Boulevard Mohamed Bouazizi*; Sidi Bou Zid, Tunisia, 2016
Today I went to see where a man’s hopelessness turned to flame. I don’t know what I was looking for, but something drove me South to Sidi Bou Zid the way a bulb pushes up at the first light of spring.
To see where the young man gave up on his stall of tiny tomatoes and thirsty peaches and gaunt ears of corn. Bill collector at his door. Police demanding bribes. How they slapped his face when he complained to authorities.
Relief found in a lit match and gasoline.
Gone, my guide tells me, are the tall bearded Salafists who had watched over the City after the rotten police fled angry mobs and ran for their lives. But now, a few years later, those uniforms are back, better trained with shiny boots, bigger guns and attitude.
We curse the bourgeoisie in the North, my guide tells me. We rose up for change. But they’ve left us with nothing. We suffer like dogs here like we always have.
I feel the Maghreb heat rising, feel it rage across the city’s broken streets and scrawny children and worn out mothers and worried shopkeepers with lost eyes, and
cafés jammed with jobless men with no place to go.
I want to understand the politics. Apply confident Western logic to this world. But on the edge of the desert, sand and stone stretch to meet a barren blue sky. What Arab Spring, you ask. Western dreams. Not even a bird dares to sing here.
Summer’s light blinds as we walk. It fades vacant storefronts, splintered wagons overloaded with rocks, spindly donkeys struggling in clouds of dust. In doorways, squatting on curbs, I see men. I look into the long, sad faces and see fathers, and uncles, and husbands, and grandfathers, hardened to their days. Lost.
Finally, we arrive at the memorial, the one that I traveled so many miles to see. The very spot where Mohamad set himself ablaze. There glaring bright yellow, sits the fire hose townspeople used on that bleak winter morning to put out Bouazizi’s flames.
My eyes lock onto it.
Despair coiled into a lonely monument.
As if Bouazizi could ever be forgotten, you tell me. Or the others who have gone since, with their visions of glory and honor and martyrdom in a faraway war. Oh, so many of our sons and daughters have run into the arms of the Syrian Caliphate and vanished.
For years I’d believed that Bouazizi’s flames had launched a true Arab springtime.
Weren’t we told in 2010, that joy had risen in hearts around the world in a great chorus?
Later that day, with a full stomach, wallet, and a Western passport, I slept under shooting stars.
But awoke in the night to the wail of a sheep and cries of hungry cats in the empty quiet. I saw the stricken faces of the mothers and fathers of lost sons in the cruel darkness.
*Mohamed Bouazizi a Tunisian street vendor who immolated himself 12/17/2010 protesting confiscation of his wares and harassment/ humiliation from municipal officials. His act became a catalyst for Tunisian Revolution and wider Arab Spring. Source: Wikipedia.
Andrea Marcusa is a fiction and essay writer. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Epiphany, River Styx, Ontario Review, New South, Christian Science Monitor, The New York Times and other publications. A four-time Pushcart Prize nominee, she was a finalist in the New Letters essay and Ruminate’s fiction competitions. Learn more about Andrea Marcusa’s work at andreamarcusa.com. Andrea's "Boulevard Mohamed Bouazizi*; Sidi Bou Zid, Tunisia, 2016" was nominated by EIR for a 2018 Pushcart Prize.