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Published: November 13th 2013
Never ones to run away from adventure, we leapt at the chance to come to Libya for a 5 week work contract. It's been an interesting start to say the least!
We had to fly from Barcelona to Gatwick, stay overnight, and then from Gatwick to Tripoli. We were even upgraded on the flight which made it a very pleasant experience! That's probably because our boss was travelling with us though. At Tripoli airport we were met by his Libyan contacts who eased our way through immigration and customs. It was a hectic scene as everyone was waiting for their bags to arrive from around the Middle East as well as from London. In the car park we got our first glimpse of some of the current problems in the country. There were several abandoned cars in various stages of decay which have clearly been gathering dust since the revolution 2 years ago.
A high speed drive on Tripoli's main roads was our next adventure. The traffic is dreadful and at times the 4 lane airport road contained 8 lanes of traffic. Fortunately that level of congestion meant we had slowed to crawling speed by then. We had expected
to be taken to a city centre hotel so we were rather surprised to find ourselves taken into some dodgy looking suburbs and eventually deposited (dumped?) in a brand new apartment with no cooking facilities, no washing machine, nowhere to hang hand-washing to dry, but a fantastic plasma screen TV which probably costs more than a month's rent! It was a little eerie but we were promised someone would come round at 9am the next day to take us to work. A little bewildered we had a slightly disturbed first night's sleep, perhaps because of the garish pink bedspread and the zebra striped headscarf which was acting as curtains!
It turned out that our apartment was brand new and had only opened that day, hence the short notice (no notice!) change of accommodation plans. At 9 we were led across a sandy field and had to climb unceremoniously over a half built low wall to continue our journey. The Police Academy is not in the best condition as it was ransacked during the revolution. That was a confidence inspiring fact to discover! They are doing their best to get it up to a good state though and our insistence
on projectors and speakers in our classrooms means we are better equipped than any of the other teachers in the place. Hopefully that equipment will be our legacy, along with some happy students who have passed their Aviation English exams.
Despite the changes and the unpromising start, we have settled in quite well. We have a good routine of getting up, eating breakfast, going to work, going home, preparing the next day, eating dinner, watching TV then going to bed to be ready for the next day. Our food is brought to us from some mysterious cafe. It is simply kebab, rice and cold chips so we supplement it with loads of salad in an attempt to eat healthily. Their timekeeping isn't good. We ask for meals at 7pm and they are delivered at 6.15 when we have just got back from the nearby shop. One day no food turned up so we had to leave the compound to go to a Turkish restaurant which is cheap and good. The problem was that it was pouring with rain and the streets became rivers of dirty water almost impassable in the dark. We got home at 8.30 and lo and
behold, dinner arrived! Apparently the Prime Minister had been on the compound during the day and they had to prepare dinner for his conference delegates. Nice of someone to let us know, but that's the way things are.
On the work front attendance is shockingly poor. We had expected 4 classes of 12 police helicopter pilots as students. Instead we have a grand total of about 20 including just 3 actual helicopter pilots. Others are fixed wing pilots waiting for helicopter courses and older pilots some of whom haven't flown for years. We also have a class of engineers who don't need to take this exam. We're not even sure they CAN take this exam! Still, we teach the students we have and the courses are progressing well. The Libyans are really nice people and we think they receive some very bad press.
Aside from work, we have taken every opportunity to get into Tripoli and explore a little. It's a dirty, dusty city which has suffered greatly in the last few years. There are nice parts but even they have a run down feeling to them. The medina is quite exciting to explore. There's no hassle because
people are just not used to dealing with tourists. Most ex-pats seem to keep well out of the city so it's very quiet. We have found some very nice restaurants though, and the Libyan chefs certainly know how to cook fish. Most of the waiting staff we have met seem to come from Tunisia which is helpful because we can use our appalling French if English fails. Turkish restaurants are in the majority but we have now found an Indian restaurant which we will of course be trying soon!
As we've said, the Libyans are really nice people. This was particularly so when we went in search of the British Commonwealth War Cemetery which nobody here knows exists. Having found it on Google maps, converting that digital image into real life turned out to be nigh on impossible. We got to the right general area but had no idea where the entrance might be. The nice people at the office for the assistance of the free press helped us out. Luckily the Italian cemetery is next door to the British one and somebody knew where that was. Despite him speaking "no English" we had a good conversation along the
way and he certainly sold himself short when it comes to language skills. The cemetery is, as usual, immaculately kept and is a moving memorial to those who died on African soil during the wars. Preparations were underway for the service of remembrance but, being on a Sunday, we had to work so couldn't go.
Now for the bad stuff! If you don't want to know about it just look at the pictures then you don't have to worry about us!! Libya is in a state of flux and at times is rather a lawless society. There is no real army or security force in control of the country. Instead, gangs of rival militias protect each town or district. Unfortunately the gangs from the east of Tripoli and Misrata, a few hundred kilometres to the east, have fallen out. Someone from Misrata was killed and it all escalated out of control. For several nights we went to sleep to the sound of gunfire, anti aircraft weapons, and rocket propelled grenades being fired. It was several miles from where we are but the sound carries really well here and it might as well have been on our doorstep! The Radisson
Don't you just love public holidays!
Blu hotel in town was particularly badly affected which is why it made the international press. The only problem for us is the fear factor, heightened by the inability to understand any Arabic! We are assured that we are safe and if the situation was to deteriorate we will be evacuated. (Oh, no, not again!!) The tribal elders are doing their best to placate the situation and it seems to be having some effect. The last few nights have been more peaceful but there are occasional skirmishes and even a dispute between neighbours can result in local gangs fighting each other, such is the volatility of the situation. We are very sensible and try to avoid any contact with trouble. We get ourselves home before evening prayers because nothing usually happens before then.
Uncertainty aside, we are really enjoying it and are trying to see as much as possible in the short time we have here. Our Couch Surfing friend Claudia is certainly doing her best to exploit her contacts and get us out and about as much as possible. For that we are extremely grateful.
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