Monday, February 25, 2013

Libya Ledger, Days 15-23

A typical mosque in the old city.  They are all equipped with speakers to facilitate daily calls to prayer.

By guest author T. Lance

[To protect the privacy of friends and colleagues and because of the sensitive nature of Lorianne's work, this post has been edited from its original version.]]

Sunday, February 3, 2013 – Day 15
Tripoli, Libya
I walked Lorianne in to work ... this morning, returning to our house the way we went.  I usually get taxis honking at me on the way there and back, thinking I need a ride somewhere as a white person is an unusual sight.

....

Monday, February 4, 2013 – Day 16
Tripoli, Libya
....

I met Lorianne for lunch and we decided to drive into the Old City to try to re-locate our favorite place that made Tunisian fried bread dough.  Unfortunately it was closed (we probably got there during prayer time), so we wandered a bit, trying to find something suitable.  We finally settled on having some lamb sandwiches and fresh-squeezed blood orange juice in a courtyard near a mosque.  It was a nice lunch, 7 dinars I believe, and then we made our way back to Martyr’s Square to meet our driver.

Lorianne spent the rest of the day finishing her election vs. selection editorial (available here), sending it in at roughly 9:00pm.



Tuesday, February 5, 2013 – Day 17
Tripoli, Libya
....

Lorianne had time for lunch today as well, so she and Big Ali picked me up and we went to a seafood restaurant near our home.  I ordered fish and rice, Lorianne ordered calamari and rice.  When her calamari arrived we discovered it was truly a calamari – an entire squid complete with side spikes, stuffed with herbs and rice.  It was tender and delicious though – not the least bit fishy tasting.  I of course finished the meal with my signature bitter soda.

Lorianne spent the afternoon re-working a bit of the editorial she had turned in the previous day (as it had not been published) ...

Lorianne and I met [a friend and work colleague] at the Indian restaurant in Tripoli.  I say “the” Indian restaurant because apparently there is truly only one nice Indian restaurant in Tripoli.  When we expressed to Big Ali that we were unsure if we had arrived at the right Indian restaurant he mocked us – there was only really one in the entire city, this was the restaurant we were looking for.  We enjoyed a great meal with [our friend] and Lorianne interviewed him for an article she was writing.

....


Our friends making Tunisian fry bread.  Notice that the cook doesn't seem to mind the many burn marks
on his arm.  We would grateful for and warmed by their generosity (they gave us many free scones). 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013 – Day 18
Tripoli, Libya
Lorianne awoke at 4:15am in the morning unable to sleep due to the excitement and stress of the days’ activities.  

....

One of the attendees came to ask a private question of [a work colleague], who was sitting next to Lorianne.  Because of the crowded nature of the room, the individual had to stretch across Lorianne to ask his question.  All of sudden, Lorianne began to feel as if she couldn’t breath.  She quickly handed her things to others and scrambled across bodies out the door and into the early evening air.  She was followed by two individuals who wanted to meet her, but she felt light headed and needed to lean against the outside of Azza’s office until the intensity of the experience left her.  She had avoided a fainting spell, but couldn’t totally reclaim her mental faculties—apparently, she was low on oxygen.  She determined to sit down the rest of the evening and do what she could to contain her stupor.

After all had departed, Lorianne said goodbye ... and left with Ali, who had spent the night volunteering as security guard for the meeting (bless him!).  She arrived home in a bit of a continued stupor and I helped to feed her and tend her ....

One thing that should be mentioned is that the GNC decided, immediately proceeding the meeting [that day], to host elections rather than to select the constituent assembly.  This changed a few things, including the editorial Lorianne had drafted and now needed to redraft; it luckily had not been published yet by the Libya Herald editors.

After working through edits in making the editorial up-to-date with the day’s announcement and a few comments made in the meeting..., Lorianne went to bed early...

Us below the Marcus Arch


Thursday, February 7, 2013 – Day 19
Tripoli, Libya
Lorianne slept in till 8:00am and spent a lazy morning at home.  

...

I walked Lorianne into work just in time for Ali to pick Lorianne up for an appointment...

We rendezvoused with [a friend] and he drove us into the Old City to one of his favorite restaurants.  It was a very nice evening.  The restaurant was just west of the Arch of Marcus Aurelius, one of the only remaining Roman ruins in the city of Tripoli, the rest having been quarried for building materials or buried under later construction.  We dined on authentic Libyan cuisine:  Libyan soup, fish soup, salads, pickles, olives, and bread to start.  The main courses were a baby camel stew (“algarra”) cooked in a clay pot which was purposefully broken open at our table by the waiter to serve our meal, lamb “tajeen” which is lamb cooked in a tomato and paprika sauce with vegetables, and cous cous.  By the end of the meal we were all absolutely stuffed.  Majdi is a good man and a good friend to us and he spoke passionately about his country and his hopes for it.

Friday, February 8, 2013 – Day 20
Tripoli, Libya
Fridays are our Sabbath and we spent this day having church together, reading, napping, writing, eating, and generally 
being a bit lazy.  It was an enjoyable day.

An old woman in traditional dress in the Medina (old city).

Saturday, February 9, 2013 – Day 21
Tripoli, Libya
Lorianne and I do our Family Home Evening on Saturday mornings.  This Saturday’s activity was to go to the Old City and do a walking tour as outlined in the Libya Lonely Planet guidebook.  A Libyan man who spoke great English (he had worked as a translator before his retirement some years before) invited us to sit with him at a café and we did so, enjoying some refreshments together.  The song “Red Solo Cup” was playing in the café house (“Red So-lo Cup, I fill you up:  let’s have a partaaay!  let’s have a partaaay!”) and I could not help laughing out loud at the incongruity of the song and the location.  I imagined my dad doing his dance and singing along as he was prone to do to that particular song.

We explored the Old City along the tour route.  One stop on the route was an old Anglican church, one of the very, very few Christian churches in the entire country.  The history of this Anglican church was rather deep, dating back to the time of the Italian occupation, so it was allowed to stay open and operate, mostly for the expat community apparently....  

Our self-guided tour concluded, we met up with Issam....

Lorianne arrived home at around 5:00pm and researched a bit for the editorials on which she was working and followed up on her Thursday meeting....

Sunday, February 10, 2013 – Day 22
Tripoli, Libya
Lorianne spent the first part of the morning tracking down various Congressman to meet with later that day and discovering the location and time of a press conference she had heard about... 

At around 2:30 p.m., Ali picked Lorianne up for the press conference.  It seemed they would not make it, as the road to the GNC where the press conference was had been closed and was blocked by heavily armed vehicles and men.  A group of revolutionary amputees was protesting the lack of services and progress by the GNC through a sit-in within the GNC’s chambers.  Lorianne had been informed [by a Congressman] that each amputee’s situation had been looked into, and all had been well cared for the by the government: each had been flown to a Western country to be treated and provided with a prosthetic and all were receiving a government pension.  He believed they were being used by extremists to interrupt the work of the GNC, especially in light of upcoming protests planned for February 15, the pre-two year anniversary of the start of Libya’s revolution on February 17, somewhat like our July 4.

In any event, the amputee sit-in was making life a bit difficult for Lorianne.  She and Ali finally parked the car and walked back to the deserted-looking GNC building.  She had no documentation saying she was invited to a press conference, Ali didn’t understand what a press conference was, and [a Congressman] was not answering his phone to help.  Lorianne became increasingly nervous, producing [a business card of the Congressman] to demonstrate she had had some contact with him.  The guards and others affiliated with security seemed to accept this, and they walked her past the armed protesters down the street passed heavily armed men and cars towards the blocked-off entrance to the Rixos hotel about ¼ of a mile down the road, which the GNC had taken over (how does that work legally you ask?  we don’t know).  At the gate with more armored guards, there were again some tense moments.  Ali was charming and gracefully got himself in without ID (he told them that he was fat, so would not be able to run away), and Lorianne with merely a business card.  Once into the driveway leading to the Radisson, Lorianne began to stress about meeting up with [an associate] who would translate for her.  [The associate] was late, stuck in some of the same traffic Lorianne and Ali had experienced.  Ali told Lorianne not to worry, and rushed her in through the airport-like security area inside the hotel.  Once in, the handlers went to go find [the Congressman], whose card they were still holding on to.  This stressed Lorianne out somewhat, as she felt she was missing an important press conference somewhere.  Yet there was no one to understand what she was looking for.  While waiting in the posh but smoke-filled lobby of the Rixos, Ali explained to Lorianne that once she had one finger in, you can get the final four—referring to her distress over [her associate] getting in.  He made some indication that he would go get back to his car, and Lorianne began to despair that she would be left to herself without any kind of security or translation in a very intense environment with a lot of guns.  It was at this moment when she texted me a concerning message asking me to pray for her safety.  This is not the sort of text message that a husband likes to receive from his pregnant wife while in Libya.  I whipped off a few texts that Lorianne responded to to confirm that she was in fact not in imminent danger and I prayed that she would be taken care of.  We spoke shortly thereafter to confirm that she was fine.  This little “scare”, however, convinced us that we had become a bit too lackadaisical about our security while in the country, relying too heavily on Ali to navigate unexpected situations.  We decided we needed to travel together more frequently so I could be with Lorianne and provide a stronger measure of support.

Meanwhile, back at the Rixos, [the Congressman] finally showed up and explained to Ali, guards and handlers that Lorianne was in fact there for the press conference which was in the “palace” across the road, and wouldn’t start till 3:30pm.  Of course it was.  Lorianne then trekked out back towards the guard post with Ali and finally saw [her associate] outside the gate.  She began to breathe a little more easily.

Ali saw us through the next security checkpoint, which was somewhat similar to getting into the White House, except filled with cigarette smoke.  There were armed guards, an airport-like security screening, and a guard with a clipboard whereon Lorianne wrote her information.  She was also required to show her passport as ID, but, luckily, was not required to leave this at the door.  Ali, who had been carrying the heaviest of Lorianne’s things, then saw Lorianne [and her associate] out of the door of the security shack on to the palace grounds, and then bid them farewell.

Lorianne [and her work associate] navigated to the GNC president’s office where, juxtaposed to the tense security situation outside, all was repose and hospitality.  Lorianne and [her work associate] were greeted by the spokesman’s English-speaking office manager and offered tea and water (Lorianne has kept herbal tea in her bag for just such occasions) for the press conference, which was now starting at 4:00pm.  When Lorianne turned down the caffeinated tea for “religious reasons,” he point blank asked Lorianne whether she was Mormon.  Turns out he had lived in Ogden and Salt Lake City in attempts to start a couple of restaurants.

The press conference, it turned out, was somewhat useless, as the committee to write the electoral law for the constitutional committee was not announced, nor any other helpful information.  However, Lorianne [and her work associate] were able to schedule a private appointment with the spokesman for the next day.

....

Monday, February 11, 2013 – Day 23
Tripoli, Libya

I walked Lorianne into work this morning.  When I walk Lorianne into work I also serve as a general pack animal, usually carrying her briefcase and always carrying her heavy laptop.  Upon arriving at [the office], we discovered Lorianne’s phone was out of credit, so we attempted to purchase more credit at the Radisson, only to discover that the two ATMs were not working.  Without cash, credit could not be restored.  Instead, Lorianne called Ali to see if he could help.  Luckily, he was already at the Radisson and had phone credit with him for Lorianne’s phone.  Bless him.  Ali saved her, but I was a little upset with Lorianne for not planning better and having the foresight to charge her phone in a more efficient manner that did not crush the mornings of two or three other people.  Lorianne admitted that she could do better, that she was “not in Kansas anymore”, and needed to be more thoughtful and mindful about her actions and movements.  We arranged to meet up again that afternoon, and Lorianne was driven to [the office] where she got in a few hours’ worth of work on her editorials and calling more congressmen to set up appointments.

Meanwhile, Ali and I launched into a mission to 1) get cash, and 2) buy Tunisia Air flights from Tripoli to Tunis.  The flights were intended as a sort of insurance policy:  since some airlines were cancelling flights on and around February 17, we were concerned that British Airways might cancel their flights as well, effectively stranding us in the country.  This was particularly concerning for us since our intended flight date, February 17, was close to the last day that Lorianne could fly before she was “too pregnant” and was in danger of getting stuck in the country by airline pregnancy flight policies.  We intended to buy the Tunis Air flights as a way to get us to another city out of which flights would still be operating.  Lorianne had heard from a friend that tickets were significantly cheaper in person, so my mission was to secure enough cash and then buy the tickets at the Tunis Air office in Algeria Square.

Traffic is a major battle in Tripoli.  For convenience’s sake, we went to the Tunis Air offices first, and Ali lent me the 320 dinars it cost to buy the two tickets... After buying the tickets, to repay Ali and replenish our own cash, I needed to find an ATM.  As previously discussed, finding an operational ATM in Tripoli is no easy feat.  We eventually found one and I removed 500 dinars.  I noted Ali was hiding his right hand under his coat as we walked away from the ATM, looking alertly around us, and subtly signaling with his hands where I should stand and how I should follow him.  I learned later that he did not in fact carry a gun, but was only acting so as to dissuade anyone from giving us any problems.  So Ali served as my bank and bodyguard that day.

I eventually met up with Lorianne again and we headed to the GNC offices near the Rixos.  She [and her work associates] were going to meet with the GNC spokesman – I was accompanying them so Lorianne didn’t find herself in a precarious situation in the same place as she had before.  The GNC offices were barricaded and road-blocked, with many soldiers and six or seven pickups outfitted with surface-to-air or surface-to-surface machine guns in the flatbeds of the pickups.  We made our way through GNC office security and were driven a short distance by other guards to the appropriate building.  The women eventually started their meeting, and I situated myself in a waiting area for the long wait...The meeting lasted two and a half hours.

Starving after the meeting and wait, we got some pizza and falafel with [a friend] and went back to her apartment to eat and talk.  Later that evening Lorianne and I went to [an associate's] home where she had organized a get-together among friends, many of them...co-workers, and had cooked delicious Indian food for the occasion.  We brought a box of handmade Libyan sweets from a store on Chicken Street as our contribution.

When we returned that evening, Lorianne finished up her elections editorial (available here) to include the day’s interview and crawled into bed.

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