Meher Bahlous

Transcription of Meher Bahlous
Interviewee: Meher Bahlous
Interviewer Sarah Altinbasak
Date: March 13, 2014
Place: Chicago, Illinois.
Transcriber Sarah Altinbasak
Total Time: 16:25

Copyright © 2014 Edgewater Historical Society

SA: Um, so can you tell me a little bit about that country?

MB: Well Tunisia is a very small country of ten million people. We not famous, not very popular at least compared to other countries, that they have oil. We don’t have a lot of oil, but it’s known for being very progressive. Tunisia in fact like the first Arab country and that enacted the law to protect women. Tunisia when was colonized by France, the woman’s movement was very strong movement to go against the colonization and fight for freedom. In fact the law that we have right now in the United States which is the common property law which is the after the divorce, the woman and men have to split the property equality, that law actually was enacted in Tunisia before any other country in the world.

SA: Interesting.

MB: Yes, 1956. It’s known for the proximity to Europe. It’s like one hour and a half, two hours, to Europe at most, one hour to Italy, two hours to France. And it’s known for that progressive view compared to other Arab countries and other Muslim countries.

SA: Ok, so it is a Muslim country.

MB: It is a Muslim… Arab Muslim country, yes. What else? They have a revolution. They start the Arabs praying and four years ago they overthrow President that was in the office since 1987. So almost thirty years in power so that’s Tunisia. Resources include tourism, olive oil, over the fourth producer of olive oil in the world, chemical resources. We have some small natural resources compared to Algeria and other countries in proximity to Tunisia.

SA: What was it like to grow up there?

MB: It was beautiful. I grow up in middle class family. My mom was one of the one of the leader or I’ll say one of the known people that fought the French colonization. Her sister, in fact she was in exile and forced by France for about one year. So we grew up in family that my mom - she teached my education, middle class. It’s really nice. Education was like any other country back in the ‘70s. Because of in 1970, I was born1970 . Back in ’70… ‘80, education was making a lot of middle class and like right now the middle class is going **** more and more. So it was really nice. We had access to good quality education I would say.


SA: So how old were you when you came here.

MB: I was … I’m forty four right now, so thirty.

SA: Thirty years old?

MB: Thirty years old, yes.

SA: Oh why did you come?

MB: Well I graduated from college over there and then I got a scholarship to finish my…. I did a big massive thesis in, a **** exacter which is include TVs, and computer and all that. And one of the, people that was over there, he has access to Eastern Michigan University and he gave me scholarship to finish in Michigan. That’s about it.

SA: Oh, so you came over to Michigan to go to school.

MB: First yes.

SA: Ok. How long did you stay in Michigan, how long was the…

BM: A year.

SA: Just what?

BM: Less than a year.

SA: So then what happened after that?

MB: We went to Arizona, went to Arizona. The teacher back then he said that…. I think the weather was like too much for me back then. It was like too much of league of change and culture and everything. So he thinks it is better to go to Arizona. He suggested they have good schools. The weather is probably friendlier. So we moved to Arizona Then I work a lot of privately owned business, my own business work. And then I start pursuing education and now I’m a teacher…

SA: So after Arizona you came to Chicago?

MB: I came to Chicago five years ago.

SA: You came to Chicago five years ago?

MB: Yes.

SA: When did you move to Edgewater? Was Edgewater the first neighborhood you lived in?

MB: No, no. I moved to Edgewater like in November.

SA: Oh, so you are like new to the neighborhood?

MB: Yes.

SA: Ok, well how do you like Chicago in general?

MB: It has its element. It’s a beautiful city. It’s a huge city compared to other cities in America that I’ve been to. There’s always something going on. The thing about Chicago, it has everything. It has culture. It has fun. It has food. It has crime. It has everything.


SA: Sure.

MB: It’s a big city. Like I was in Arizona…. I went back to Arizona like last year and what they have on the news I was like, “Are you serious?” I miss Chicago already. They have this guy they cut the water off for him by mistake, alright?

SA: And it was on the news?

MB: It was on the news. They sent a van and stuff. “This guy doesn’t have water right now because of the city.”

SA: So there’s nothing so exciting that they have to put stuff like that on the news?

MB: I don’t know who’s the producer behind all this. But I would never send a news van for a guy who they cut his water off by mistake. But here, they can’t even have enough news van here. They’d be like running all over the place.

SA: That’s definitely true.

MB: So it has everything. It has culture. It has architecture. It has education. It has universities. Chicago right now is the top leading university in the country, so is the University of Illinois. It’s one of the leading university in medical fields. So it has everything. It has festival. It has everything.

SA: Yeah. So you had gone to Arizona, for milder weather?

MB: I thought so. Yes.

SA: And then, but you came to Chicago after. How do you feel about the weather in Chicago?

MB: Well when I first moved to Chicago, they had a line for the teacher fair, job fair. And I remember one teacher was in the line with me. I was like “How’s the weather here? She goes, “Like do you see all these people? They stay on line. They all survived last winter and the winter’s before so you don’t have to worry about it.” But I heard that this winter was unbelievable a little bit.


SA: This was a pretty bad winter.

MB: Yes.

SA: It was pretty cold for a long time.

MB: Yeah, and you know I noticed also the culture. It is just so phenomenal to me to see the difference of culture. Even we speak the same language. We have a lot of common things in America, but still you go to California it’s not the same as you go to Chicago. I think the winter here created that sense of urgency to protect your job and to…. So they always so overprotective of their job and stuff and they… And when I moved here I was so impressed how they’re like, it takes a lot of pride to go to work every morning.

SA: Uh huh, yeah.

MB: California was more chill, everybody wearing flip-flop after school and after work. So that’s the difference.

SA: How do you like living in Edgewater?

MB: It is a beautiful community. I wasn’t so excited about it because I have to …because where I used to live…. I used to live fifteen minutes walking from my work. So I learned and I would wake up for work at seven and take shower and make myself fresh breakfast and still, make it to work on time. Here I have to leave at 6:30. So that’s something that is… well, the commute is not bad.

SA: So you work downtown?

MB: Yeah, I work….No I work in South Shore.

SA: Ok

MB: Yeah so it was like right now it’s just I found myself reading more so that’s really good.

SA: Ok. Do you speak any other languages?

MB: Yes.

SA: What do you speak?

MB: Arabic and French

SA: Interesting, French.

MB: Yes.

SA: Why French?

MB: Well Tunisia was colonized by France.

SA: Oh, ok.

MB: So, by France. So what happened is the second language is French. So as soon as you graduate from high school…. I graduated and went to business school so everything would be in French after that.

SA: Interesting.

MB: Yeah.

SA: So what do you consider your cultural identity to be?

MB: Good question? It is really hard to find a classification because in term of pigmentation wise my mom is black. My dad is white. But that’s in Tunisia. It’s not considered culture because it’s such a small country. They all have the same, almost the same, culture. So we don’t have black and white stuff, we have region. You are from the north. You are from the south. You are from the east. You are from the coast… that’s different. But here I would say I dunno, probably say because of my ex-wife… she’s black. Because of my job. I work a lot in the south side so I not consider myself black but I would say I spend a lot of time with African American community. But I can’t say that I’m black or I’m white either.


SA: Do you feel American?

MB: Absolutely. Absolutely

SA: Do you feel Tunisian? Is that right? Is that the right word?

MB: Good question. You know what I do feel Tunisian of course. I always like that’s like I grew up over there but I feel like more American than Tunisian, even if I spent more time in Tunisia than here. Just because that’s how my life right now you see what I mean? So it’s just really I found myself…. My friend told me when I was in Phoenix - a good friend of mine. He’s been here… He’s from Egypt, but he spent thirty years here - good friend of mine. He said, “Look, if you watch Seinfeld and if you get laugh and if you got the joke means you’ve become American.”

SA: Ok.

MB: I was like you know, what makes sense. So I like Seinfeld and I said, “Like get more identify with the group of Americans.”


SA: Interesting. So you would say that you feel at home here? Does this feel like home now? Or do you still feel like in fact there is home?

MB: Teared apart. This is the thing. This is really good question. So right now Tunisia is going through some, some, really tough ******. They have the same guy in power. They had the same guy in power for like almost thirty years, 1987. It is more a little bit more than thirty years. So now they’re going through some really tough ******. And they just … people there, they don’t get that concept of liberty, freedom and all of that so …. All my friends that we went to school with this stuff. They right now have higher position over there. They have really good position over there. And every time I go there, it was last year, they’re always like, “Look, if you come back, I’ll put you in this position, or I’ll put you…. Like my best friend. He’s the Secretary of Agriculture and we went to from school, one of the best schools like most of my… like the equivalent of Princeton University here. Most of the graduates, they go to France. They go to Canada. They are like recruited over there. So my friend, he’s Secretary of Agriculture right now. And my other friend, he wants me to…. He’s like presidential counsel whatever. And he wants me to come back and do the education or do something. It’s really like should I go or shouldn’t I? Just, because if you go there there’s… because there’s a lot of advantages that you could not do here. So this is my country there is no doubt about it……

SA: Here?

MB: Yes, but there is the only thing better. They want me to go back for I would say at least two or three years or something is I want to just help out with the ****** there. So hopefully I don’t know. I still think I mean, I should do it or not? My children are young. So I’d say I waited a little in high school but the calls keep on coming – like, “Why don’t you come do this and do this?” And I have a friend of mine that has a big company over there. And he says, “I’ll put you over there.” And he does a lot of fix **** and stuff. And he said, “I’ll put you over there.” And it’s not … it’s just something that sometimes you have to consider this, you know?

SA: So you feel kind of torn between….

MB: Yes.

SA: …staying and going

MB: Yeah. I feel like I get accustomed to this - what we have. Like the biggest advantage that we have…like I’ve been to Europe. I’ve been too many countries. What we have in America, very simple things, access, immediate access to information, that’s like very important. We have safety too. Even like we are known for Chicago for really high homicide rate, and everything, but it’s still, if you call 911 they will be there.

SA: That’s true.

MB: It is true, and there is like the sense of you expect what….Like when you go to the store, when you go, when you do business, there is the same rule. That’s what you’re going to expect. You don’t get surprised. There is no … you have to pay this guy or pay this guy. So that’s the stuff that… like that. A lot of Americans take for granted here. It’s….