Tunis was one of the most fascinating cities of my trip. Though I had previously read about the interaction between the traditional and French colonialist architectures in North Africa, Tunis was my first time seeing it in person. I loved the contrast between the wide Avenue de France, complete with its streetcars, embassies, and train station, and the winding streets of the Casbah. The ubiquitous portraits of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, especially adorning roundabouts, reminded me of the billboards of Daniel Ortega’s smiling face in Managua. Little did I know that the Tunisian signs would be torn down within a month. On the day I left the country, a vendor known as Mohamed Bouazizi lit himself on fire as a protest against the government, and the rest is history.

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Staying a Half Step Ahead

Three months ago, I wrote about how blessed I felt that I had been staying out of harm’s way. In the intervening months, it seems that trouble is starting to follow a bit more closely in my footsteps.


  • As I was crossing the border into Costa Rica, a border dispute between the two countries flared up.


  • In the week before I left, Panama experienced days of torrential rain.
  • Debris and floodwater necessitated the closing of the Panama Canal due to meteorological reasons for the first time ever (the other notable closure was for the US Invasion in 1989).  The father of a Panamanian friend I made works as a hydrologist for the Canal Authority, and he had to work outrageous hours.
  • Landslides caused the closure of numerous key arteries throughout the country.  At one point, floodwaters and landslides blocked the two highways linking Panama City and the country’s second most important city, Colón.  One of the bridges across the Canal was closed indefinitely, and the Panamerican Highway into the Darien Province was closed.
  • My friend Johanna had to be evacuated from the village in which she was doing agricultural work.  You can see some of her pictures of the evacuation (i.e. traveling by boat along the Panamerican Highway) here on her blog.
  • The day before I flew out of Panama, one of the runways at Tocumen International Airport buckled.
  • If you’re interested in helping some of those affected by these floods, there’s information here.


  • On the day I flew out of Tunis, a young fruit seller named Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire.
  • As a result of the ensuing protests, within four weeks the government was dissolved.  President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who had ruled since before I was born, and whose smiling face covered posters all over Tunis as I explored the city, fled the country.