to its beauty, I am. As I ran away fast from work (no no, don't look back- you didn't forget anything in the office. Just go Go GO) I thought I'd go for a run, as it wasn't yet raining, and then head to yoga class. As a celebration. As a cleanse. As a ritual purification I guess (not that I don't run/have a dedicated yoga practice as purification all the time, because I still do. Yes, there's something to be said for traditions and spiritualism).
I got home and everything vanished that I had planned in my mind to occur. I had even held off on going out for drinks later on (Plan B- that other style of ritual purification) because I knew that I would be in "that mood" after Plan A.
Yea, well Plan C took place and that was it for this world citizen. steve-O and 'Lil Eddy da rascal stopped by for gin/tonics and to check out my apartment; they will be taking care of the felines while I trot off to the Republic of Georgia- land-0-1st wine production EVER (widely believed anyway). For those of you that don't know, Georgia has an 8,000 year-old tradition of wine making. Remember, I AM a traditional girl at heart...
But I digress... So, that is how the early evening played out; drinking gin/tonics and randomly remembering things about the cats while trying to find where I placed the "list" that I had lost...
So, that is my lead-up to today's rather somber post. Here I go. It might not be easy to follow along as I just have some brief notes in my head of what I want to convey. Sorry for that, but I need to get it out. Ritual purification kinda thing that I'd like to share.
Yesterday was even more significant because of a certain event in my life that happened 5 years ago. Yesterday was my 5-year anniversary of being in downtown Tunis on that fateful day that fueled the "Arab Spring", or "Jasmine Revolution".
The 'Spring had already manifested a few weeks earlier down in Sidi Bouzid when Mohamed Bouazizi, a name that I should not ever forget, felt, in all his human-ness, his last resort was to self-immolate in front of a municipal office in his village in protest of corruption.
The day is significant enough solely with this background of events, but it hit me on a personal level because I became involved- in my own way. I was at work earlier in the day and our country director had advised all of us to get home because shit was hitting the fan in downtown Tunis later in the day, and that 'things' were already started in some areas. It was advised that we go food shopping first and hunker down for a few days- until things would get better.
Well, they didn't get better for a very long time we would soon find out. I walked back to Lafayette neighborhood, where I lived, rather quickly. Not really knowing what to do, I made my way over to Solo_ojo's flat right around the corner from mine and across the street from the Synagogue- which was always a sort of mystery for us because it was heavily guarded (at least 2 officers were there every time I walked by) with special forces of the Tunisian police, etc.
I excitedly told him the events. We decided to check things out (the journalist with the big-ass camera lens and the inquisitive anthropologist doing a reconnaissance survey, of course). It just so happened a lot of shit was going down in our neighborhood.
We spent a few hours with the demonstrators, hangers-on, curious locals and locals just trying to get their kids home from school and to safety (those last ones- they knew something that we either didn't know, or didn't want to follow their lead on).
|photo credit: solo_ojo|
The days events came in waves- the ebb and flow of what I would soon find out are the tides of 'revolution', and the sets were escalating. At some point (no idea of a time frame) Cyrus-the-Virus and I were in the downstairs vestibule of an apartment building whose door wasn't locked. Many others were taking refuge in there as well. I clearly remember a France24 photographer in there and having a brief conversation with him.
We were here because, at this point, the area was infiltrated with police forces. We were all running whenever shots were heard- you could see the people in front running towards you so you always turned around and ran ahead. I ran fast. I wanted to win the race...every time...
What I want to convey here is that this is just what I was feeling. This was an 'unknown high' for me- this revolution thing. I mean, sure, I wanted GMOs to become illegal and banned from Hawaii and Hawaiian agriculture. Sure I wanted equal rights between sexes, races (I hate that term), etc. This, THIS though was a strange thing that I was feeling: angst, adrenaline, frustration, wonder, danger, etc. There was an element that was both gross and fantastically beautiful at the same time. It's complicated...
During 'quiet' times, we would peak our heads outside to see what was happening and carefully go outside because... I don't know. It was simply compulsion that made me to do- all of it. There was a certain excitment to it because solo_ojo and myself would discuss these things (Tunisian politics) all the time and actually predicted this: One day we were lamenting about how some of our students' were so paranoid about their government. We asked each other what would the country do if Ben Ali got kicked out. This was about two months before these events started. I could chalk it all up to just sitting around our apartments drinking beer and da kine and having small talk, but...
Solo_ojo wasn't with me at this point. He and Big-Ass Camera (BAC) were in with the demonstrators. We were keeping in communication at times with our cell phones. Of course everybody was. At some point though batteries were dying.
There was a lot of this activity for a while. It was like waiting around at a concert for the next group to come out. Time to go to the beer line and look for the bathroom queue... Again, I'm coming from zero experience with 'this kinda stuff'. I remember being in Puerto Rico (15 years ago?) and think I saw a dead body in the street. So, context...
We all heard a lot of activity and went outside again. There were a wave of demonstrators running towards us from about 100 meters away ( we were on a short side street flanked by longer avenues on each side- Rue de`Tatouine to be exact). I remember this because days after I was walking with a friend (who had a HUGE role in saving the day, along with his wife, for us) by the street and I had my phone and suddenly had an urge to take a picture of the street sign because there was a bullet hole right next to the sign. "What a perfect picture to capture a huge moment in my life that I will never forget", I thought.. Well, it is illegal to take photos within a certain number of meters from a synagogue - especially while it is guarded with special forces. They swooped down on us in no time and my friend, an Algerian national, had to get us out of the situation and explain calmly my stupidity.
But I digress... I saw a small boy running in front of the men (he was clearly the ''winner''). He was holding up his hand. I think it was shot? I can't remember because I was looking out for solo_ojo, who was wearing a bright red jacket and carrying BAC. I caught sight of him in the chaos and was following his movements. They were all turning the corner onto the side street. Then something caught my eye. He stumbled (not so unlikely in that situation). Then other guys running with him were picking up his arms like. As they are nearing us (seemed like eons), I noticed something wrong. He had blood coming down his pant legs. I wanted to run out to him (will replay this image in my mind all my life I think). They were really close to us now, but so were the bullets. I stayed put just outside the door FREAKING THE FUCK OUT. I had no idea...
Now everything is spinning. Everyone is huddled around solo_ojo and pulling his pants down (full monty folks). Something 'hit' him. It was a tear gas canister. Was it a tear gas canister? It was a bullet... shot from a sniper atop a roof somewhere. It entered through the backside of one thigh, exited, and embedded itself into the other thigh. I don't know how to deal with this. I'm spinning and about ready to pass out. Solo_ojo is trying to remain coherent and not go unconscious. He is ordering the guys to take his belt off and use it as a tourniquet to stop the blood flow. The belt is too loose. I remember at some point he berated the guys with something like, 'come on your pussies, tie it tighter.' That could be made up in my mind though... I do recall though that it wasn't tight enough...
Next thing I know (only to find out much later that Cyrys-the-Virus, the Gambian DJ, had managed to get some shit done), there is a van that screeches up and stops in front of our increasing gathering and stops. Solo_ojo, Cyrus-the-Virus and myself are thrown into the back of the van. There is another man in the back I notice. The van speeds away- into tear gas, gun shots and the unknown... I'm lying down, practically atop Stephen, who is still conscious, and suddenly realize I have his blood on me. That was a surreal moment. It was nothing though. I kept thinking about the little window in the back that I was lying under and wondering if bullets were going to come through it.
The van was rocking. I remember it backing up- at least once and taking an alternative route. I really don't know what was happening in the front with the driver(s). I looked around. Cyrus-the-Virus was sitting. The unknown man was standing and holding himself up by having both arms stretched out to each side of the van, to steady himself. He is standing. Why is he standing I am wondering. Is he chanting something? I hear something coming from his mouth. It was like an acid trip. He is chanting quietly. I decide that he must be reciting something from the Quran and is protecting Stephen. I'm not sure, but this is my belief- to this day.
I think to myself that this is so painfully, fucking beautiful and might be the monumental moment of my life. It is so fucking beautiful that it hurts- still. It hurts so good actually. I'm not sure why. I can't explain it. I'm also wondering what you all are thinking right now as you read my words, my story. This is so intensely personal, exposing myself like this. But I want to. I guess I need to. If you've been reading my blog for all these years, you know that this is my yearly tradition. My annual spiritual purification. Spiritual vomit is you like. I have to get it out. I have to re-live it. It is necessary to keep me humble I think. Yes, when I feel I am whining too much about life, I try to think about this. This defining moment when I try to remember that I am a different person after this experience.
We get to Charles De Gaulle Hospital. It seems kinda quiet, at this point. We are ushered in (no memory of this) and whisked by any sort of check-in I guess. My next memory is in the emergency room and solo_ojo is on a bed-thing. Someone has a pair of scissors and is cutting his pant legs. They are talking Arabic and French. Cyrus-the-Virus is talking to them and solo_ojo is still conscious. Someone he gives me his camera and says to take care of it. The hospital staff is curious to know what is on the camera. There is a sudden shift now. Things temporarily stop and now Stephen is showing the staff the pictures from Lafayette. People are telling us that we need to get these pictures outta the country and let the world know what is happening in Tunisia.
Cyrus-the-Virus and I are rushed out of the room because they need to remove the bullet from solo_ojo's leg... I'm carrying a small, cardboard box. How did I get this box? We are wandering around the hospital and I am carrying a box that contains solo_ojo's (bloody) shoes, (bloody) belt and personal items. I have an intense job, holding this box. I will not let go of it...
We are outside in front of the hospital now, trying to find a place to just deal with things. Lots of sirens- far and near. Lots of vehicles approaching, in a fairly steady steam. Lots of men getting out of lots of vehicles; some limping and some in stretchers. I turn my head away. Lots of women come into view. Their faces... Their faces are so distorted. I wondered if that is what mine looked like. If that is what my face still looks like as I soak up this scene.
I call people. I called David first I think. I told him to call Amideast, where we worked. I was screamming. I don't know. I called friends. Now people were calling me. Numbers I didn't recognize. The embassy in Tunis is calling me wondering what has happened. Another unknown number. It's David Kirkpatrick from the Cairo bureau of the New York Times... He wants to interview solo_ojo. I tell him that he can't right now because he's in the operating room... It is surreal.
We are back in the hospital. We are in a recovery room talking to solo_ojo. He will be staying there the night. I take a picture of him and, inadvertently, of another guy on a bed next to him who has a bandaged-up leg. There are bloody rags all over the floor of this room.
Now we are to take solo_ojo outta the hospital. There is not enough room at the hospital anymore with all the incoming wounded coming in. HOW THE FUCK DO WE DO THAT, I'm thinking. I had called Djamel and Claire. Apparently Dja made his way to the hospital, which was a pretty dangerous thing to do considering the shit happening in our area and the imposed curfew...
Now Dja was standing in front of me. I had sent in for the reinforcements and he was dealing with shit. I had a handful of prescriptions that someone, at some point in time, handed me. Were they in the box too? Who knows. It was all in Arabic. The hospital wouldn't allow their ambulance to take us back to our neighborhood, as it had been closed off and just general security for the ambulance perhaps, or they were just too busy going to get injured more likely.
It was a while but Dja came back and had gotten ahold of a private ambulance or health van. They could bring us to Dja and Claire's place since Lafayette had to be avoided. We all got in and off we went. Dja was up front with the driver and we three were in the back with a paramedic.
I felt relief. I felt safe... The van is stopping. There is a police road block in Claire and Dja's neighborhood. There are police with guns talking to the driver the paramedic woman tells us. She is looking through the window to the front. Djamel is told to get outta the van. He is showing his papers. I'm thinking that he will have problems with his Algerian citizenship. I'm hoping the police don't come open up the door in the back of the van. They are coming to the back of the van. I think I put solo_ojo's camera underneath him and the stretcher he was on. They wouldn't life him I am assuming. The paramedic looks worried. The door opens. Not sure what happened, but now the door is closing. The van's engine starts. We are driving off. Phew. FUCK FUCK FUCK
It is late now. The streets are deserted. It seems calm in their neighborhood (uhm, they live right next to the Ministry of Interior)... For the moment though, everything is good. We help solo_ojo up their precarious spiral stairway. It seems to take forever to get him up there. We are in the apartment. It feels good. Solo_ojo doesn't feel good. The morphine is going to wear off soon. There are no pharmacies open to fill prescriptions due to curfew, we all realize. Okay, what's the plan? We need a plan.
Cyrus-the-Virus are now running through the streets to get to Sam's Place; an apartment a few blocks away that he and other co-workers lived in. There were others there too. It seemed bizarre. There was a bottle of booze, with very little booze left in it I recall. Some food was made. We all sat there for a long time and talked. We laughed at times. We managed to sleep a bit.
Okay, time to stop here. I'll finish up later with day 2. I need to go for a run now...