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Urban Tunisian Children

I wrote the following comment to Michael Kaplan’s FB photos of Gafsa children.

These children are beautiful and often very sweet to deal with.

On the other hand, houses in Gafsa were closed to the outside world, with only a closed door to the street and a few small high windows. Their outdoors was in the courtyard (a wonderful invention, especially if it had a garden). This meant, as far as I could tell, that children in the streets were basically unsupervised. They gathered in groups of a dozen or more and wandered about. One of their sports was to harass helpless people, mostly old people, women and foreigners. I remember a tiny curly haired girl of about 3 who knew to sing Bonjour Madam, Gaddesh el 3tham?”, an insult, when she saw me. I remember looking down a dirt street and seeing a doomed cat being swung by its tail in amidst a group of small torturers. Sort of Lord of the Flies.

Some days I avoided going outside at all because I didn’t want to face the children. I was in no danger, but it could be extremely unpleasant.

Things were different in the Gafsa oasis. People lived in huts made of palm fronds or in tents. People of all ages were usually outdoors, where they could see their children. I loved walking in the oasis, especially visiting my best student’s family.

I came to believe that when a family moved from the oasis or the countryside into a town, they went from a culture where little was hidden to one where much was hidden, especially the women, and where children lost their supervision.

Yet, as Michael’s photos show, these children were supremely beautiful and a joy to be with individually.


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