Wednesday, July 15, 2009

So why Libya?

Opinion: Newcomer to Tripoli… and I Like It!
By Sophie McBain
22/11/2008 15:16:00 ( source )

"So why Libya?" I am asked for about the three-hundredth time. And I must confess that, for about the three-hundredth time, I am momentarily stumped. Tripoli is not the most obvious choice for a young British girl who is fresh out of university and speaks no Arabic.

I mutter something incoherent about the flagging job market in the UK, my boredom of London and a minor mid-life crisis that came twenty years too early. And yet, if I am still confused about my motives, I have no regrets about my recent move to Tripoli.

Perhaps I had too little time to think things through during my whirlwind last few months in Britain. After the chaotic scramble for a visa, a hasty stuffing of bags and a few rushed good-byes, there was no time left for contemplation.

Before I knew it I was facing the Libyan customs official, peering at him nervously through a blue haze of smoke as he examined my visa, a cigarette dangling precariously from his lower lip. He conversed quickly in incomprehensible Arabic with his colleague and, ever the awkward Brit, I found myself praying that I would not have to face the humiliation of being sent straight back home. But suddenly I was let through.

I had no idea what to expect of Tripoli. A rushed read of the Lonely Planet guidebook had not helped me much. In any case, I have stopped taking guidebooks seriously since one once advised me that 'if you experience a serious earthquake, the best strategy is to curl up and kiss your ass goodbye.'

One thing I had not anticipated was the friendliness and generosity of the people here. To someone who has not yet been to Tripoli, this might sound overly trite. Anyone who doubts that these things make a difference, should visit London. You could easily spend a year living in London and still feel like a stranger to the city.

The British government recently had to put up posters on buses to remind commuters to give up their seats to old people and pregnant women. Rest assured Libyans do not need reminding of such duties.

I have been in Tripoli for just one week and already I feel welcome. I have experienced a myriad of small acts of kindness.

From the people I barely knew who invited me into their homes and plied me with coffee and cake, to the shopkeeper who insisted on carrying my six huge bottles of water home for me and looked embarrassed when I even tried to thank him.

Other newcomers to the city have noticed this too. One friend recounted how she once accidentally left some very expensive electrical equipment in the back of a taxi.

A few hours later, the taxi driver turned up bearing the forgotten goods and apologised whole-heartedly for his delay in returning and for the fact that he’d opened up the bag to see what was inside. In London, this same event would be nothing short of a miracle.

So, I have swapped the bright lights of Oxford Street for wandering around the old city. It is truly refreshing to be able to explore a middle-eastern souq without the constant pressure to buy endless trinkets at "Asda price, spice girl."

In place of evening bar-crawls I go for cappuccinos on the seafront, and I am sure that if they could see how beautiful the beach looks at sunset, my pub-dwelling friends would be jealous. Maybe I will even start enjoying Celine Dion, who is played almost everywhere, but this might take a little longer.

I still need to make a few adjustments to my Tripoli life. I have to learn how to cross roads like a Libyan, so that I don’t spend ten minutes hesitating by the roadside, until a local crosses upstream from me. It would help if I could pronounce my 'ain without resembling a strangled cat and could manage my raa' without sounding like an inebriated Frenchman. Taxi journeys could be a bit easier if I could just remember exactly where I live.

But for all these miscommunications and dodgy directions, I am happy, for the moment at least, to leave London behind.


Romana said...

so from 22 November 08 until 20 April 09, Sarah didnt leave Libya? I know that it's about 6 months, but when reading both posts, you'd think she's 2 different ppl. but then again 2 posts arent enough to judge someone i guess.

i like :)

always interesting warm 1st impressions about Libya.... they don't always last lil asaf !

onlibya said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
onlibya said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
onlibya said...

Welcome to Libya. You can enjoy yourself where ever you are, especially if you have a positive out look on life.
Libya isa great place to be especialy if you have a supportive environment.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for such a positive post !Saw this and thought you might like to read all about this organization .

Melantrys said...

You've got spaaaaaaaaaaaaaam!!!!!! ;)

PH said...

@ romana :

"you'd think she's 2 different ppl. but then again 2 posts arent enough to judge someone i guess."

Actually I didn't notice that; but rereading it I did notice a slight difference in writing, so I checked her other piece. And I noticed that this piece is an opinion posting and so was her second posting ( this one ). While the Kufra article was more of a professional reporting style one. Opinion pieces are usually more personal so you can get more of a glimpse of a writers style in them. That might explain the difference.

"always interesting warm 1st impressions about Libya.... they don't always last lil asaf !"

Well visitors usually get homesick, I mean when I stay abroad I start getting negative and longing to go home after only a month and I'm familiar with the language and culture I can only imagine how hard it is for an expat in Libya who knows neither. Add to that the lack of support for foreigners in terms of signs and openness to tourists; which they are accustomed to in other ex-colonial settlements they hang out in :P, and that Libyans can be very aggressive towards the slightest notion of racism; staying here can get very uncomfortable very fast for the wrong type of people ;) .

PH said...

@ onlibya :

Thanks for your comment and welcome to my blog ;). I didn't write the comment by the way I was just reposting it and I'm not new to Libya either - spent nearly half my life in it - :).

"especially if you have a positive out look on life."
Yes, so true.

@ anonymous:

thanks but no thanks; not my line of thought :).

@ melantrys :

sshhh just ignore him, maybe he'll go away :))) ( don't think he's spam though ).

salaam all