13 November 2005: Day 1, Groggy at Tunis

The plane ride was as all plane rides become after awhile,
uncomfortable and far too long. Once getting off, there were large posters
everywhere advertising WSIS, especially about the IT 4 All exhibition, where the
tagline – complete with pictures of multi-gendered and ‘raced’ children smiling
at a computer screen – promises to forefront the human dimension of information
communications technologies development. I think I snorted audibly.

Men in green suits started ushering us to a special line at
the immigration by enquiring if we were WSIS participants. The usual drab green
booths were bedecked with bright red WSIS stickers, and we lined up like
hopeful stragglers for an expedient stamp through. I was getting nervous. Seems
like from the moment I touch Tunisian ground, I am clearly marked as a WSIS
participant. Should any ‘civil disobedience’ occur, they have all our personal
details nicely lined up to sift through. Should have resisted and went on the
other line as a tourist instead (it was significantly shorter and moving faster
too!), especially since Malaysians do not need a visa for 30 days travel. Could
have been a culture jammer on tour, or even a chef... Anyway.

My confiscated swiss army knife, souvenir from Prep Com3 in Geneva,
never found its way on the conveyor belt, despite me waiting for more than an
hour for it to show up.  Some luggage
were missing, and heard from Heike Jensen that she was waiting around last
night too for purportedly missing pieces of luggage. The conspiracy theorist in
me is wondering if luggage
are being rifled through for ‘subversive paraphernalia’ but jac the pragmatist
counters with an impatient, “it’s probably just good old disorganised inefficiency”.

Once outside, more men in green tells me with huge grins
that the free shuttle bus will take me to the badging centre to be registered,
and from there, to the hotel. We clustered about with our oversized bags
bursting with ‘paraphernalia’ and boarded the yellow bus (again, with happy
WSIS stickers plastered all over it) to be herded to the registration centre.

It took about 5 minutes, and I was slightly surprised
at how near the event was to the airport. More lugging of bags off the bus,
pulling it to the line, passing it through security checks and men in black
uniform looking stern and officious – some with rifles (this could be wrong, I
am not very well-versed with armed weapons; in my head, guns are small and
rifles are long, and that’s about the extent of my vocabulary). More happy
people in green and now a new colour, maroon, ushering us to either register,
or get a badge if already registered.

My ‘badger’ was a nice looking boy called Aini whose first
words to me were, “Parlez-vous français ?”. I said no, but I spoke Mandarin,
Hokkien, Cantonese, Malay & English if he could. His response was a tight
smile. I think that’s why he took a picture of my that looked like a convict,
or maybe that’s their ploy to reduce our credibility by forcing us to be
registered first thing after a 14-hour flight. I don’t think anyone can look
impressive with oily faces, dishevelled clothing and the knowledge of unbrushed
teeth and slight stubble.

On the line, I met two other Malaysians, who laughed when I
told them of my nationality. “All the Malaysians look like freaks and weirdos”.
I have to admit, we were about the only three not in suits, and both Raj and I
have facial piercings. Raj is from L-CDI (Leadership Character Development Institute),
which is one of the GKP Youth Award
winners. His father, brother and himself started off about 24 education centres
for young people who have dropped out of formal education in Cambodia.
Pretty impressive. Apparently it takes only about USD250 to run each centre
(but I forgot to ask, per year? per month?) and they are very conscious of the
gender disaggregation of both students and managers
of the school. According to Raj, most of their school managers
are women, with male assistants, and girl students were given more options and
benefits than boy students. Might be an interesting project for a GEM

After badging though, we lost each other in the groggy
frenzy in search for the right shuttle bus to the different accredited
accommodations. More men in green and black, all very helpful without actually
helping much. Weird how that can happen. The adage “too many cooks, spoil the broth”
kept repeating itself in my head  irritatingly. Finally I spotted bus No. 3
myself, pointed it out to the two men who were helping me that that is the
right bus to Hotel Amilcar where I was registered, and they consulted their log
books, each other and other clusters of men in black, and finally said “yes,
yes, you are very nice”.

I was the solitary passenger on the bus, apart from the
driver, a woman in red whom I assumed was a sort of usher, and another man who
decided to come along for the ride. Bit of a waste of resources I thought.
There were easily 50 buses, all bedecked with WSIS stickers, and many many
clumps of men in suits smoking and talking, some of whom with log pads. I
wonder how many other passengers are in the other buses. Maybe this arrangement
will make sense when the actual Summit
begins on the 15th and more people turn up.

The 20 minute journey was peppered with men in official
uniform, again, some with rifles (guns? UZIs? who knew?) along the road. Felt
like either a royal procession was about to happen along the route, or there
was a serious national security threat happening. I wonder if this was normal
practice. Every few minutes, at least one guy in a police (?) uniform would be
part of the view from my bus window. The buildings were squarish, white-ish,
and low, and the trees were neat and secretive. There also seem to be a
penchant for multi-coloured flowers that grew in clumps, so could be shaped
into stars or flags like dense, powdery brains in huddled together in deep
consultation. The landscape is quite beautiful, and when the bus took a turn
towards the hotel and LakeTunis
was glinting in the horizon, it inspires silence from awe.  

At the hotel, more men in uniform at the gates, and I
was starting to feel slightly suffocated.  Decided to postpone my nap and shower for a
walk, especially since nothing seemed to work at the hotel – phone, lights,
etc. Maybe it was quite a rush to try and get accommodation sorted for the
thousands of participants expected for WSIS II. The
Intersessional Session
that resumes discussions at Prep Com3, especially on
Internet Governance ‘unresolvables’, starts today. Will be meeting Frederic
Dubois in about an hour to catch up on what’s been happening. Less scenery and
more events starting tomorrow!

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