Friday, November 18, 2005

Duck in Tunis

Duck in Tunis

If you’re expecting a Friday Scary Story today, then tough luck. I am currently in Tunis, covering the World Summit on the Information Society [the UN-sponsored event that’s deciding who owns the internet – America – and how to use digital technology to rot our collective brains – you’re reading it now] for my employers, a large British-based broadcasting corporation, which you may have heard of. Completely unconnected to my journalistic duties, I’ve been keeping a diary. This is it, you lucky, lucky people.

Tuesday: Why is it, that when you leave stupidly early for the airport “to allow time” for delays, disasters and stupid people, nothing actually goes wrong, leaving you bored out of your skull in the departure lounge at Gatwick Airport with three hours to kill.

After a mere seven minutes, even Garfunkel’s, the curse of the West End diner looks alluring, and I’ve already been thrown out of the Burberry duty free shop for laughing at the dog coat (priced too high even for an ironic purchase). Yo! Sushi is a no-no, as the thought of eating raw fish just before heading to bottom-uncertainty in Africa is completely out. It’s no good, two hours to go. Garfunkel’s has got me. Sorry.

Wednesday: The words “piss-up” and “brewery” cannot do justice to the situation. I have also had a spunker of an idea for my next book: Great Desert Car Parks I Have Stood About In”.

Fantastically, our hosts closed the registration centre at the airport minutes before the evening flights from Europe, bearing assorted delegates, company executives and bored hacks, began to arrive. The net result being hordes of confused delegates herded from place-to-place until, by chance, a desirable outcome is reached. At one point, being the only person to spot their hotel, I came within seconds of auctioning my room to the highest bidder. Then I saw my room.

The Tunisian approach to problem solving is this: stand around in all-male groups, shouting, smoking, and if one is available, repeatedly slamming a car door. The threat of a good door slam is enough to set any wheels in motion, and surrounded by clouds of smoke, stuff eventually happens.

The heavily-armed-goon-to-nervous delegate ratio here is pleasingly high, with some goons so important, they are allowed up to two guns, bayonets and a stick. Disappointingly, it turns out the five traffic cops on each street corner only have empty holsters. Rather like me then. It’s the guys NOT in uniform standing in the background that really scare you, though…

Also: Spotted – my first Tunisian bad transvestite. I didn’t realise they were allowed. If only I had known…

Wednesday, Part II: Everybody has a better hotel than me.

On the plus side, in just one (fifteen hour working) day, I have been personally jostled by Tunisian President Ben Ali, who actually has his own goons to do jostling for him (he’s THAT important), the Nigerian Communications Minister and the Sultan of Qatar, who was very polite in his jostling technique. There is no British jostling contingent. We are, apparently, saving our powder for 2012.

Today’s best ironic moment: The summit WiFi server and Ethernet connection crashing, leaving the entire media corps without internet. That’s the Information society for you.

Thursday: Great excitement round the Summit as news gets about that my friend and yours, Colonel Muammar “The Artist Formerly known as Mad Dog” Qadaffi, is due on the podium, just after an uninspiring warm-up act by the Communications Minister of the Republic of Moldova.

Two o’clock approaches, and a message comes through that the Leader of the Revolution is far too busy for this kind of thing, and he’ll be showing up in his own time. Naturally, at such a high-level event, he almost certainly playing his infamous mind-games, and probably has no intention of showing up at all. He’s probably back in Tripoli having a hummus fight with select members of his bodyguard.

And there lies the greatest disappointment – not actually getting to see the Qadaffi bodyguard – hand-picked, all-girl, all-ninja, all-ssssexxxx. Which is a shame – I’d shaved my palms specially.

The prospect of a Qadaffi/Mugabe double-act on Friday scares us all. Some people have already left. I’m here for the duration.

Thursday, Part II: Of course, the major achievement of this Summit is its steadfast agreement to do nothing at all. The internet is still American, the very rich companies that run the internet will remain very, very rich companies that run the internet, and lots of ministers and heads of state got up and said things about “connecting” with the world’s poor, undoubtedly to sell stuff to them.

One or two of the world’s poor, having spent their last Dinar on the cheapest hotel possible, actually asked for money, and offered to set up call centres in return.

Of course, I admit that I have been paid off by one of these large and very, very, very rich organisations that still run the internet to say nice things about them. I have received, in return, my first, and I fear, my last, corporate bribe. A rather cheap pair of socks from the all-powerful internet behemoth, the Numbers Registry Organisation. They are black, which is always a bonus.

Qadaffi – get over here – you’re missing out on free footwear, man.

Today’s best ironic moment in a summit steeped in irony: The US Government seminar on disaster management. As the President says: “You’re doing one heckuva job, Brownie”.

Kieren McCarthy of The Register is also blogging from this very room, and is now the official Done-a-Poo correspondent at this event.

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