An American Abroad

Halloween in Tunisia

We had a Halloween party for our students at Amideast last Friday. Despite the appearance of many ghouls, zombies, hippies, witches, Marilyn Manson, and even yours truly as Death himself, it was really refreshingly normal. I wish that at least sometimes the American news media would publish photos like these in addition to the constant stream of images showing Arabs as psychotic, fanatic, and alien. But maybe I have a warped sense of normal.














I suggested to my students that we parade through Carrefour, a nearby supermarket. They goggled at me for a second, as if I had just suggested something radically transgressive, and then exploded in delight. And so I led a group of about 40 students through the grocery aisles. Halloween is not widely known or understood in Tunisia, so the patrons and staff there had no idea what we were doing and reacted with a mix of alarm, feigned disinterest, and curiosity. When we all returned to Amideast for classes the next day, I asked my Access class what part of Halloween they liked best, I was delighted that most of them said that the Carrefour visit was the high point.


One thing I couldn’t do during the party was take pictures. Fortunately, Khalil Khelifi, a professional photographer, was on hand to document the festivities. He was also kind enough to allow me to post these photos here (with all rights reserved to him). If anyone needs a photographer in Sousse, I strongly recommend him. He can be contacted at khalil khelifi

American Music at the Movies


I’ve put together a film series for the American Corner here, a library and cultural center jointly funded by Amideast and the US State Department. The idea is to present different genres of American music through the presentation of movies that feature the music in its cultural context. The first film, Lady Sings the Blues, will be shown at 5:30 this Wednesday and all are invited.

Here’s the program for the whole series:

1. Lady Sings the Blues. 1972. Jazz. Starring Diana Ross, Billy Dee Williams and Richard Pryor. The story of the life and career of legendary jazz singer Billie Holiday.

2. Crossroads. 1986. Blues. Starring Ralph Macchio, Joe Seneca, and Steve Vai. A young and gifted classical guitar player dreams of playing the blues.

3. Easy Rider. 1969. Rock ‘n’ roll. Starring Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, and Jack Nicholson. Two hippie bikers ride from Los Angeles to New Orleans in search of America.

4. The Commitments. 1991. R&B. Starring Robert Arkins, Michael Aherne, and Angeline Ball. A working-class Irish band is determined to bring soul music to Dublin.

5. Walk the Line. 2005. Country. Starring Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon. A chronicle of country music legend Johnny Cash’s life and songs.

6. O Brother, Where Art Thou? 2000. Folk. Starring George Clooney, John Turturro, John Goodman, and Holly Hunter. Escaped convicts travel across Mississippi in the 1930s trying to find a buried treasure.

7. 8 Mile. 2002. Hip hop. Starring Eminem and Kim Basinger. A young white Detroit rapper tries for his chance at fame.

Beach Clean-Up

On Friday, my Access class took the TOEFL Junior, a high-stress testing experience for all. And so on Saturday, we celebrated by doing a beach clean-up. Litter is a big problem in Sousse and community service projects are a component of the Access program, so it seemed like a perfect fit.


The other two Amideast teachers (Jenn and David) and I met up with our students in the late afternoon as the light was turning golden.



We passed out gloves and huge heavy-duty trash bags and the kids fanned out to pick up the garbage. While our students scrambled to be part of the class that picked up the most trash, several Sousse residents came over to ask us where we were from and to express their gratitude for our project. One man said he had seen some British tourists at the beach earlier that day taking pictures of the garbage that litters the beach and he had wanted to cry. Seeing us, he said, made him feel hopeful again.























However, not everyone was so supportive. One of our students was hit in the face by another kid just for the hell of it, maybe because he thought picking up trash was for dorks. There was a motorcycle policeman nearby who gave chase to the assailant. Just as the student who’d been struck was finished telling us the story, the cop pulled up with the miscreant on the back of his motorcycle. He made the kid who’d hit our student apologize to him and kiss him on the cheeks: street justice, Tunisian style.

It was a fun day. All in all, our forty students collected over 80 bags of trash.


And my class won the trash competition, the prize being a trip to an ice-cream spot two weeks from now. But when we saw how disappointed the other students were, we decided that even though ice cream for all was not technically in the budget, we will reach into our own pockets and fund an ice cream celebration for all Access students. They were all enthusiastic and did a terrific (and much-needed) job.

Taking My Class Outside

My class of AMIDEAST twelve-year-olds is wonderful: smart, funny, informed, articulate, and spirited. As we near the end of the course, I decided to get them out of the classroom and onto the terrace to have them practice giving directions in English. One student was blindfolded and another one was deputized to tell him or her how to move (“turn left!” “go straight” “turn right!”) to get through an obstacle course of desks. It was a lot of fun.

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Tunisia in September

Today I finalized a decision two months in the making. After my contract here in China is complete at the end of June, I will be moving to Sousse, Tunisia where I have accepted a position with AMIDEAST, an American NGO engaged in international education, training, and development throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

It was difficult to decide to leave China, where I have been so warmly welcomed by colleagues and the people of Yuxi. I am having a wonderful experience at Shane English Yuxi and recommend it highly to anyone considering teaching English abroad. It’s a well-run institution with high standards and a solid commitment to education. I’ve also made friends in the Yuxi community who have welcomed me into their homes and families and shown me aspects of China I never would have seen otherwise. I will be sorry to leave them. I look forward to my remaining 16 weeks here.

Nevertheless, I am eagerly anticipating my new home and job in Tunisia. I expect to be working in several capacities for AMIDEAST. One is teaching English to young people—something I’ve learned much about in my job here in China. Another is working with corporations and other organizations in Tunisia that want their employees to learn English with an emphasis on the concepts and terminology of their particular industries. I am especially excited about becoming involved in Access, a program funded by the U.S. State Department that provides free English instruction and American cultural exposure to promising Tunisian teenagers of modest means.

Sousse is the third-largest city in Tunisia and is located right on the Mediterranean coast.

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It attracts thousands of European visitors every year, drawn by the good beaches and turquoise seas. The medina there is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Tunis, the ruins of Carthage, and a well-preserved Roman amphitheater are within daytripping distance.

When I say goodbye to my friends and colleagues here in China, I may do some further travel in Asia and then return to Toledo for a few weeks to see family and friends. I will then head for North Africa in order to start work there in September.