Through the Kraft Global Fellows Program, I was given the opportunity to travel to Tunisia on a research trip for ten days. I was passionate about participating in this program because I wanted to explore issues such as racial discrimination and multi-faith interconnectivity. As someone who is concentrating in Middle Eastern Studies and is of Egyptian ethnicity, I was also interested in exploring how Tunisia differed from Egypt post-Arab Spring. I was able to learn about all these facets from the perspectives of different Tunisians.
I listened to the opinion of our tour guide, Moiz, who shared that democracy is not as important as people being able to provide for their families. However, other Tunisians disagree and see democracy as a platform for growth in their nation. These discussions allowed me to understand the complex narratives that exist about the revolution. When we met with Youssef Cherif, a political analyst and the head of the Columbia Global Center in Tunis, he shared his views on the role of international actors in Tunisia and the future of the nation. Youssef explained that following the uprising, Tunisians did not have enough ideas to lead because they were never allowed to do so. Thus, there was a vacuum that foreign influence filled. International actors are not always bad; for example, they can have a positive influence by helping the nation maintain free elections.
We were also able to meet with MP Jamila Ksiksi, the first black member of parliament, who works to fight racism and colorism. I was inspired to see and speak to a Muslim woman who helped enact a law that criminalizes racial discrimination against the country’s black minority. Furthermore, she is a voice for many people, including women, black Tunisians, and sub-Saharan Africans in the country.
To be able to take this journey with the University Chaplain, Chaplain Davis, was a rewarding experience. Through our conversations, I was able to see how faith and learning are interconnected. Not only was my experience purely academic in nature, it was also personal. I felt a semblance of home in Tunisia where I was considered to be of the people, rather than an “other.” This was evident when I was able to have conversations in Arabic, my native language, with a woman in the supermarket in Tunis and Chief Rabbi Haim Bittan in Djerba. The knowledge that I gained during the Kraft Global Fellows Program is not something I could have learned from merely reading a textbook. I look forward to bringing back new insights to discuss with my peers!