Khala Mubaraka can neither read nor write, except for the Surat Al-Fatiha – the first chapter of the Koran.

Khala Mubaraka can neither read nor write, except for the Surat Al-Fatiha – the first chapter of the Koran. Still, many candidates knocked on her door in Safaqis in south-east Tunisia during the 2011 elections and offered her hundreds of pamphlets convincing her to vote for them. The 60-year-old cattle farmer, who still wears the traditional dress of the al-Haram area – a wide fitting silk dress with a cotton belt – ended up using the leaflets to light her Tabouna, (baking oven).


Khala Mubaraka

“They were parking their cars next to the stable, telling me that they were parties that struggled in the era of the former regime. They promised to change our lives and to give us a life in heaven,” Mubaraka remembers. “Tens of political parties’ representatives had visited my house but those who were most convincing were the representatives of the Ennahda Party, the Marzouki Party and Hashemi Hamidi Party.

Political parties sent many representatives to Mubaraka’s village to recruit votes. “We elected them,” she says, but today, I do not see any of them. Where are they? Where are their voices, their papers and all their lies?” I am very upset because they didn’t keep their promises. We villagers will never believe them or their promises again.”

Like many people in her village and across Tunisia, Mubaraka says Ennahda did nothing to address unemployment and poor living conditions. “My two daughters graduated and they are staying at home because there are no jobs. I am working hard to provide for my family.”

Mubaraka still takes care of her livestock and treats them like her own children yet complains that she does not have enough money to buy fodder. “The prices have risen dramatically and the people of the village can barely provide for their children.”

Life has become difficult even for animals

Mubaraka holds a piece of pear plant on a hook and puts it near the fire until the thorns burn and the surface becomes smooth. By doing so, the pieces become a good meal for her sheep. “I know that this is very hard work for the new generations, but we have been doing it for decades especially when the price of the fodder doubled. If we want to keep our sheep, we need to work hard. Buying the fodder costs more money than what we get when we sell the sheep. Thus, we have only two choices: either we provide the sheep with fodder that nature provides, or we sell the sheep and stay with no source of income.”

At the end of the day, Mubaraka milks her cows. With care and devotion, she washes the cow’s udder and places a clean bucket underneath the animal and sits on a small chair. When the bucket is full she thankfully pats the back of her cow. She fills the milk in special bottles to sell to the agricultural services cooperative. A car comes to collect the milk from the houses. “The amounts they pay us in return for the milk is barely enough to cover the price of semolina, oil and sugar.”

A wedding with limited joy

The smell of al-Sakhab, a necklace made of amber, which Mubaraka learned to make when she was young fills the place. The Sakhab is one of the traditions of the villages’ seven-day wedding celebrations.

Mubaraka and her village have been busy preparing for her son’s wedding. “I found a pride for my son and made him marry her. I wanted to feel the happiness and live it before I die. He is an economics professor and he graduated 10 years ago but he couldn’t find a job. I waited so long to see him coming back from the college after performing his duty of teaching the sons of his country. However, all my dreams did not come true. Today, I only hope to carry his sons in my arms. I spent lots of effort to educate him and the only result was disappointment.”

When she considers who government can help childrens’ futures, Mubaraka says she will choose wisely in the upcoming election.

I will not elect Marzouki and I will not vote for the Ennahda Movement because it is encouraging the killing of our soldiers. Beji Caid Essebsi is an old man. He should rest.” Laughing, she wonders “Why don’t young men nominate themselves for the elections? They can do it. They are competent and they have good hearts but most importantly, they love Tunisia.”