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Asien-Orient-Institut UFSP Asien und Europa (2006–2017)

On Coffees, Curfews, and Chocolate

We are invited to join the author for a day of research during his stay in Tunis.

Rasmus Brandt

It is 5:58 in the morning. The morning call to prayer must have woken me up. I check my phone and realize that I have still two hours before I have to leave. In the early morning, it is still cold and I tumble towards the bathroom to have a warm shower. I am excited. I am surprised that I slept so well, despite the constant excitement that I felt during the days before these important interviews. Yesterday evening I was still translating possible questions into Arabic; later I realized that this only made “things” more complicated. There is so much written on conducting interviews, shelves full of theories and methods. It seems colleagues and friends can talk about it forever: you get so much advice and tips, but they may contradict each other. I turn off my gas oven, since I will not be at home all day. Why waste it? The city is waking up, while raindrops start to fall on the dusty streets. That is winter. Soon there will be snow in the mountains. I put on my jacket. “You will be freezing all day. Why do you always forget about the winter when you go to North Africa?,” I ask myself. I check my bag, passport, recording device, chocolate, and keys. I am ready to leave. I rush through the light rain. It is still early, 7:42. Instead of jumping into a taxi, I go for a coffee. I have never done interviews before. What will it be like? How will they treat me? Am I wasting their time? What if they are not interested in my work, perceiving me as an intruder? I like this café, it has probably the best coffee in Tunis. Strong in taste, but it doesn’t leave any bitterness behind, with a light taste of chocolate.

Tunis, 19:13 (about 45 minutes before curfew hours). (Picture by Rasmus Brandt)

It is 8:00. I get into a taxi, too easy in my opinion. Usually I have to wait longer, but not this time. My appointment is at 9:00. I wonder how the traffic will be. Within a few minutes, we reach the freeway, and I have to dig deep into my bag to find my questionnaire. I reread it several times, trying not to raise my voice. My eyes are heavy. I close them and fall asleep for about ten minutes, waking up when we pass the airport and get onto Route X, that big freeway that divides the city into two parts. The government named it after Muhammad Bouazzizi, the young man who set himself on fire in December 2010 and ignited the Tunisian Revolution and all the events that unfolded afterwards in North Africa, the Levant and the Arabian Peninsula. However, people still refer to it as route X. I arrive at the National assembly in Bardo at 8:30. The traffic is not so bad at this time of the day, so tomorrow I will be able to sleep a little longer. I go for another coffee. Waiting. Waiting is an important skill, especially in busy places like the assembly. You have to admit to yourself that you are possibly the least important person in the life of a deputy. It is already 9:30 when I receive the call to enter into the assembly. There are two security checks waiting for me. Security is tense at the moment. Several curfews were imposed in the last three months. Today it will start at 8:00 p.m., which is early. Streets are empty: There is not a single sound to hear, beside the sirens of the police cars patrolling on the streets.

There is a scanner next to the door. I put my bag on the conveyor belt. They ask for my passport. I passed through the detector gate, no one seems to care that it made a lot of noise. Suddenly the security service calls me back. “They probably found my power pack,” I thought. But no, they ask me to open my bag. I wondered what could be the problem and glanced at the monitor. Well, it looked kind of dangerous. I had to smile. I opened the rear part of my bag and they smiled as well. Five bars of chocolate. Chocolate helps. It was a very busy day yesterday. The political situation in Tunisia just turned bad. Despite all democratic and political process, the government forgot to create jobs. Protests broke out throughout the country. Of course, the time for my interview would be short. But when she saw the chocolate, she just said, “You can come back tomorrow for another interview.”

(Asia & Europe Bulletin, 5/2016, p. 38)

Weiterführende Informationen

Notes from Fieldwork

In the Fall semester of 2015, four doctoral students left their desks at the URPP Asia and Europe to do fieldwork abroad. This was an opportunity to ask them to write a personal account of their experiences in the field. What follows are their reports dealing with India (Nina Rageth), Japan (Nathalie Marseglia), Tunesia (Rasmus Brandt), and Taiwan (Urs Weber).