We had a great evening at yesterday’s HighlandLIT! The speaker was a remarkable woman, Hafida Latta, born in Tunisia about 75 years ago while it was still under French Colonial Rule. Hafida is a great raconteur, and she introduced us to her autobiography, A daughter of Kairouan. This work tells the story of her childhood in a Muslim country where women had very little freedom, and her journey from being a ‘defiant little girl’ to being a grandmother with ‘a growing bunch of grandchildren’ studying at Scottish universities.
The book was initially written, Hafida told us, in fulfilment of a promise to her dying mother to make her mother’s story known – a woman who was forcibly married four times, was divorced at the age of 14, and widowed by the time she was 21. But Hafida also counterpoints her mother’s story with her own, very different experiences.
Due to her own determination to seize every opportunity going, and the inspirational support of her mother, grandmother, and an aunt disabled by polio who ‘breathed life into’ Hafida’s learning, the young woman was educated and ready to take advantage of the first post-colonial President of Tunisia’s commitment to opportunity for women. She won a bursary to study at university in Tunis, worked for the Ministry of Culture, married a British diplomat and had adventures in British Embassies in six countries before retiring to Spain where her undiminished vision and resolve saw her involved in local politics for the benefit of the community. Her husband was also present last night.
And Hafida loves Scotland, especially the Highlands: her husband’s family had strong links with the area, and they honeymooned in Inverness and have visited regularly since. She spoke of the ‘warm humanity’ of Scottish people, her passion for Scottish wildlife. She described her pride in marching with a thousand pipes and drums along Princes Street in Edinburgh mark Pope Benedict’s visit in 2010! She said ‘I do feel more at home here than in my birthplace Kerouan.
And she spoke sadly of visiting the site of the 2015 Tunisian beach massacre, which took place close to where she grew up. It was, she said poignantly, ‘a visit to the burnt-out shell of my youth.’
An inspirational evening then, with a woman whose courage, determination, humour, zest for life and learning, and impassioned commitment to an equal society was an encouragement to us all.
Hafida was piped in to the HighlandLIT meeting by her friend, piper George Stewart.