Nieuws - 2 februari 2011

Wageningen student caught in riots in Tunisia

Lobke de Pooter is doing an internship in Tunisia. Riots broke out there last December, during which the Tunisian president had to flee. This third year student of International Land and Water Management was confined to her own home for several days and participated later in a peaceful demonstration. She recalls the past weeks for Resource.

Lobke at the memorial service on the Rue Bourguiba, the Champs Elysees of Tunis.
Lobke lives in Borj Cedria, the furthest 'town' from the centre of Tunis, situated 20 kilometres away. During her internship, she carries out tests on water to check its suitability for re-use in agriculture because 'Tunisia is in the forefront in the area of legislation and facilities for using recycled water in agriculture.'
End of December: burnt out train
'It was on Christmas Eve that I first noticed signs of unrest in the country. Riots broke out after Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire. On my way to Tozeur, I waited in a stationary train for three hours without hearing any news. A burnt out train stood on the other platform. It had come towards us from the city, where the rebellion had started. People reacted in different ways: some told me in detail about the riots; others did not want to talk about them or they said that it was nothing at all. The media kept silent. On my way back, the bus was diverted by policemen. The city was surrounded.'
12 January: Curfew
'Before 12 January, the unrest was only within the country. But that Wednesday, riots broke out in Tunis and the situation became too unpredictable for going outside. We were evicted from the research institute in a hurry and a curfew was imposed. I bought extra food and water on Thursday and stayed indoors since then. On Friday, after president Ben Ali had fled, it became very dangerous in the country because his security forces opened fire and plundered throughout the region. In the district where I live, blockades were put up and the men among my neighbours stood armed with metal rods in front of the door of the building each evening.
17 January: Taking refuge
'On Monday, I packed a rucksack with clothes for a few days, toiletries and laptop. My supervisor picked me up to stay in his home, located in a safer district close to the airport so that I could leave the country easily if needed. During that week, the riots turned into demonstrations. I was present at a memorial service on the 'Champs Elysees' of Tunis, organized via Facebook and Twitter. This day was peaceful,  even exuberantly merry and very memorable.'
24 January: Military headquarters
'On Sunday, I returned to Borj Cedria and on Monday, the research centre was again opened, partially. The most exciting moment then was when I could buy bread again. The entire town went to the bakery, forming long queues, and soldiers were at hand to keep the rows under control. The curfew was relaxed and a hotel ten minutes' walk away became the military headquarters in the area. When I went there on Tuesday with a girlfriend, we saw a funeral procession for a martyr.'
27 January: New cabinet
'On Thursday, the situation resembled that from before the revolution: everyone was tensed; there were fewer people on the streets and extra food supplies were stocked up. Luckily, the second interim government took over. I think that, like me, the people realized then that there was really no further reason to go on demonstrating.'
29 January: Buying shoes
'On Saturday, I went to the centre of Tunis to buy shoes and came across two gatherings with celebrations: the first was for women's independence and the second for the victory over the former interim government.
'I have not at any time felt unsafe. It has been relatively calm in my vicinity, and my Zeeuws levelheadedness has played its part. My Tunisian friends are happy that 'the mafia' (the in-laws of ex-president Ben Ali) is gone, that they are now being listened to and permitted to wear a headscarf to work. We can only wait and see what the future will bring, inch 'Allah.'