Behind the scenes: Return to Port El Kantaoui
For DG #19, which will be out very soon, we sent journalist Vidhi Doshi to visit Port El Kantaoui, the Tunisian beach resort where 38 tourists lost their lives in a terror attack on 26th June. Two months after the massacre, Doshi found an eerily quiet place where the locals were in a state of profound shock: we asked her about the experience of reporting from a ghost town
What were you expecting to see in Port El Kantaoui?
I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew the layout, the key locations I needed to go to and I knew I wanted to speak to eyewitnesses. But I didn’t know what access I would be able to get. When I arrived at the [Imperial Marhaba] hotel I was searched by plainclothes policemen almost the second I got out of the taxi. It took around half an hour of talking to the guards before they agreed to let me go to the beach. The hotel building itself was closed to journalists. Apart from a couple of small bouquets in a corner and a police patrol on site, there was little to mark this out as the site of a massacre. From the outside the hotel looks like it’s business as usual – although minus a few hundred tourists. The gardens are still perfectly manicured. The beach looks like a normal beach but it became the focus of my article because there was just this horrible atmosphere there.
How did you select the interviewees in the piece?
There was a limited number of people I was allowed to talk to. Hotel staff and management were not talking. Security and policemen would talk but only a little. But for me this story was about one particular beach in El Kantaoui and how the terror attack had affected every person there. I walked around the beach looking for eyewitnesses – and people whose businesses had been affected, like the watersports companies and shops on the street where Seifeddine Rezgui, the gunman, was killed.
Did you experience hostility from locals?
Yes. Everyone I interviewed wanted to see my press card, which is unusual. Many people were willing to talk but for example the boys at the watersports company on the beach, who had all witnessed the attack, were dismissive when I first approached them. People were polite, but there was certainly a sense of weariness.
Is there an emotional impact when you cover a story like this as a journalist?
It’s not an easy experience and hearing people talk about what they saw takes a toll on you. One of my interviewees showed me a video he’d taken on the beach after the attack. The video showed British tourists who had been shot. When he showed me the video I felt physically sick. I wanted to leave the room and throw up but I had to keep watching. The images were so graphic and they have stuck in my mind ever since. There are some things I saw that day that will haunt me.
Vidhi Doshi’s feature on her visit to Port El Kantaoui will appear in issue #19 of Delayed Gratifcation, alongside a story on the Kuwait mosque attack of the same day. The issue will be hitting subscribers’ doormats shortly.
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