17. Solitude, part two

This post is the seventeenth and final in a series which starts HERE.

(December 1998)

Every morning I strap my baby to my chest and walk around Sousse. Being winter, many of the Casanova types that cause me so much hassle are not around. I walk to the market to buy fresh vegetables and fish and find that having a baby changes people’s attitudes. The butcher who previously tried to chat me up becomes helpful, the greengrocer stops trying to rip me off and the fishmonger guts the sea bream for me at no extra cost.

Back at the apartment I cook myself all sorts of local dishes. I fry fish with cumin and eat it with fresh bread and a fennel salad, I make large pots of chorba, a spicy lamb and grain soup with tomato and parsley, and one-pot casseroles with squash, spinach, chickpeas and potatoes. I’m the healthiest I’ve been for years, having also stopped smoking and drinking alcohol.

But at times I feel anxious. Rania feeds for hours and hours while I lie on the foam mattress on the bench in our living room. I imagine one day Samir will come home to find a gigantic baby lying beside a pile of my bones. I’m not sure if this is normal and all I have for advice is ‘The Great Ormond Street Book of Baby and Childcare’ which I read cover to cover several times (I am really short of reading material, I’d read anything). The final section is about illnesses, and it scares me to death as I still have no phone in the apartment and Samir is rarely around.

During these lengthy feeding sessions I watch a variety of European TV which I obtain via a satellite dish that’s gaffa-taped to a broom handle on our balcony. No matter which country’s TV channels I manage to tune into, Friends is on and I watch it in German, French, Italian, Greek … the familiarity is comforting and anything is better than Tunisia’s single channel or trying to watch the heavily censored France 2 which is transmitted officially (the screen goes blank whenever actors look as though they will take their clothes off or kiss. It’s impossible to follow anything).

I talk to Rania in French; it’s become my habit. Apart from weekly phone calls to my mum, I never speak English any more. I have psychologically turned my back on my previous life – but the discontent is rumbling; I know I can’t go on like this.

Samir reappears briefly for Christmas, but it’s no fun with someone who knows nothing about it. I’m not a Christian, but I like the cultural side of the December festivities, the idea of celebrating life with your family, and I want to capture that joy for my daughter. However the day is such a disastrous reminder of Why I Shouldn’t Be There, I barely find it funny that my young Muslim husband thinks Jesus is the old guy with the white beard and red outfit.

January slips into February as I continue my aimless wanderings around Sousse and along the chilly deserted beach, with my beautiful baby staring up at me with her owl-like eyes. Samir’s family are worried about me being on my own and his eldest sister comes to stay for a week, ‘to help me with the baby’. I am grateful to her for this, especially since it’s a huge deal for an unmarried village girl to come to the city and stay there with a weird Westerner. She, and Samir’s other three sisters, are four of the kindest people I’ve ever met and my daughter is a daily reminder of them.

During these months, Samir comes and goes. The base is closed and he makes some cash taking people on informal trips in the boat or playing cards for money (illegal but mostly ignored). He brings me money, which is handy since I don’t have any left, he plays with his daughter for a bit, then we fight, then he leaves again.

It isn’t until the end of February that I start to shake off whatever post-natal solitary mood is gripping me. In a last-ditch attempt to convince myself I haven’t made the biggest mistake of my life, I start preparations for re-opening the base. Samir does not like this. He doesn’t want me to come anywhere near the base. I should stay at home with the baby – he’s adamant about that.

I wonder if it’s a deep-seated desire, brought on by becoming a father, to comply with his society’s expectations that a man works and controls his wife, who stays at home raising children. I am experiencing a related ‘repeat your own childhood’ worry myself: I received a first-rate education in Scotland and want the same for my child. But that isn’t going to happen with me bumming about a beach in Africa.

It turns out I have been overthinking the situation (all that fine education, I suppose). Samir simply has another woman, a Spaniard who has turned up unexpectedly to stay for the winter. I discover this much later, long after I’ve left – because she writes to me. In her letter, she tells me that when she found out about me and the baby, she was crippled with catholic guilt and obtained my address to send me her confession. It’s surreal; we even speak on the phone a couple of times, her in Spain, me in Scotland.

At the time, Samir is becoming increasingly unpleasant towards me every time I arrive at the beach. He tells me to stay at home, but I keep turning up. It gets nasty.

The last straw is when he locks me into the phone-less apartment for a day. He says it was an accident, and maybe that’s true, but we are normally careful not to lock the door unless we are both outside, knowing there’s something wrong with the lock that prevents it being opened from the inside (one of the many things that don’t work properly).

I spend the day in a turmoil, terrified there’ll be a fire or health emergency. It isn’t until early evening that I hear my neighbour arrive and can bang on the wall then slide the key under my apartment door so he can free me.

Paranoia sweeps through me. How far will Samir go to keep me at home and away from the base? When I threaten to leave he says he’ll keep Rania. It’s unbearable.

By the beginning of March, the full horror of my situation hits me. I realise how unsafe I am, and I’m ashamed I’ve brought my daughter into this precarious lifestyle. I no longer care about anything except getting away.

So for two weeks I pretend I’m happy to let Samir to run the base. Then I say I’m going to visit my family for a week and I leave everything behind: the base, the jeep, my photos, my Grandma’s ornaments, my books – all the things I shipped out there, everything that belonged to me.

But it’s just stuff and money, none of it important.

I got my daughter and that’s all that matters.

1911640_654063994639848_585211610_n
Photo: Rania and I, Sousse, December 1998.

To everyone who has read these posts – THANK YOU. It is appreciated.

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.Bespoke book cover art example from coverness.com

List of posts: 

  1. About this blog
  2. Bottles in the graveyard
  3. A village far, far away
  4. But she doesn’t speak Arabic…
  5. Not without my daughter
  6. The first lie he told me
  7. A surreal wedding
  8. Telling my mum I’d got married
  9. I’ve always wondered what a foreign prison would be like
  10. It’s fun being a beach bum
  11. The man who fell from the sky
  12. The day I skinned a rabbit
  13. Tri-lingual birthday cakes
  14. Anxiety
  15. Losing it
  16. Solitude, part one
  17. Solitude, part two

Please also ‘like’ my facebook page for blog updates: Fiona MacBain – Writer – thanks.

42 thoughts on “17. Solitude, part two

  1. An amazing story. It feels like there is so much more to it than the blog covers. Well written pieces that have kept me seeking the next installment after each one.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My God Fiona what a horrible time of it you had.
    Knowing this is actually true and happened to you keeps me gripped hoping that something good will happen.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thoroughly enjoyed reading extracts from your blog, although quite frankly I’m left totally deflated as I want more, I feel you’ve teased us with just enough fascinating information to justify my begging for more ! !! I sincerely hope you get this published, brilliant read, well done!!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. What a wonderful written series. I have been gripped from start to finish! I would love to read a fuller version of your story – hopefully in book form. You are a very talented writer who captures and describes your experiences beautifully. I have had wonderful images brought to my mind with your fantastic style of writing. Thank you for sharing this with your readers. Kind regards Frances

    Like

  5. Such a gripping blog – loved every single instalment. So well written and every post leaves you wanting more. Brilliant work Fiona

    Like

  6. Fiona, like everyone else I don’t want this to be over, I’ve enjoyed your blog very much. You are a fantastic author, your writing is so captivating and I can’t wait to read more from you. Good luck getting published, I’m sure it’s a case of when & not if! Becky xx

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Wow! The End? How can this be? You’re just leaving your readers hanging 😉 Amazing writing Fiona! Tough sharing your life experiences especially being more traumatic than happy but thank you for sharing! I think you managed to make me, reading your blogs, feel exactly like you did at the time! Anxious! Fed up, sick to death of the crap going on, and always wondering what the hell next! Well, hopefully this is not the end but only the beginning of what’s to come! Best of luck to you Fiona! X

    Like

  8. Really enjoyed reading your posts and was so disappointed to read the word ‘final’ on your latest Tunisia one! The experience you’ve had is fascinating and I really hope you post more about the subject of Tunisia and similar topics even if it doesn’t tell of your own experiences. (Is there a future visit on the horizon?!?) Having said that, I also find myself thoroughly entertained by your posts on daily life as a working mother and struggling (not for much longer it seems) mother. You have a real talent for writing and with your take on life you’ll always have plenty to write about.Not only do I look forward to reading your next post, I am interested in how you progress with your books. After reading the extracts you’ve posted you certainly have an automatic customer. I wish you the best of luck.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. My goodness, Fiona Macbain, you lived through a lot of pain and misery and I’ve waited with baited breath to get the next installment in your continuing story ever since you started writing. You aren’t the only one who has had Alice in Wonderland adventures on this side of the Mediterranean. I’ve been here for over 40 years (born in the USA with 4 children born and educated in Tunisia) and we’ve shared a lot of experiences without knowing it. So have other foreign women….your tale shouts out to us. You had the gumption to write it down and I respect you for that. Thank you for saying some things I’ve wanted to say for many years.
    I want to point out to you that your beloved daughter is a Tunisian citizen by virtue of her birth, no matter that she has a British passport or other. As far as I know, if she crosses the Tunisian border, she must by law travel on a Tunisian passport. If she were male, she’d be liable to do military service. She has all the rights and responsibilities of a Tunisian citizen by virtue of her father’s nationality. I insist on this because she may have a right to an inheritance if her father left anything. I have no idea but you, Fiona, invested everything you had in a business and it’s possible there was something left that your daughter could profit from. Hey, this is a relatively cheap place to live, higher education is cheap and in some cases free here, so Rania may decide to retire here or something. I don’t really encourage bi-cultural living, but who knows? Protect Rania’s rights, she can only thank her wonderful mom for that.
    Fiona Macbain, I wish you the best of luck and I hope you find a publisher and I hope I’ll be able to purchase your book one of these days. I salute you for your courage and gumption.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello Mary! Thank you very much for your comment. I’m so interested that you’ve been over there for 40 years, I bet you have fascinating stories yourself! And thanks for the information about the law and nationality – I have heard similar myself. It’s quite a thought. My daughter is very interested in her heritage, and her Tunisia family are extremely welcoming to her which is lovely. Thanks again – lovely to hear from you, F x

      Like

  10. I’ve been thoroughly entertained by reading each of your blogs. You’ve been super brave to share your journey with the world. A really interesting tale, and fascinating insights into a different culture. I enjoyed some real laugh out loud moments too and relate to many of the experiences you’ve had. Gotta love a strong independent woman! Look forward to seeing the full story in print!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Brilliant writing. Loved reading your installments. I lived in Tunisia for 5 years myself I left a year after the revolution (and Scotland last 2 years lol). It’s an amazing country and has a fascinating history and some of the kindest people you will even meet. Certainly I have not found another place like it and miss it every day. Best of luck finding a publisher and hope to read the full story one day 🙂

    Like

    • Thank you so much for commenting Becky. It’s lovely to hear from other people who have lived there. It’s a great place in many ways and sad what’s happening now. My daughter’s family are so warm and welcoming to her. Hope you get the chance to go back one day! Thanks for reading it, much appreciated.

      Like

  12. I was also married in sousse….I left him pretty quickly after we married but lived there 13 months in total I’ve loved reading your blog and can relate to a lot of it I’ve also just ordered your book 🙂

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s