This post is the tenth in a series which starts HERE.
You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes well you might find
You get what you need
(name that song)
So far in this blog, I’ve mostly covered the difficult or unusual events, because the bad stuff is the most dramatic. ‘Everything went well and we had a great time’ is less interesting.
But I was having a lot of fun.
I went to Tunisia because I was bored and disillusioned with my life in the UK. I was twenty-six and I needed an adventure.
In February 1997, I applied for a licence for a watersports base in the new resort of Hammamet South with Samir (he had worked on bases for two years so knew the practical side of things). But after three months of officialdom and broken promises (and a good dose of stupidity on my part), I found myself at the start of April with a second hand motor boat, a jetski, two parasails, an inflatable banana, no savings and no watersports base licence.
Then I met a fascinating woman called Jenny. She was Scottish like me, but terribly posh, and had lived in Sousse for over twenty years. She and her Tunisian husband had run a watersports base for many years, alongside other business ventures, and they were tired of it. She agreed to rent me her base for the season. What a result!
At the end of April 1997 we took over the base, on the beach to the south of Port El Kantaoui (exactly where the recent horrific massacre took place). There are bases in front of every second hotel and ours was popular because tourists found it easier to trust me, a European woman, than the young lads who worked on other bases.
We employed two semi-permanent members of staff – Hussain who piloted the parasail boat, and Gilben (‘Pea’) who landed the parasail on the beach. Further casual labour was hired on a day to day basis from the numerous young lads who turned up every morning looking for work. Sometimes, men worked all day without being asked, helping to move equipment or re-coil the 80m parasail rope to prepare for the next customer, in the vague hope we might give them a few dinars at the end of the day.
All income and expenditure was cash-based. As a foreigner I couldn’t have a bank account that would accept dinars; for that I needed a resident’s permit and the officer at the police des etrangers had taken a dislike to me and refused to issue me a permit without explaining why. So I kept my income hidden in a hole I found behind the rotten skirting board in my apartment (I had by then moved to a different flat in case the police were spying on us). The money shared the space with a large family of cockroaches who I hoped wouldn’t munch through the notes.
My main feeling was of freedom. I loved being far from the pressures of British society and with people from a different culture. Tunisians were an optimistic bunch; they lived for the moment, they expressed their emotions. They could be grumpy and rude but were also generous and terribly, terribly friendly. And I was on the beach all day every day. What wasn’t to like about that!
We had an international customer base. Pale Brits, noisy Italians, quiet Belgians, stern-faced Germans and angry-looking Russians jostled for their ten-minute parasail down the coast or shot on the jetski. The Tunisian lads were useless at customer service and always took whoever shouted the loudest. This led to complaints and at first I tried to implement a queuing system, with tickets like in a shoe shop. But the boys were having none of it and I soon gave up, adopted the Tunisian attitude, shrugging my shoulders in the face of an angry customer and walking away. Coming from a corporate environment in London, this was a delicious joy.
However, towing people in a parasail and landing them on a beach was hazardous, as was hiring out a jetski to people who had never been on one before (the accelerator is where a brake would be on a bike, and we had the odd swimmer who tried to breast-stroke their way across our little shipping lane, marked out by buoys, not realising the danger they were in).
We had our fair share of accidents, mostly minor bumps and cuts – but a more serious one was just around the corner.
Another day in the office…
If you enjoy these blog posts, you might want to consider my debut novel, Daughter, Disappeared, a hard-hitting ‘women in jeopardy’ thriller, set in Tunisia. Please read the reviews on Amazon UK: http://amzn.to/2eCnZRf. Or to purchase on Amazon.com, for those in USA/Canada: http://amzn.to/2ozbGe8.
There’s also my facebook page: Fiona MacBain – Writer – thank you!