I recently began a new regular interview series. There are always lots of “hot spots” around the world — places where there are natural disasters, political upheavals, etc. And English teachers can be found in most of those places. If you are an EFL/ESL teacher in one of those areas, please let me know.
Today, English teacher Hamdi Erestreams in Tunisia agreed to answer a few of my questions:
Can you tell us a bit about yourself ,where you teach and why you chose to teach English?
My inclination towards foreign languages started at a very early age. I was an avid reader whose love for new vocabulary and novel expressions, whether in French or English, was unquenchable. In the early 80’s, when I was a schoolboy ,for me , having a pocket dictionary was an achievement ,let alone english novels and magazines. My teachers, aware of the toughness of the times, used to encourage me regularly and would, from time to time, give me short stories to read. I used to write poems and short essays, and then handed them to my teachers to correct. There was a rare kind of intimacy between teachers and pupils at that time despite our adverse social conditions. Here, I would like to pay tribute to all my former teachers who spared no effort to help us. They were great.
That was a far off pre-internet era where today’s cyberspaces, mobile phones,blogs,seach engines,, facebook, twitter and all these modern social networks were at that time just fanciful, chimerical conceptions. I was born in a small village, some eight miles from the school where I was studying. My mornings as a schoolboy were special and unforgettable. The very challenge to start from scratch began from there. School, as a sacred institution, was, for my generation, the only means for social promotion. Earning a degree at school counts a lot for our parents because educating ones sons and daughters was not only a real wealth but also a source of pride.
At secondary school, my passion for languages grew remarkable and noteworthy. My language teachers suggested that I should opt for either English or French. In fact, English was my option after earning my Bac Certificate in 1989.My teachers of English did make me love English . Then, I headed for La Manouba University in Tunis where I got a BA degree in English Language and Literature .In 1991 I went to England, on a government sponsored programme where I got a proficiency certificate. Now, I teach English in one of the central towns in Tunisia.
English language is undoubtedly the key to get acquainted with a world bizarre in all its facets. With your English, you can acquire the wings you need to discover the world and share its joys and sorrows. Now, English is omnipresent. I think that foreign language learning in general and English in particular is a real blessing. I really encourage young people today to learn as many languages as they can to be real world citizens. The times have changed and one needs a tool to communicate understandably with the people and the media around.
Why do you think the current movement for freedom in the Arab world began in Tunisia?
Tunisian people have witnessed years of oppression and persecution guiltlessly for more than half a century. Every free voice was muzzled and every horizon was shut. Old and young can no longer stand tyranny and corruption. The moment of emancipation got ripe when, in the City of Sidi Bouzid , a young street vendor set himself to fire in protest against injustice. People felt that time was up to grab the moment and live up to their aspirations for freedom. Those people, young in their majority, knew that they were granted a rare moment in history to shatter the manacles of oppression and embrace the breeze of freedom. They were ready to sacrifice everything and anything to embrace the call of their great poet Abou El kacem Chebbi.
Abou El kacem Chebbi is the poet of freedom who inspired past and present generations. He was a young Tunisian poet who believes that people must rise up against injustice and tyranny and struggle for freedom and dignity. He, too, died at very young age but his verse still rings worldwide to celebrate man’s ceaseless yearning for freedom and dignity. Apart from that, young Tunisians are well-educated, skilled at languages and have a strong command on social media despite the constant eye that controlled everything before the 14th of January. This equipped them to handle their Revolution brilliantly and successfully. Young people in Tunisia were the first to use social media like twitter and facebook to help the Revolution come to fruition.
I’ m really proud of being Tunisian. The Tunisian Revolution is really worth being taught worldwide for it expressed the natural human quest for freedom. Young people in Tunisia are the real architects of the Revolution. The echo of the Tunisian Revolution will never cease. It shall resound here and there in every corner of the world in different fashions.
What are two or three key moments or experiences or feelings did you have during the revolution?
The best moments in the course of the Revolution were many. Among those moments, for me, were the first day the Revolution started ; the successive general strikes nationwide that brought everything to a standstill ,and the last day when thousands of people gathered at Habib Bourguiba Avenue asking for the departure of the tyrant. After that, we started breathing the air of freedom for the first time. It was far from easy for people to conceive those moments. It was as if opening eyes to light after a long blackout.
How has it affected your life and the lives of your students?
I was very happy to feel free for the first time. It took us days and days to come to terms with the event. It was not easy to believe that we are free at last. Pupils were part and parcel of that young blessed generation who shared in fighting for freedom via social media and daily protests. Our love for our country grew stronger. We felt we belong to the soil where we were born.
What have you learned, and what do you think the rest of us can learn, from what has happened in Tunisia?
Evil can never prevail .Sooner or later the good shall supersede. If justice is not the very foundation of governance, nothing can stand. .The will of the people can never be vanquished. The Tunisian Revolution is a universal lesson to the tyrants of the world.
What effect have you seen the conflict in Libya have on your country?
Tunisians and Libyans are brothers. These times of stress strengthened the ties between us.
Is there anything I haven’t asked you that you’d like to share?
Glory to Tunisia. Glory to its people..
I want to thank you for writing this and doing the interview (and Larry).
I’ve been teaching over 20 years and through that time, have really come to see a teacher’s role as being one that “turns the soil”. Your own story and that of Tunisia suggests how fragile freedom is and that us teachers need to be responsible and help young people develop critical thinking skills and questioning skills. Education is the motor of freedom – or it should be. Us teachers play an important part and I hope the Tunisian teachers take control of the education of their young so to develop the right attitude of questioning and instilling critical pedagogy into the classroom.
Thanks too for the poetry – I will look at Chebbi closer!
The story of the street vendor reminds me of in the Czech Republic – Jan Palach during communism. He did the same thing but the outcome was different. However, the Czech people remember him well .
Thank U Larry for publishing this interview.Many thanks to Barbara Hoskins Sakamato who made this possible
Thank u for this nice comment.The Tunsian Revolution is an amazing one.It has really freed the minds of people.Nothing is more precious than freedom.Under autocratic regimes there is no critial thinking.Everything is sham.
What a beautiful post! I must admit I really loved reading it.
First of all, it’s so inspirational to read about your beginnings as a little kid, student and your passion for English language. It is amazing there are and always were great teachers who hold the torch on the path for young minds who are looking for their place in this world. And I am sure it must have been a good example for you and now you can pass it on!
And what is probably equally moving is the way you write about the revolution. I have heard a lot about it of course but it is something completely different to read about it from a person personally involved.
I am sure it leads to great things in your country!
Thank you very much for this brilliant piece of writing and hope to hear from you again!
Thank u for the comment.One must learn from his past.Everything is ephemeral.The Tunisian Revolution affected me very positively.It was amazing.I want U to discover the life of a great inspiring tunisian poet called Abu Elkacem Chebbi.U will learn a lot.
I would like to thank Larry again for having given me the opportunity to speak.
Thank u Vladimira
It is exciting to see the energy and determination of Tunisians, Egyptians, Libyans and other people around the world as they push forward to take control of their own destiny. Thanks for sharing your post, Hamdi. I am glad to have become your friend.
Thank u very for the comment.How truthful it is !!Freedom can’t be given…it must be snatched off.Nothing ventured ,nothing gained. I m happy that the interview pleased u.I m glad to be a friend of yours as well.
Many thanks again Ana.