No Matter How Many Skies Have Fallen by Afef, Tunisia

I embarked on research by focusing on the female rebellion in D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. I found the novel on the bookshelves of my father among various other books and anthologies he brought from the U.S. I still remember that moment when I opened the novel for the first time … my eyes fell on the sentence:

“We’ve got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen.”

I remember it was a summertime evening and I couldn’t move from my place nor stop reading … The stylistic beauty of the opening sentences captured me and kept ringing in my mind and heart. However, I have never imagined that those few fascinating and motivating words could be the preamble to a bittersweet research journey.

My dissertation about female rebellions and their representations was a total success. From there, I moved to the next chapter. I passed my first MA year in Tunisia where only 12 out of 300 students moved to the phase of writing a thesis. My rank was the 6th. On the day the results were announced, I decided to meet a prospective supervisor and discuss my topic with him. He welcomed my thesis idea and happily accepted to supervise me. I left his office upon an agreement to send him a preliminary proposal for him to sign. And, I did as agreed.

I didn’t hear back from him after a few weeks, so I decided to call him. On the phone, he said laughing: “Oh really! Did you come to my office?! Did we discuss this topic?! I totally forgot about it?!” As soon as I refreshed his memory I was met with another harsh laughter: “You don’t even know how to pronounce the author’s name correctly!” I swallowed my pride and said politely: “I am relying on your help and assistance to enhance my skills and expand my knowledge so if you could please correct me.” But he simply hung up the phone.

If this is ‘research’ in Tunisia, then why do they let us pass our 1st MA year? Why do they even accept our applications for a master’s degree? Above all, I couldn’t choose another supervisor due to the shortage of specialists in my area.

My parents saw my sadness and accompanied me to his office one last time. That day, he was a totally different person. He was very welcoming and cheerful. He signed the proposal and didn’t mention anything about his weird attitude. He only asked for my grade, which was the second best in my class. He said: “Oh really! You know? I rarely give a good grade to someone! That means your writing was excellent!”.

Amazed, I went back home and started writing my thesis which consisted of three chapters, but soon enough history repeated… no signs of life from his part. One day, my Mom decided to call him from her mobile without my knowledge. The supervisor picked up enthusiastically until she introduced herself… then he immediately whispered: “Oh sorry, I’m busy now. I’m in a meeting!” and hung up the phone. He never answered again.

I didn’t lose hope and believed that, even with this kind of attitude, I have to put everything aside and keep going. I sent him the second chapter, adding “I still believe that some dreams are worth clinging to… I would truly appreciate your feedback.”

It’s been more than 3 years now, and that feedback never came… Luckily, I’d secured a stable job at the Ministry of Education in Tunisia. It was not my dream job, so I kept working in parallel as a part-time freelance translator to compensate my need for doing something I truly love.

One day, I did a transcreation task for a client who was impressed by my skills in Arabic writing. He took an interest in my studies and limited opportunities in Tunisia and convinced me to apply for an exclusive MA program in Qatar. “I am certain you will do great!” he said, “You are skilled and talented enough to get it.”

My husband encouraged me to apply by saying: “I know you have always dreamt of continuing your studies. This is your chance. Go for it.” I applied and went successfully through all the stages of the screening process! Today, I’m a senior MA student in Doha and a graduate teaching assistant with a full Merit-based scholarship. I am one of two students selected to study at the University of Geneva during the Spring Semester. I will also be presenting a paper at a conference that will be held in Cyprus!

Recently one of my former professors in Doha wrote to me asking to visit me in Tunisia and meet “the professors who helped you on your journey.” The first professor who came to my mind was the one who never wrote back. Yes! He definitely is the one who helped me realize my dreams. If he were responsive, I would have never left Tunisia to embrace knowledge and explore the world from different angles. I will always be thankful for him because he acted the way he did.

While I am happy with my achievements, I still face difficulties from within my family and neighbors because I left my son and husband in Tunisia for the sake of studying. Despite those sociocultural constraints I will hold on my ambitions and build the future I have always dreamt of. Woman’s place is not the kitchen and women themselves should be convinced of that. Getting married is not an achievement. Call it a right or harmony but never an achievement.

My efforts today are directed towards finding a ground of proper equilibrium between my aspirations and the comfort of my son and husband. However, I will never waive my dreams for social acceptance. Back to where we have started from: “We’ve got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen.”

This is just one example of the important work produced YaLa’s citizen journalists, a program funded by the European Union’s Peacebuilding Initiative in order to enable young leaders from across the Middle East and North Africa to document and share their experiences of the region.

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