Dr. Amel Karboul

Fighting Dragons

I did not write in my blog for many months. These months has been an intense journey. A journey facing my fears and those of people I work with.

During my sabbatical in South Africa, the topic of death started to stick to me like a disease.  Death, fears and the feelings of helplessness pushed, and I pushed back. Death pushed and I pushed back. Now I can say that death has won … and I have won my life back. In the following blogs I will take you through this journey.

Cape Town January 2011: My parents Mohamed and Nefissa came to visit us and spend some weeks discovering as they call it “the other end of Africa”; being resident of almost the most north point of Africa close to Tunis. During their visit the Arab spring or bluntly put the revolution started in Tunisia and culminated in the former president Ben Ali fleeing the country. We lived nights of anxiety and fears. We were non-stop on the phone or “in” Facebook chatting with friends and family members. Hearing shootings and helicopter noises through the phone was a frightening experience. Tunisians of my mothers and my generation have never experienced war; we could almost not feel the joy of the revolution during those early days, because we were just scared. I will never forget a Skype call with my cousin, telling me that armed people – mostly criminals and counter revolutionaries who Misused the unstable time – are coming closer to her apartment and that she just does not know what to do. Where should she hide, where to hide her three daughters? Her husband went out to form a community with the neighbors and try to protect their families and homes. It was a moment of huge helplessness, the police and military hotlines were over stretched, you could not ask anyone for support. I was sitting in front of my computer thousands of km away and crying. I was safe but what could I do? You discover your own limitations. After many sleepless nights when the situation started to improve and I thought I could start to relax, I apparently was mistaken.

The nanny we hired to help us with our children came with a bruised eye, swollen face and a broken self-esteem. Her partner has hit her. I was standing there still vulnerable by the experience of many sleepless nights to find myself sitting in my dining room in face of a broken woman. She lives in a town ship. With her limited English and my even more limited Xhosa, I tried to console. I got angry and frustrated. And I was freaking out because I knew that it does not matter how much I do, I am leaving the country in four weeks time and until then probably I will not be able to “solve” this. What should I do, I called a friend who works in an NGO in that town ship and he said he could send someone to her home and try to help. Again I felt extremely helpless. All my energy, my wisdom and my experience has been falling apart at that dining table discussing with a mother of small children, and discovering that it was not the first time this happened. The language barrier was huge, not only our words separated us. My fear separated us. I am used to huge challenges and I am used to just go out there and do something about it. In this situation there was very little I could go out and do. It was not about doing but about being. My fear of failing has been standing between us. I refused the “call”.

I always had fears – as almost anyone else on this earth probably. Research shows that only psychopaths or people with no capacity of empathy have no fears.  However events in my life, some by choice some by accident came along my journey to teach me a new lesson.
At the end of my sabbatical I was ready for the call. The student was ready.