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02/21/2011

Jim Rankin reports from where it all began with a Fruit Vendor who had too much.

Jim Rankin / Reporter-photographer in Tunisia

As part of the Star’s continuing coverage of the unrest in the Arab world, I was assigned to go to Tunisia, where it all began with one man and a match. You can read my full story and watch a narrated video of my still here but I thought I’d share some of the pictures here, with a bit of background on the assignment.

My job was to turn around a 3,000-word story in a week on how the Tunisian revolution happened and what’s next, file updates and photo’s to the Star’s live Arab World Today blog and pull together a multimedia piece.

In a word, it was fun. And safe.

Unlike other countries like Bahrain and Yemen, where people are dying, Tunisia had shed the blood necessary to topple a leader by the time I arrived and the people are moving on toward an uncertain, yet exciting future.

Tunisians were still giddy with their new-found freedoms. The country – with the Mediterranean Sea to the north and Sahara Desert to the south – is stunningly beautiful and now on my radar as a future vacation destination. As for the people, they are lovely.

Here’s a sampling of my week in Tunisia.
 

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A woman strolls past graffiti thanking Facebook for its role in the revolution. I shot this with my trusty Nikon 20 mm, f2.8. Note slight vignetting in the corners.

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 Islamists and supporters protest the continued detention of political prisoners in the streets of Tunis, the capital. There are almost daily protests, demanding everything from better working conditions to students demanding an end to police interference with teachers.

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 A long lens shot of the same protest. I used two Nikon bodies and a Canon point and shoot while there, the latter in the event that using a large DSLR attracted unwanted attention. I didn’t have that problem.

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 Again, same protest, in close with the 20 mm lens. The sign, in Arabic, says: "Where is the promise of the general amnesty?" Its in reference to political prisoners who are supposed to be freed but continue to be detained. Many of them belong to an Islamist party that was outlawed under the previous regime.

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 A minor scuffle breaks out during a protest by Islamists and supporters, who are demanding the release of political prisoners. Tunisia is a secular state. The Islamists make up a small minority.

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 A police officer pleads with protesters to leave a busload of police with riot gear alone. There was some pushing but nothing serious broke out. It was getting dark when I shot this. ISO 3200, f2.8, 1/500th of a sec.

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 A group demands fair treatment for police who were ordered to crackdown on civilian protesters prior to the revolution.

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 Tunisians visit an abandoned villa belonging to relatives of former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Many homes belonging to the family were abandoned, as family members fled the country. Tunisia believes the family left with untold riches and wants the money back. This home was torched and gutted.

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Sonia Rafrafi, 45, and mother Dalili Rafrafi, 77, tour the abandoned villa.

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 The villa’s swimming pool.

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An unusual lull in the normally bustling Media suuq in Tunis. Life is returning to normal in this North African country of 10 million.

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 Boys play tennis in a vacant lot in central Tunis.


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 L'amour at a cafe on Avenue Habib Bourguiba, a main street in Tunis that resembles Champs-Elysees in Paris.

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 Hitching a free ride on a street train in Tunis.

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 Father and daughter on a busy central street in Tunis.

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 Tunisians celebrate the news that Egypt's Hosni Mubarak is stepping down. It was a special night in Tunis. Thousands took to the street to show their support of Egyptians. I had the BBC on in my hotel room and was filing when the news broke. In a matter of minutes, I could hear the streets of Tunis erupting into car horns and cheering.

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 Men embrace in the streets upon hearing the news Mubarak was leaving.

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 A peace sign in support of Egyptians.

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 A wall inside the home of Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26-year-old fruit vendor set himself on fire on Dec. 17. He is considered a martyr and the spark that started the revolution. His face adorns a calendar hung in the entrance way. I visited his mother and family on the 40th day following his death, the final day of mourning. They invited me in but apologized that there would be no interviews or photographs of them on that special day. They offered tea and fruit and his mom spoke of her lost son, a good son who never left his mother alone.

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