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Tuesday, 14 September 2010

First couple of days in Tripoli

Libya. Seated on my balcony in Janzour, listening to cars passing by and Eid fireworks, neither that I can see. Glancing up, I see the mosque opposite me. Lots of mosquest. Lots of minarets. All around. Twice a day – the call to prayer. Loud. But short. My street has no name. My house, no address. Lots of shops that all sell the same things. Like an overworked building site. Rubble. Sand. Half built properties. Lost and deserted shoes, cars. Boys run up and down playing with toy guns. They have time to respond to a smile. Shop keepers. Patient. Kind.

My apartment. Big. Bigger than one person needs but I like it and can't wait to personalise it and get some colour into it. Photos don't really do it justice, but I'm getting to know it now.

My flight was fine. A small delay, I think, but I wasn't keeping tabs on the time. Small plane. Most passengers on transit flights. All hand baggage was weighed and many arguments broke out about people not being able to take all their hand baggage with them.

I paid a little extra. I'm glad I did. Wasn't prepared to leave anything behind anyway. Flight landed. Pilot said it was 38 degrees outside. I smiled and excited anticipation rose in me for what was to come. As soon as I got off the plane and into the terminal it felt like a time-warp – a place waiting to catch up.

Queued for immigration. Got sent to an office. Office looked at my passport and sent me straight back to immigration. Had my hand luggage xrayed. No, I wasn't trying to smuggle any alcohol. Baggage collection. Chaos. No trolleys inside. Had to go outside. Had to pass hand luggage through another xray machine. Like maybe I'd picked up alcohol since the last time it had been xrayed, five minutes previously. I still didn't have any. Went outside into terminal. Lots of people. Couldn't see trolleys and couldn't be bothered to go right outside and hunt for one. Saw my driver and said hi. Told him I'd be back out shortly. Went back inside to wait for bags.

Waited. And waited. And waited. And waited.

No cases. Neither of them. Not either. No cases.

Needed to ask for help. Who worked there? Who was visiting? Waiting for someone? A bag? Security? Many people milling. Confused.

Saw an office. Found someone who spoke English. A kind man. A patient man. He double-checked that all the London baggage had been unloaded. And he told me not all the baggage had turned up the day before either. Not exactly comforting, but things are done differently in different places and no point getting het up about it. Filled out a form. Today, still haven't heard. Hopefully they'll turn up in the next couple of days.

In the meantime, improvisation! I had a few – very few – things with me. Thankfully I have a washing machine. And a kind neighbour who's lent me a sheet and towels until mine arrive. Hopefully this isn't going to be long.

Got to my apartment. Ran around it exploring every corner, every cupboard. Security guard told me shops would be open later (Ramadan opening). He said he'd let me know. He did. And he went with me in case I needed help. Nice man.

Sleep was erratic to say the least. But that's hardly surprising. It has been for ages. Felt a bit sick. Swollen glands. Felt that brewing from a couple of days ago. Never mind. I'll live. Probably.

This morning went for a walk to explore my road. In the afternoon – after a nap and after it had cooled down a little – went for a walk to explore the other way. Saw lots of people hanging out in the streets. Trees, heavy with their burden of dates, many of which had already come crashing down to the ground. Buildings. Yellow, white, brown. New. Many of them very new. The sea – near my house – but I didn't realise that until this evening.

This evening was nice. The guy who recruited me came over to hand me an envelope stuffed with money. Nice! We chatted a little and then he said he'd promised to take another couple of people who'd just arrived to buy coffee and bits and pieces. I didn't need anything but thought I'd go along for the ride anyway! (Diplomatic car). Had a nice drive around, getting a slightly better idea of where everything was and stopped at a few shops – where, of course, I got a few more bits (I got some essentials last night and a few more during my walks earlier) and got to explore more shops. The food shops are all quite small. Lots of canned goods. Some had fresh, but a limited selection, although we did pass some grocers that looked like they had more.

Lots of English brands. More things that I recognised than didn't. Found soya milk, almond milk, and lots of familiar things. No shopping baskets. You grab a bag, fill it, and the shop staff empty it, total it up and pack it up again. Not exactly Sainsburys!

Next stop was a Chinese restaurant where we nattered, ate far too much and drank alcohol-free Becks, whilst talking about how every second Thursday night the alcohol (the real stuff!) flows at the British Embassy. Yay! That'll be two Friday hangovers a month then! Thankfully, Thursday and Friday are my days off. So I can really make the most of 'Oasis night'. (Yes, that's the name of the night, it has nothing to do with the band).

Fun evening. After recruity guy dropped us off the three of us chatted over tea for a while, and then went to look at our HUGE rooftop terrace.

I have no teaching until Saturday 18th, so lots of time to chill out and get used to things here.

It may take a while to get internet access at home, so posting will be pretty sporadic until then.


After spending much of the next day just pottering around my spacious apartment – oh, how I'm loving it! - I met up with the teachers from downstairs and we went off to do some exploring. We caught a taxi – the only way to travel around here – to the Medina (the Old City) to check it all out. Wow, wow, wow! Loved it. From the sea to the souks – small streets full of shops, most of which were closed yesterday as people take a three day holiday to celebrate the end of Ramadan and Eid.

Men were dressed in a mix of Western and more traditional clothing – a bit like you'd see in India basically – and although we saw quite a few women in short-sleeved t-shirts and so on, the majority were pretty covered up. People were generally either friendly or ignored us and little girls ran around giggling in pretty dresses while the boys were often seen playing with toy guns.

Almost everything was written only in Arabic, but that wasn't really a problem – that said though, I do really want to learn to read as soon as I can.

We found a lovely cafe with seating outside. Surrounded by cobblestones, small streets and beautiful old buildings, it was a lovely way to while away the time, sipping on ice coffee, chatting and watching the world go by. We carried on wandering around. It being a Friday (holy day) AND a holiday (see above!) most things were shut – but we'd expected that.

We wandered over to find the Marcus Aurelius arch. The last remnant of Roman Tripoli and weren't disappointed. It was beautiful and the details very clear to see, especially on the one side that away from the sun and the port and so hadn't been battered by centuries of salt and sun in the same way. The carvings stood out clearly. The griffins. The clothing. The chariots. We saw a cat a metre up a vertical post trying desperately to reach a bird fluttering metre higher up on the same wall. I realised how lucky we were to be there and how few tourists had got to see – or perhaps ever would. It's not like Tripoli needs tourist money, so maybe it never will be opened up to the world at large.

Next to arch was a restaurant. We came back to it later.

Wandering back around and past Green Square again – a packed place full of people just hanging out and cars, we wandered around further alleyways and met another teacher that one of the neighbours had met briefly in London whilst sorting out visas. We chatted, and she joined us as we felt the need to return to the first cafe for more caffeine. Inside we chatted with local men about football. As neither I, nor my female neighbour knew that much about the subject, it didn't last long, but it was nice.

After hanging out for a bit, watching kids running around and relaxing we went back to the restaurant by the Arch which was illuminated and looking stunning by this time. We took a terrace table metres away from the beauty of the arch, ordered alcohol-free beer, enjoyed the complementary olives, pizza, humous, babaganoush.... and I decided to order baby camel.

Last year in Benghazi (another big city along the north coast) there had been, apparantly, an outbreak of plague caused by camel meat – but that was last year. Unfortunately we were warned it would take a while so I reverted to lamb instead. Next time, camel. I ordered a dish called Algarra. It's a little difficult to post pictures at the moment as I'm blogging on a document, transferring it to a memory stick and then using a work computer to post – until I get the internet sorted at home. But pictures will come.

The dish, Algarra, is cooked in a clay pot which is covered in bread (you don't eat the bread). Inside the meat and vegetables are in a delicious sauce. The smell of the rosemary fills you with anticipation. It's brought to the table still flaming. The waiter carefully taps the pot all the way around and then breaks off the top half of it spilling the mouthwatering contents onto your plate. As your tastebuds fill with excitement another dish arrives that you didn't realise was coming – steaming melt-in-the-mouth couscous and vegetables.

Already partly full from the pita bread and dips, it was way too much to eat. I secretly fed bits of meat to a stray cat looking up at me with huge eyes, from under the table. We were both satisfied.

We wandered off into the night, making sure our new friend knew where she was going (she's only in Tripoli shortly before being sent off to another city, so staying in a hotel in the old city) and found a taxi.

In Japan many roads have no names. Here it's even worse. We told the taxi driver to head to Janzur and as we neared it we played a game – who would the be the first to spot something – in the dark – that they recognised that would give some slight indication of where on earth we were to direct the taxi driver to our block. We were bad at the game and it took a long long time as we drove around, doubled back, sped around, got put onto the drivers phone to talk to someone who spoke English – not that that helped much. Eventually we somehow managed to find our way back. The driver, suitably irritated, tried to charge us a lot but our lovely security guard saw us arrive back and came over to intervene.

After we'd explained what had happened and how we'd been told by our boss that our residence had no address, the lovely security guy told us it did and got the guy in the shop next door to write it in Arabic for us so that, hopefully, we won't encounter this problem again. It was an adventure anyway!


The last couple of days I've been having induction. Getting to know what's what and who's who. Information overload. Lovely people – colleagues and other staff. Patient. Helpful. From the school we can look at the sea. Frothy waves crashing against the bluest sea. The sky, always clear. Beautiful. We've been learning what to expect from our students, w hat's expected of us. Where the shops are and where's best to get what. We started some Arabic lessons today. We're getting six hours to help us out. Difficult! We've been learning how to use the interactive whiteboards and are getting help with sorting out our phones, internet connections and life! At the moment I can pop briefly onto the computers at work but don't really have time.

My suitcases arrived too. Four days after me. I'm happy!

I'll try and get this up to date later and post tomorrow. Access is still limited.


  1. Do home brew kits pass customs? :)

  2. They're called 'bread making kits' apparantly.

  3. Fantastic update! I really enjoyed reading this. What a privilige to take part of such an unusual location. I want to read more!!
    Also, glad to know things are going well for you, that the luggage arrived, and that you are enjoying the appartment. How's the kitchen, btw?