Archive for the ‘family’ Category

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Arriving in Tunisia as a not-so-proud American

November 2, 2018

 

American passport on desktop

I arrive at night, not sure what to expect. All I know is that someone will meet me—I’m sure of it. Still, my nerves zap with unsettled energy. How will it feel to be back in this place, remembering pieces of my former self? Neither Tunisia or I am the same as we were 35 years ago, and these are unsettled times. Wars and bombs and tremendous upheaval have plagued our countries. Since my last return, Tunisia has had a revolution, and America has put into place a corrupt president. I wonder, with trepidation, how Tunisians will react to me. I’m ashamed of our country and no longer proud to be American.

I search for my suitcase as others, speaking Arabic and French, sweep their bags away. I wait and wait and wait; my anxiety increasing. Finally, the last load emerges on the conveyer belt, and although I spot my suitcase, the woman searching bags pulls it aside. She raises her eyebrows and clucks. The hair on the back of my neck prickles as she calls for another customs officer to join her. They rifle through the gifts I’ve brought for my family, and when they spot my toy drone, I know I’m in trouble.

More officers surround me, and they take my toy. Then, when my passport is confiscated, something inside of me drops. My identity to the United States; the only legal link to my homeland is gone. My bones shift, cracking with concern. In spite of my shame for our current government, the United States is still a great democracy built on the backs of strong women and determined men. In America, I have the freedom to speak my mind and the choice to resist.

The customs officers whisk me away and ask more questions, but I don’t speak French well and know even less Arabic. They shout and wave their hands as my own shake the tiniest bit. It sinks in. I am alone in North Africa.

With my passport gone and the drone appropriated, I cross my fingers and sing silent prayers. Maybe they think I’m a spy. Perhaps they think I’m a scout. Maybe they think I like Donald Trump. I bite my lip and plan my defense. As I do, my host sister, Sonia, and her husband, Sami, burst through the door. I jump toward them grinning. It’s been eight years since my last visit. Between hugs and kisses and many tears, they ask what has delayed me. They’ve been waiting two hours, but because Sami works at the airport, he’s been allowed to come find me. He speaks with the officers, clarifying that he knows me and that I’ve been to Tunisia many times. Sami argues hard, and the officers reluctantly agree to let me go—minus the drone. I’m instructed to return 20 hours before my departing flight to sign more papers. Fine, I say. I’ll do anything to get my passport back.

When the woman hands me the little blue book with the United States emblem printed on the front, relief washes across my face. We hurry away before they change their minds.

The night air assaults me with petrol and jasmine. Sonia has prepared a feast for my arrival, and their two adult children join us in celebration. I devour couscous and spicy fish as we review the past few years. We laugh and cry, and as we talk late into the night, the conversation drifts toward politics. The Tunisians, at least the ones in my family, are incredibly knowledgeable about global issues. They are fiercely proud of their country, and as we talk, I realize I’m proud of mine, too. I don’t like our current government and say so many times. But I am proud to be American. I have the freedom to vote, the freedom to travel, and the freedom to rant and rave and protest our president. I whisper thanks, aishik. I’m grateful for my family in the States. I’m grateful for my Tunisian clan. I’m grateful to have my passport back. And I know without a doubt; America is a country worth fighting for—she makes me proud.

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