4. But she doesn’t speak Arabic…

This post is the fourth in a series which starts HERE.

(October 2014)

My mum, daughter and I are slumped on a seat at Tunis airport. We’ve been on a whirlwind three day visit for my daughter to meet her deceased father’s family for the first time since she was a baby. It’s been emotional; she is drained and culture shocked. We are all exhausted.

A man approaches her and speaks to her in Arabic, presuming she’s a local. She shrugs; she doesn’t understand. He puts a large case on the bench beside her, speaks to her again, then walks away.

We look at one another; we are in an airport and someone (an Arabic man no less) has abandoned a bag beside us. I suppose if we were at Heathrow we would alert airport security and perhaps have the airport evacuated. But we are in Tunisia. The minute I’d arrived back in the country after an almost sixteen year gap, the chaotic laissez-faire attitude of the Tunisians had come rushing back to me. To survive mentally, you have to relinquish control. It is the only way to cope with the myriad of daily frustrations, tempered only by the happy-go-lucky nature of the people.

My mum and I exchange a look. We should move, but there are no other seats and the prospect of standing for the next two hours is horrific.

‘It’s not ticking is it?’ I joke.

About fifteen minutes later the man returns, thanks Rania for watching his bag, and takes it away.

My daughter has become pale and says she feels sick, so we decide to make our way to Departures in the hope of finding a less crowded seating area.

At the security conveyor belt, a female officer shouts at my daughter in Arabic. She stares blankly at her. The officer shouts again, and again. She points at the floor and my daughter, feeling too ill to speak, just shrugs. The woman looks as though she’s going to slap her. I can’t understand what she’s saying except I hear her repeat the word ‘sabat’ which I remember is Arabic for shoes. I look down; she still has her shoes on.  ‘But she doesn’t speak Arabic,’ I say to the woman. She looks astonished and disbelieving, and carries on chastising at her.

Both the man with the bag and the security officer recognised my daughter’s Tunisian heritage and presumed she was local. People do this all the time; they see other human beings and make immediate assumptions about them based on what they look like. It happened to my daughter in Tunisia because people thought she was one of them, when she wasn’t. And the opposite has happened to her in Scotland when people have recognised her as not one of them. I don’t mean they were unpleasant or racist, just interested. She has been asked where she gets her beautiful olive completion from, or her name, or whether she believes in Allah. I’ve read that mixed-race children can sometimes lack a sense of belonging – not being fully part of any one racial group. It can make them unique and interesting – but for younger teenagers, not fitting in can be hard.

I was last at Tunis airport with my daughter when she was a six month old baby – and that time I’d been terrified I wasn’t going to be allowed to leave with her.


Next: Not without my daughter

If you would like to try my novel, set in the same area of Tunisia, Daughter, Disappeared: http://amzn.to/2eCnZRf.

Reviewers have said:
‘Brilliant, fast-paced plot with lots of twists and characters you can relate to. I read this in two days.’
‘Beautifully written and well-constructed narrative makes for a highly engaging read.’
‘Hard to put down once I started reading.’
‘The plot was unpredictable and at times very shocking.’

Bespoke book cover art example from coverness.com

There’s also my facebook page: Fiona MacBain – Writer – thank you!

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