I love visiting parks when I travel. It's an easy way to step outside the tourist circuit and enjoy what the locals enjoy about their city. Plus parks outside the US are often way more tricked-out than what our staid park and recreation departments offer, with noisy rides for kids and cotton candy and SpongeBob balloons for sale.
While in Tunis (a few weeks ago now), I decided to take a break from report-writing one Sunday and take a walk through Parc Belvedere, just across Place Pasteur from where I was living in Tunis. It's a sprawling park with lawns, a parcours, some historic buildings - and a zoo. I had a one-person picnic of a weird tuna sandwich with way too many pickled vegetables and then wandered around, past kids shrieking and demanding candy, young lovers tucked away along the twisting paths, parents kicking the soccer ball with their kids. I paid the 800-millime admission fee for the zoo (feeling just a little out-of-place as a single foreign woman surrounded by families). I saw lions and giraffes and hippos and smiled at the thought that I was “on safari” – in Africa, looking at African animals… behind bars in a city zoo near the Mediterranean. I took pictures of palm trees and succulents of all varieties.
And, of course, half the fun in a zoo far from home is the people-watching. Like any park, the Parc Belvedere attracts people from all walks of life. And of course I tried to guess who random passersby would vote for in the presidential election. I’m sentimental, but seeing parents with their kids, how tenderly they showed them the animals and posed them for pictures, and knowing that they want the best for them – it makes me believe all the more strongly in Tunisia's democratic transition, and want it to succeed all the more.