Surprise’s Taoufik Narati: “When I grew up, I knew I would have barely any chance of getting a job and living a good life in Tunisia with my disability”

Recorded by Eva Mell, Surprise

I have been selling Surprise as a “flyer” for around two years, meaning that I have no fixed selling location and must always look for an available place to work. Only then can I sell copies of the magazine. I am unable to see if someone is already selling in that location from afar [due to my condition], so first of all I have to park and then check, which is quite complicated for me as a wheelchair user.

When looking for an available space to sell Surprise, I always make sure that there is a disabled toilet, which is thankfully often the case. In Switzerland, the pavements are also built in a way that I can easily move around in my wheelchair, meaning I do not have many obstacles when I am out at work. If I am going to work, I always wear my orthoses, which are special splints for my legs that enable me to get up and walk for a while. Should I be faced with a difficult situation or have to get out of my wheelchair, I am no longer reliant on the help of other people if I am wearing my orthoses.

I am from Tunisia. When I was six months old, I contracted polio and at age two I had to have four operations, as my feet were twisted, and my neck was stiff. These operations made me feel much better. My mother did everything that she could for me at that time, for which I am so grateful.

When I grew up, I knew that I would have barely any chance of getting a job and living a good life in Tunisia with my disability. At that time, Tunisian people were doing quite well economically, but there were not many opportunities for someone like me. I was 27 when I left Tunisia for Europe, and saying goodbye was very difficult for myself and my mother. But she could understand why I wanted to leave.

Photo by Klaus Petrus

I have studied in Tunisia, Switzerland, and France; I am a qualified English and French translator as well as a bookseller. However, I have not worked in any of these professions in Europe. I had a few jobs where I carried out simple office tasks, but I did not like them. Therefore, I started selling cards on the streets. Among those I sold were handmade cards made in workshops employing those with disabilities, such as cards with 3D motifs or those with pictures by artists such as Van Gogh. Yet in the last few years card sales have gotten particularly bad. People send messages online and no longer tend to send greetings by post.

In the same place as I had sold cards there was a regular seller of Surprise magazine. I asked him if he was happy selling magazines, to which he said he was. Because of this I also moved to Surprise and am now very happy. Since the outbreak of coronavirus, I am selling fewer copies than I did previously, but people pay more for the magazines than they need to, which makes me happy.

I still know one of my regular customers from when I sold cards; sometimes they ask me where my cards are. I like that I am in contact with people and can speak to them. I like selling and am happy with the money that I earn. I support my mother with my earnings as my siblings are unable to and, of course, I earn money to provide for my own family. I have three children: my eldest daughter is 22 and my two sons are 12 and 9 years old.

Overall, I am very satisfied. Life is good; I have my children, I work for Surprise, and I regularly see lots of different people. What would be even better would be if I had a permanent selling location.

Translated from German by Euan Bartlet