On Friday afternoon 14 January 2011, my husband, our two small children, and I were packing and preparing for our flight the next morning to Tunisia. Although our personal and professional lives had taken us to Europe, South America, and Southeast Asia, it had been ten years since I set foot in the Middle East during a BYU study abroad to Syria. Now, having completed a contract with an Italian company, we wanted a warm, laid-back place to spend a few months working on a new business idea. Tunisia had it all: gorgeous beaches, low cost of living, Roman ruins, original Star Wars sets, and political stability. Political stability, that is, until the day before we were supposed to fly out.
Nationwide protests against unemployment and government corruption had reached the capital a few days before, but that morning our contacts in Tunis had assured us the situation was reasonably stable. Then, at around 5:30 p.m., we received nearly simultaneous calls from our Chicago-based Tunisian landlord and his brother in Tunisia. The government had fallen, the president had fled the country, and military gun battles were taking place with rogue police in the streets. In case we were still undecided, the airport was also closed, rendering our imminent flight not only inadvisable but literally impossible.