Tunis, December 10th 2012
To the right honorable Lady Mary Wortley Montagu,
May you rest in peace.
You are one of the most courageous women that the West has known. Your writings from the different corners of the world you visited did not lose popularity until this very day. You are being consistently celebrated for your entertaining way of reporting. Your passion to detail and beauty is not going unnoticeable.
The letter you wrote from Tunis on July 31st of 1718 took my attention. At that time, you just concluded your visits to the upper class in Istanbul and you were focused on finishing your trip back to your hometown. Despite your short stay in Tunis, you communicated to London and to the West several observations about Tunis and the Tunisian society.
I beg your pardon, my lady, that you were mistaken about many of your reflections about Tunisia. I do not mean to upset you. I understand that you did not have much time to thoroughly investigate what you saw and heard in Tunis. Nevertheless, I am afraid that the letter you wrote from Tunis still resonates in the West. Unfortunately, not every single person in the world will get a chance to visit Tunisia like you did and make first-hands observations. This is why I am writing this letter to you, and to the West.
You mention in your letter that you saw Tunisians celebrating during the month of Ramadan. You described them as “the most frightful creatures that can appear in a human figure”. Pardon me, Madame, but different is not necessarily frightful. Your carriage might have passed by very quickly, or in the dark. I wish you had time to admire the Tunisian beauty, a beauty of brown skin, black hair and dark eyes, that is.
My lady, I read that you did not appreciate the tattoos that the Tunisian women had. According to you, tattoos like “stars, flowers and various sorts of figures” are a “considerable addition to [the] deformity” of Tunisian women. You realized yourself that these tattoos were very esteemed by the Tunisian society. Indeed, they are one of the important nation’s heritages. Tattoos meant an identity, a protection and a belonging to a tribe for every Tunisian woman. Again, my lady, a different way of expressing beauty is not necessarily deformed. The Tunisian appearance is different, and it deserves to be respected and admired.
You were in Tunis in the middle of summer. I truly understand that the excessive heat bothered you. I assume that you were not dressed appropriately for the season. As a matter of fact, you were surprised that Tunisian men are “only wearing a piece of coarse serge wrapped about them.”
I was glad to read that you had the chance to visit the monuments of Carthage and some parts of Tunis. However, I am sorry that you missed on various wonderful sceneries that Tunisia can offer. Instead, your carriage took you only to “the dry land [that] gives a very disagreeable prospect to the eye”. I wish I could give you a tour of the coastline of Tunisia, or of the oasis in the Saharan south, or of the elevated city of Ain Drahem in the West.
Almost 300 years passed since you visited Tunisia. Customs that you observed like Ramadan or summer festivities are still close to a Tunisian’s heart. “Out of that barbarous country” that you mention in your letter, came generations of highly educated and hardworking Tunisians who achieved success against betrayers, an oppressing colonizer –France, that is – and two consecutive dictator regimes.
My lady, I tried to be as non-judgmental as I could. I hope that this letter was clear and thought provoking. I want to conclude with my intention of writing more letters to inform you about the deserving Tunisia of Today.
Your humble Tunisian
1- Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1680-1762) was an English aristocrat and writer. She communicated several travelogues to the aristocratic society in London about her journey through Turkey and various parts of the world.