Then, on my second day, a young man handed me a pendant showing the photograph of Mohamed Bouazizi, the young street vendor whose death last December prompted the protests now sweeping the Middle East and North Africa.
It had been five years since my last visit to Tunisia. Now I was back to see how the country had changed since the Jasmine Revolution, as the unrest in Tunisia became known. Here, in the centre of old Tunis, where the protest erupted, the medina – the old city – seemed much as before. The same paved alleyways of whitewashed buildings punctuated by the amber stone of soaring minarets. The same seductive tunnels leading deep into the heart of the souk.
But something was missing. Before the revolution people lived and worked under the stern, watchful gaze of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, whose picture adorned the walls of homes, offices and shops. His portraits had all been torn down and the only faces I saw were smiling ones.