Alina's Tunisian chess adventure – Part two

4/14/2012 – With so much to see and do in her stay in Tunisia, Alina L'Ami found herself taking a philosophical look on issues such as time and learning to seek the brighter side of life. This was made easy by an extremely generous people and country that has so much to offer. In part two of her report, she shares the rewards of learning to adapt in her unusual trip. A large pictorial report.

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Alina's Tunisian chess adventure – Part two

By WGM Alina L'Ami

As promised in my previous report on El Haouaria Chess Festival, held in Tunisia between 16th of March – 4th of April, I am coming back to you with my final impressions.

The Festival moved in its usual rhythm, with two closed tournaments and a Swiss, organized to allow GM and IM norms to be obtained, plus a children’s competition, divided in different age groups.


The closed GM tournament B - with ten participants. The winner was GM Kirill Stupak
from Belarus, scoring 6.5/9.


The closed GM tournament A was won by IM Haddouche Mohamed from Algeria,
scoring a superb 7.5/10, and a GM norm.


WGM Deimante Daulyte from Lithuania took up the challenge
of playing the closed GM tournament, after the women competition
was cancelled.


Future grandmasters?


'No...you won't see that move...' – children are so expressive!


Nesrine Baktache – the newly crowned Tunisian Woman Champion


Closing ceremony – rewarding the Tunisian Champions: Nesrine Baktache and Amir Zaibi

Not much changed since the last time I shared my discoveries with you: we were surrounded by the same very nice and kind people, enjoying good food, great accommodation and a new, exotic country. But also, we continued to face the same issues: time-tables were unclear, leaving us with little idea of when, how, and where we were supposed to go. Normally this would be quite disturbing for the players, but this time it was different: we became used to it.


Enjoying the day out for picnic, although the official start of the round had already come and gone


The Harissa! Well-known and much appreciated by all players:
The delicious Tunisian hot chili sauce became mandatory with every meal.


Why rush when you can benefit from a fresh meal outdoors in good company?!

Although we had a perfect hotel and our hosts were open and warm, the lack of communication often resulted in one of the most unpleasant activities: waiting! Nobody ever knew for how long and for what exactly, but we always had to wait. It could be ten minutes, or it could be six hours, you simply never knew.

Still, as mentioned before, we started to adjust: if the bus was supposed to come at 8:30, to take us to the tournament hall, we wouldn't show up before 9:30. Yet even so, we still had to wait!


I’ve always been told that the smoothest route to happiness is to see the positive aspects
in things which may appear negative. Yes, we waited, but now we were better prepared:
books, laptops... why get angry over something you cannot control?!

Also, in all closed tournaments, the starting hours of the rounds were constantly changing, either by one hour or four, and sometimes even by a day. Needless to say, this was very confusing. The result was that you had to be ready for whatever the future brought and of course, to be physically present in the tournament hall, from early morning until late in the evening. In fact, concerning the players who were supposed to take part, the funniest situation was in the Swiss tournament, which had been organized for IM norms. It proved to be practically impossible to make a norm and yet, players were entering and leaving the competition with such speed and lack of notice, that we started to joke: “it will end either as a closed tournament with ten players, or an open with thirty!


The Swiss IM tournament C, organized for IM norms was won by IM Sarwat Walaa
from Egypt with 7.5/9.


Arbiters, organizers and presidents of the Libyan chess federation, Mr. Abdalla Khaled
Elnami (wearing a light colored jacket), and of the Iraqi chess federation, Mr. Dhafer
Abdul Ameer Madhloom (with the paper in his hands), trying to sort things out.

The idea of having a closed women tournament, where I was supposed to play, had been dropped due to a lack of participants. The upside is that I was left with more time to speak with people, to see more places in Tunisia, which is an absolutely marvelous country, and to understand more from what was going on.

Although it is a well-used cliché, Tunisia really is a country of contrasts, with so many interesting places to see and with such a vast cultural heritage!


With such a view, it could just as easily be a port in Greece or Italy...


...And yet, all the pictures were taken in the same place: Tunisia. This one is my favorite
by the way: you can see the village of El Haouaria in the background; despite the 21st
century rush, some places let you taste the peace and quiet of the good old days.


The narrow streets are typical of Tunisia...


...as are these classic arched areas.

Simply put, imperfections can be quite lovely, and this is what I re-discovered in my recent El Haouarian trip. My largest personal revelation concerned the concept of ‘time’.


The Tunisian Big Ben!

I won’t enter the endless philosophical and cultural discussions on this particular topic…but for me, this confusing notion of ‘time’ is sort of arbitrary, and yet, it somehow exists in itself. As time moves, you have to use it, otherwise it is lost. This is what was behind our frustration when we had to constantly wait.

In El Haouaria, my feeling was that time didn’t really exist in itself, but instead, it was created. Thus, the faster you work, the more time you use. But, if you are resting, if you are contemplating or relaxing, you are conserving time, which will actually refuse to pass. Therefore, time will wait for you. I suppose this was the source of many misunderstandings, delays and postponements…


The good part was that I started to fully enjoy my moments,
like drinking this cup of Tunisian tea for example. Quite strong
and aromatic, with pine nuts added on top...time to indulge yourself.

And I still haven’t spoken about the most beautiful part: people.

If I start mentioning everybody, this report will become an Encyclopedia; so I will briefly mention the ones who are always forgotten for some reason: the drivers! Without them, we wouldn’t have been able to move, we wouldn’t have been able to reach our destinations safely…and I can tell you it was really not easy for them. At some point the driver of my car told me he hadn’t slept in over 50 hours and yet, there he was, on duty, with a smiling. Once I mumbled something about being hungry, and less than ten minutes later the driver pulled over, knocked on some door and a 20 year-old woman invited me inside, prepared dinner and became my newest friend!

How else could I have seen all of this, had it not been the generosity and hospitability of the Tunisian people?


This village was surrounded by the brilliant aqua-marine doors and windows of the
beautiful white homes, which date back several hundreds of years.

It ain't the Greek Islands, it's Sidi Bou Said! Initially, I had thought, "Been there, done that" but as I strolled along the tiny narrow streets (especially designed to get lost in), I started to change my mind. In fact, this little picturesque village, located only 20 km away from the capital, made me wish I had more than just 30 minutes available to walk.


Some of the lovely artesan handiwork


This is what fascinated me the most: the old doors!

Painted usually in blue, they continue to amaze me to this day. If you take a closer look, you will spot three doorbells: the lowest one is for children, the left one for women and the highest one for men. Why? In the old days, when women had to cover themselves, according to the sound made by the doorbell, the hostess knew if she needed to cover herself or not.


Due to my sudden passion in capturing all the possible doors which dared to shine
in front of my eyes, my Tunisian friends decided to make me a surprise and bought
a souvenir for me. Guess what it was?! A door of course!

Despite all the challenges mentioned above, we will surely look back to the El Haouaria Festival with a smile. It could have been a five-star event if we consider the money invested and the potential they had. If only the organization had been on the same level.


GMs Azer Mirzoev and Marian Petrov in front of the Great Mosque in Tunis


Chess players having fun in the last day, while waiting for the closing ceremony to
start. This unexpected excursion was one of the highlights of the festival!


Deimante enjoying the light breeze of the Mediterranean Sea

With the experience the organizers got from this first edition, I am sure that next time we will have even better surprises. This will actually take place sooner than you might think: on June 24th a new festival is scheduled, in the same place: El Haouaria!


Imen Ayat, the fiancée of Kamel Meddeb (middle), the sponsor of the entire festival.
Next to him you can see the organizer IM Kamel Njili.


Deimante and I aren’t the only ones to appreciate the oranges
so much! In Nabeul they even have a monument paying homage
to the fruit!


In Medina, the old part of the Tunisian capital


Being a crossroad of civilizations and culture, Tunisia has always been renowned for its weavings

All in all I wouldn’t have wanted to miss this experience for the world!


Looking back at the beautiful four-star resort where we were lodged


A rare, and safe, meeting with nature


Azeri grandmaster Azer Mirzoev on top of the world

Copyright Alina L'Ami/ChessBase


Previous report

Alina's Tunisian Chess Adventure
29.03.2012 – Chess tournaments are not just about moves and norms, trophies and prize sums. When a very dedicated sponsor and organiser like Kamel Meddeb takes it into his mind to stage a big event in Tunisia, and concentrates on making all participants feel good about it, you get something culturally enjoyable as well, as our roving reporter Alina L'Ami shows us in this big pictorial report.

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