I had expected to have the plane to Tunis-Carthage International Airport largely to myself. After all, Tunisia is being currently held at a polite distance from the European club, almost in a kind of tacit quarantine, after dozens of Western tourists were slain in two vicious terrorist attacks last year. Instead, however, the plane is overbooked. A voice of suppressed hilarity issues from the tannoy in Paris, entertaining the fantasy that three “volunteers” might like to remain behind and take a later flight. Trailers swarm around the aeroplane with hand luggage which won’t fit in the cabin. I suppose that if you were desperate to find evidence of the security brief’s lack of attention to detail, this would conceivably qualify.
At Tunis-Carthage, the masses are on their way, but one sorry little figure is left behind to sit alone with a police checkpoint still between himself and Tunisia. Yes, it’s me. And yes, it’s embarrassing.
I am not, as regular readers of this website will be aware, a nationalist. I have never produced my UK passport with pride, my eyes aflame and my heart singing. Over the years, my passport has been squashed, trodden on, bent, and it has embarked upon at least one cycle in the washing machine. It is now little more than a papier-mâché blot. The Tunisian border police are furious.
Like Russian dolls being unnested, a succession of policemen, each of them more senior than the last, is consulted. Finally, I am told that they are refusing to accept my passport. Most of the writing on the passport is legible, I point out. The situation seems too comic to be quite at home in real life, but the policemen look genuinely offended. I am apologetic and very scared. Because there is nowhere else for me to go, no alternative nation which the police keep around the back for occasions such as this, I am belatedly let into their country.
My credit card won’t work in the airport and my phone is also down. Buying a Tunisian SIM card (a “puce”) only locks the phone. Fortunately, I have a Post Office Travel Card and so I can tear off a fistful of dinars with this.
I had previously read over the course of my research that Tunisia leads the world in dangerous driving and traffic accidents. As my tiny yellow taxi snakes into central Tunis, I marvel that all around me, for as far as the eye can see, every vehicle is covered in scrapes and dents.
Above the city, hundreds of swallows are crisscrossing thickly, without any of them even brushing, like a daintier and vastly more evolved version of the traffic below.
The hotel hoves into view. What will happen next?