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Monday, 22 April 2013

Roads in Tunisia & Queueing habits at coach stations


Motorway road from Coach
The first few days in Tunisia I was very impressed by their roads... the surface was smooth, black and it was a pleasure feeling the wheels run onto it (even as a passenger and not a driver).
That was until I was on a coach, Tunis bound. I had done the trip before and all was well until we got to a roundabout and, where the signpost was pointing to the motorway for Tunis, the police was standing blocking the way. Fortunately our driver knew his way around and slowly started driving though small villages and roads to join the motorway. And that’s when it hit me. Once outside the main centre, the roads are just dirt tracks or not yet finished. Once clear of Grombala – the town we were in - just off from the town centre the roads were barely there. Often just dirt, other times at the intermediate state of being built, but not yet tarmaced. At a certain point we had to go through a bridge. Barely wide enough for our coach. Obviously with cars in each direction – everybody must have been diverted – cars had to alternate to pass over it. Everybody was behaving reasonably well ... until a lorry driver in front of us went through and, from the other side, a ‘clever’ lorry driver decided he was ‘cleverer’ than all the other diligent drivers, waiting their turn on the bridge, and went on to overtake all the cars in front of him and block the way to the lorry that had been in front of us and that just at that moment - was passing through the bridge and narrow gaps... Road, narrow as it was, bridge also narrow and obstructed by now by our coach... perfect jam. Instead of hooting and so forth, as in a lot of other Mediterranean countries would have happened, the other drivers just stood still! Even made space for ‘clever’ lorry driver, so he could reverse back (and take the place in front of the queue)! Not a peep from everybody else!! A policeman on a motorbike did not see fit to intervene!
Overtaking sheep

The week before, I had met a Japanese woman, who had lived in Tunisia for 7 yrs. She plays the piano and was telling me that she was taking driving lessons and how difficult it was to drive when you have to contend with bad driving from other drivers, horses & donkeys, carriages, motorbikes and bicycles. I'm not surprised!
Donkeys and carts on the road

Cars and pedestrians in the middle of the road

Queues in Tunisia

And that takes me to the ‘queuing’. In principle Tunisian people do it (queuing), in practice there are some people that not only jump the queue, they also want to be ‘right’ when someone challenges them! Arghhhh.
The 1st time I went to Tunis was a Monday. I took the coach from Nabeul. I got up early in order to get there early as the last bus from Tunis was returning to Nabeul at 5pm!! When I got to the bus station, there was a large crowd. I found the queue to purchase a ticket for Tunis and got in line. A woman, yellow top (not easily forgettable) came after me and tried to jump the queue and infiltrate it at a point 4-5 people in front of me. The person she was directly jumping in front told her, in her own language, that the queue was further down and pointed to behind me. So what did the woman in the yellow top did? She went and tried to get the ticket from another window with a much smaller queue (dough!). Only that particular counter did not sell tickets for Tunis bound buses ... So having been told that, she got back to our side of the room and started a new off-shoot queue. Ours was snaking around seats and at the point of the bend leading to the ticket window, she started a new line. People are like sheep and started queuing behind her (of course the queue was much shorter!). Effectively the queue was split and making a second line of people that had arrived well long after us started queuing there... She was all pleased with herself... I kept on looking at her, and she kept on avoiding looking at me. Eventually the ticket window opened and they started selling tickets for our bus. The queues started moving on. Until we got to the narrowing when people had to enter a narrow gap between metal posts. As we got there I was right beside the woman in yellow. And guess what? Yes, she wanted to go first! Not a chance, lady!!!  I told her partly in French and partly in English that she knew she was behind me as she had been told before. She feigned ignorance, well she certainly was ignorant! After a bit of a tag of war, I managed to win and squeeze through the metal posts before her. Not sure what she said behind me, so I turned around and again told her that she had arrived after me and lots of other people and that she very well knew it and to stop thinking she had been wronged. One question that was unclear to me was why there was such a crowd. A woman in front of me told me that lots of people were going to Tunis to work and to study – university was already open (late august) and as being Monday morning it was a particularly busy morning. Didn’t help that they were selling tickets only once the previous coach had departed, and therefore creating the long queues of suffering people (it was already very hot at 7.30 am). On the way back, at the coach station in Tunis, things were much worse than in the morning. Here they were selling tickets all at once, apparently with time on the ticket, although difficult to read. It did not help the clocks on the forecourt had the wrong time (they were fast). So when the bus came I went to catch what I thought was my bus – in fact it was the previous one – and a ‘mob’ of people, mainly youngsters, assaulted the bus and started boarding it. Getting on the steps, then deciding there was no space for their shopping or suitcases on the bus and sending the cases back towards the waiting people and expecting those people to place them in the hold-hall ... I got stack in the crowd and was being suffocated, totally invisible to the young. Could not get out, legs, arms were crossing in front and behind me, I could barely move or breathe. I eventually managed to get on board; there was only a way forward within the 'mob' - only to be told my bus was the next one!
Fortunately the 15’ wait for the next bus managed to reduce the ‘mob’ and it was fairly easy and civilised to board my coach. Once on board, I realised that in the next bay was a bus going directly to Hammamet (where I was staying) and with hardly anyone on board! Two days later, when I returned to Tunis to visit the city, I still left from Nabeul in the morning, much quieter mid-week, and returned to Hammamet on the way back.
So you have been warned, do not travel by public transport to Tunis at the beginning of the week!

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