Black Tunisians push for equality, in face of racism

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Tunisian men play dominoes in Gosba, near the southeastern town of Medenine, on October 23, 2018. (AFP)
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Tunisian women walk in Gosba, near the southeastern town of Medenine, on October 23, 2018. (AFP)
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Nadia Borji recites the Koran in a cemetery, in the town of Sedghiane, on the resort island of Djerba on October 22, 2018. (AFP)
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Tunisian men walk past shops on the resort island of Djerba on October 22, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 14 November 2018
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Black Tunisians push for equality, in face of racism

  • On October 9, Tunisia’s parliament adopted a landmark law penalizing the use of racist words, the incitement of hatred and discrimination
  • “The worst thing is, it’s a cemetery next to a mosque where the imams call for equality and respect,” Douiri said

DJERBA, Tunisia: Tunisian Nadia Borji says she wants to be considered as equal but fears she will end up buried in her town’s so-called “slaves” cemetery — because she is black.
Black Tunisians, including some descended from slaves, make up a minority that is barely visible in the north African country.
Many hope for greater equality after a law was passed last month criminalizing all forms of racism.
“This term ‘slave’ disturbs me enormously. It shouldn’t still exist!” protested Borji, who came to her mother’s grave to read a prayer.
Black residents still bury their dead in a poorly maintained piece of land, full of earthen tombs covered with parched plants near Houmt Souk, on the island of Djerba.
Two other cemeteries lie a stone’s throw away — reserved for people with light skin.
“We are accustomed to knowing that it is abnormal to suffer such discrimination,” said 46-year-old Borji.
Her cousin Dorra Douiri directed her anger toward a “racist and very painful” societal schism.
“The worst thing is, it’s a cemetery next to a mosque where the imams call for equality and respect,” Douiri said.
The head of a municipal district in Houmt Souk acknowledged that cemeteries should not be separated.
“Cemeteries for slaves and cemeteries for free people — it is a phenomenon that exists and must be addressed,” said Mourad Missaoui.
Unlike the major cities of Tunis and Sfax, Djerba residents bury their dead without requiring permission from the council.
This means their burial place can still be decided by social status and even their skin color, he told AFP.

Slavery was formally abolished in Tunis and in part of what forms modern day Tunisia in 1846.
On October 9, Tunisia’s parliament adopted a landmark law penalizing the use of racist words, the incitement of hatred and discrimination.
These crimes are now punishable by three years in prison and a 5,000 euro (5,600 dollar fine).
Racism remains “well anchored in the minds of many Tunisians,” said Saadia Mosbah, president of M’nemty, an association that defends minorities.
Last month’s law is an acknowledgement by the state that racism persists — but the law must now be applied, he added.
“The real work starts now,” he said.
But there could be a long battle ahead.
“There is no harmony between legal texts and what happens” in reality, said municipal leader Missaoui.
Town halls on Djerba even use a designation widely perceived as being highly racist on slave descendants’ birth certificates.
The word in question is “atig” — a prefix followed by the name of the master who granted freedom to the ancestors of the certificate holder.
In the absence of popular pressure to withdraw the designation — or a directive from the government — the word and “its racist connotations” will continue to be applied by town halls, said Missaoui.

In the city of Medenine and the large village of Gosba, around 80 kilometers (50 miles) from Djerba, most people are black and many of them complain of racism.
“Our village is extremely marginalized, because of the color of our skin,” decried 27-year-old Mohamed, as he played cards on the floor of shop.
“We have no cafes, no cultural houses, no proper buildings — absolutely nothing,” he complained. “There is only contempt.”
“It is not this law that will protect the region. It requires above all investment... for residents, who are considered second class Tunisians,” he said.
In Gosba, marriage between a black and white Tunisian is socially rejected.
“You can be the most handsome and rich man, (but) you’ll always be black and they will never accept you marrying a white woman,” said 61-year-old grocer Ali Koudi.


Tens of thousands converge on California ‘poppy apocalypse’

A woman poses for a photo among poppies in bloom on the hills of Walker Canyon in Lake Elsinore, California, on March 8, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 19 March 2019
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Tens of thousands converge on California ‘poppy apocalypse’

  • More than 6,000 people on a recent Saturday stopped at the visitor’s center at the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

LAKE ELSINORE, California: Like Dorothy in the “Wizard of Oz,” the Southern California city of Lake Elsinore is being overwhelmed by the power of the poppies.
About 150,000 people over the weekend flocked to see this year’s rain-fed flaming orange patches of poppies lighting up the hillsides near the city of about 60,000 residents, about a 90-minute drive from either San Diego or Los Angeles.
Interstate 15 was a parking lot. People fainted in the heat; a dog romping through the fields was bitten by a rattlesnake.
A vibrant field of poppies lures Dorothy into a trap in the “Wizard of Oz” when the wicked witch, acknowledging that no one can resist their beauty, poisons the wildflowers and she slips into a fatal slumber until the good witch reverses the spell.
Lake Elsinore had tried to prepare for the crush of people drawn by the super bloom, a rare occurrence that usually happens about once a decade because it requires a wet winter and warm temperatures that stay above freezing.
It offered a free shuttle service to the top viewing spots, but it wasn’t enough.
Sunday traffic got so bad that Lake Elsinore officials requested law enforcement assistance from neighboring jurisdictions. At one point, the city pulled down the curtain and closed access to poppy-blanketed Walker Canyon.
“It was insane, absolutely insane,” said Mayor Steve Manos, who described it as a “poppy apocalypse.”
By Monday the #poppyshutdown announced by the city on Twitter was over and the road to the canyon was re-opened.
And people were streaming in again.
Young and old visitors to the Lake Elsinore area seemed equally enchanted as they snapped selfies against the natural carpet of iridescent orange.
Some contacted friends and family on video calls so they could share the beauty in real time. Artists propped canvasses on the side of the trail to paint the super bloom, while drones buzzed overhead.
Patty Bishop, 48, of nearby Lake Forest, was on her second visit. The native Californian had never seen such an explosion of color from the state flower. She battled traffic Sunday but that didn’t deter her from going back Monday for another look. She got there at sunrise and stayed for hours.
“There’s been so many in just one area,” she said. “I think that’s probably the main reason why I’m out here personally is because it’s so beautiful.”
Stephen Kim and his girlfriend got to Lake Elsinore even before sunrise Sunday to beat the crowds but there were already hundreds of people.
The two wedding photographers hiked on the designated trails with an engaged couple to do a photo shoot with the flowers in the background, but they were upset to see so many people going off-trail and so much garbage. They picked up as many discarded water bottles as they could carry.
“You see this beautiful pristine photo of nature but then you look to the left and there’s plastic Starbucks cups and water bottles on the trail and selfie sticks and people having road rage because some people were walking slower,” said Kim, 24, of Carlsbad.
Andy Macuga, honorary mayor of the desert town of Borrego Springs, another wildflower hotspot, said he feels for Lake Elsinore.
In 2017, a rain-fed super bloom brought in more than a half-million visitors to the town of 3,500. Restaurants ran out of food. Gas stations ran out of fuel. Traffic backed up on a single road for 20 miles (32 kilometers).
The city is again experiencing a super bloom.
The crowds are back. Hotels are full. More than 6,000 people on a recent Saturday stopped at the visitor’s center at the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California’s largest park with 1,000 square miles (2,590 sq. kilometers).
But it helps that the masses of blooms are appearing in several different areas this time, and some sections are fading, while others are lighting up with flowers, helping to disperse the crowds a bit.
Most importantly, Macuga said, the town’s businesses prepared this time as if a major storm was about to hit. His restaurant, Carlee’s, is averaging more than 550 meals a day, compared to 300 on a normal March day.
“We were completely caught off guard in 2017 because it was the first time that we had had a flower season like this with social media,” he said. “It helps now knowing what’s coming.”