This post is the seventeenth and final in a series which starts HERE.
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.
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.
List of posts:
- About this blog
- Bottles in the graveyard
- A village far, far away
- But she doesn’t speak Arabic…
- Not without my daughter
- The first lie he told me
- A surreal wedding
- Telling my mum I’d got married
- I’ve always wondered what a foreign prison would be like
- It’s fun being a beach bum
- The man who fell from the sky
- The day I skinned a rabbit
- Tri-lingual birthday cakes
- Losing it
- Solitude, part one
- Solitude, part two
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