Monday, February 4, 2013

Libya Ledger Days 7-10

[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.]

by guest author T. Lance

Saturday, January 26, 2013 – Day 7

Tripoli, Libya

We attracted a great deal of attention walking down Chicken Street on the way to Lorianne’s office, me in my trench coat pulling a suitcase of constitution-related books, and Lorianne looking like the VIP I was guarding.  This attention is common whenever we walk anywhere in this country.  It tends not to be vocal, but is still uncomfortable.  Groups of men will pause to stare at Lorianne and follow her with their eyes, often whispering in Arabic.  I am often stared at as well – I am sure weeks go by without most of these people seeing a white person.  The attention is not threatening of any danger, but I am not used to it and find it uncomfortable, particularly when I have a pregnant wife in my charge.  We decided that morning to take a different route the next day we walked in, on a busier road with faster traffic and wider sidewalks where we would likely get less unwelcomed attention.

That morning Lorianne sent in her first editorial that used the event we attended earlier in the week on the Forum for a Democratic Libya’s work collecting opinions on the constitution’s content as a launching pad for discussing how to practically incorporate this kind of feedback, the challenges it presented, and what had been done in other countries. (The article can be found here.)  I waited in the lobby of the Radisson until lunchtime, when I met Lorianne and we walked to a nearby Turkish restaurant.  

In the afternoon Lorianne had a further interview... This meeting lasted until about 8:00 p.m., when Lorianne had Jamal take her home, tired and ready for bed.

Every Saturday night our housemates have a movie night with friends.  This night they ordered burgers and watched “Groundhog Day”.  [One of Lorianne's work colleagues was there, and they excused themselves to collaborate.]  I wanted to encourage their discussion, so I made them tea, which Lorianne especially appreciated.

Sunday, January 27, 2013 – Day 8

Tripoli, Libya

This day was to be largely spent at the One Voice conference.  One Voice is a conference organized by a civil society organization called “The Voice of Libyan Women,” one of many women’s organizations here inLibya.  It brought together over 150 women and men from all over Libya who were activists in their localities for the participation of women in politics.  The conference was largely planned to discuss the role and participation of Libyan women in the constitutional process.  Most of the speakers were Libyan and spoke in Arabic, but translation services were provided.  Lorianne had been invited to speak on two panels during the conference, one on “Women in the Constitution”, and one on religion and the constitution.  As previously discussed, we decided it best that Lorianne decline the invitation to speak on the religion panel considering the sensitivity of the subject and the risk of her unintentionally and unknowingly offending her largely Muslim audience.

For the morning part of the conference I spent my time in the hallways of the Rixos lobby and downstairs, listening to Open Yale courses.  That morning involved another panel on the constitution....

I met Lorianne at lunchtime and Jamal drove us to a nearby Turkish restaurant where we met [her editor]....

Lorianne was to speak on a panel during the afternoon session of the One Voice conference.  The conference was running dramatically late, so we found a place in the hotel to work until closer to the time that she was needed.  Before she spoke on the panel, the conference organizers divided the attendees into table groups of 8 to 12 people each.  These groups, as an exercise, were to consider certain constitutional questions and form their best recommendations for the Libyan constitution.  Some of the questions to be considered and discussed were the role of the international community and the timeline for the General National Congress (GNC).  It was interesting to see this room of about a hundred conference participants, most of them Libyan women in hijabs, animatedly and passionately discussing their desired course for the details of their country’s constitutional future.  Lorianne was assigned to rotate around the tables with a translator and offer her expert advice and counsel. 

Lorianne assigned me to be photographer for this part of the conference.  I took some pictures of her counseling with tables of conference participants, and took some more pictures of her giving her presentation onstage with the other panel participants.  Lorianne spoke first of the three panel participants.  She gave a wonderful, well-thought out presentation on principles of constitutional process and how Libyan women could positively participate in the process and influence their country’s direction.  Her words were translated into Arabic for those who didn’t know English (the translator later told me it was very easy translating for her since she was so clear in what she wanted to say).  She concluded her words by telling the women in the room that while they should be involved in the development of their constitution, their most important work would be the work they did in their own homes.  She said Libya needed strong homes, strong sons and daughters and families, now more than ever.  She publicly thanked me for my willingness to support and sacrifice for her work.  She got a bit emotional – a development that drew supportive applause from the crowd – and I’m afraid I did a bit too.  It was a lovely presentation, and very well-received.

Now, let me, as a husband, brag about my beautiful wife for a bit.  Everyone reading this letter has great reason to be very proud of her.  She is uniquely qualified for this work.  How many people in this world would venture to a foreign (very foreign!) country, ravaged by war and populated by a people with an unfamiliar language and religion and be so bold as to venture to positively influence their constitutional process?  Well, Lorianne has been specially prepared for this kind of work.  She has the knowledge of a professor, the leadership of a statesman, the faith of a pioneer, the tenacity of an entrepreneur, and the warm and disarming approachability unique to a genuinely kind, beautiful woman.  Her skills and desires are unique and they are deeply needed, and as far as I can tell, deeply appreciated, by this country.

Monday, January 28, 2013 – Day 9

Tripoli, Libya

Lorianne and I walked to [the office], taking a different route on a busier street.  The walk is a little under 2km, and in the mild Libyan January weather when the sun is shining the walk can be quite enjoyable. Lorianne spent the morning working [at the office] following up on the interview she had done Saturday evening and managing a minor crisis; I spent the morning in the lobby of the Radisson since Lorianne would need accompaniment for lunch.  Around 12:30pm I met Lorianne and [a friend] and we went to lunch at an Italian restaurant nearby.

That afternoon, Lorianne met with a Congressman from Benghazi, Ahmed Langhi.  He is a natural leader in the General National Congress (GNC), on both the legal and constitution committee and the constitutional dialogue committee.  He had requested that Lorianne’s articles be translated and is a major reason that we decided to make the trip here.  This was the third time she had tried to meet with him, and it was worth the wait.  He was kind, intelligent, and very receptive to her expertise.  Through his limited English and Jamal’s first-time translation skills, Lorianne managed to learn a bit of what she could do to help him with further comparative research.  He requested specifically to know the pros and cons of electing versus selecting the constitutional committee (to read more of this, see Lorianne’s next editorial).  In the end, Lorianne promised to do some comparative work on this question, get it translated, and to hand deliver it to him (which he preferred over email) later in the week.  It was a successful visit.

Then it was back to the office for her to begin the comparative research Congressman Langhi needed and to prepare for more interviews for the editorial on what civil society organizations were doing related to the constitution in Libya.  These interviews she had that evening at the Radisson with a college-aged ex-revolutionaries youth group called H20 who was managing to pull off a scientific survey of 4,000 Libyan youth and with the director of the Benghazi Research Center, who was also conducting scientific constitutional polling.  These two efforts represented the first in-country efforts to scientifically gather information from the public to contribution to the making of a constitution – for Libya and around the world. Impressive.  (To read more about this, you can read Lorianne’s second editorial of the trip.)

Some people have wondered what I do to keep myself busy in this country.  The answer is:  A great many things.  Lorianne and I were expecting that I would do some work with ...a Washington DC-based healthcare startup that wants to secure a government contract in Libya.  [That] has not panned out, so I find other activities to occupy myself.  My major and most important role is one of support for Lorianne and her work.  Some days I am needed at certain meetings, other days I support by making meals, doing laundry, shopping for groceries, cleaning up, walking Lorianne in to the office, or walking her to restaurants to get meals.  During the long stretches of downtime when Lorianne is working or in meetings, I usually read or watch/listen to lectures on my iPhone.  We live in a remarkable age:  many world-class universities provide lectures and class materials online for free.  By switching the lectures on to 1.5x or 2.0x speed I can burn through them rapidly while waiting in hotel lobbies or writing this record at home.  I listened to an entire semester of a Yale Introduction to Psychology course in 2 days.  A superb lecture series on the Federal Reserve done by George Washington University took me 2 or 3 days to complete.  I am currently listening to Yale’s Philosophy 176, a course on Death.  I have also read a number of Libya-related books including “Sandstorm” by Lindsey Hilsum, “Libya: From Colony to Revolution” by Ronald Bruce St. John, and “In the Country of Men” and “Anatomy of a Disappearance” by Libyan author Hisham Matar.  To better understand Islam I am starting to read the Qur’an.  I also study my CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) curriculum.  I am studying for the third and final test of the CFA Program which is given in June of this year. Finally, I also write this record.

One book I have read deserves special mention:  “The Green Book” by Colonel Gaddafi.  Gaddafi produced The Green Book in the late 1970’s to communicate his political, economic, and social ideas.  It contains such jewels of wisdom as, “It is an undisputed fact that both man and woman are human beings.”  Further Green Book wisdom tells us that “The living creature is a being who inevitably lives until he is dead,” and “A woman’s anatomy is different from that of a man just as the female in plants and animals are different from the male.”  Lorianne is perhaps grateful for the statement that “To demand equality between man and woman in carrying heavy weights while the woman is pregnant is unjust and cruel.”  When one reads The Green Book and realizes this was the seminal document of political thought produced by Libya’s “Guide” during his near 50-year rule, one is not surprised the country is struggling a bit now.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013 – Day 10

Tripoli, Libya

We woke up to wind and rain.  Apparently Libyan builders don’t see much rain, and gallons of water had leaked under the patio door, flooding the floor.  Lorianne called Jamal for a ride to her office given the weather.  Lorianne spent the morning writing up her research for Congressman Langhi and getting it to her translating services so it could be ready in time for when they would meet again.  Jamal picked me up shortly before 1:00pm and drove me to [the office]...

We drove to Majdi’s clinic where we had scheduled a tour of the facilities.  (If you recall, Majdi Ben Ali is a British-trained OB-GYN whom Lorianne met and became friends with in June in the work she did for [the DC-based medical services firm].)  We in no way intend or expect to have a baby in Libya, but we wanted to be prepared in case something unexpected happens.  The clinic is about 10 miles east of Tripoli’s city center near the Mediterranean shore.  It is known as one of the two best birthing, OB-GYN, and pediatrician clinics in Libya. Lorianne had given Majdi her pregnancy records so he could review them and be “up-to-speed” in case his assistance was ever needed.  He told us that everything looked very normal and healthy to him with the pregnancy so far.  Very kindly and unexpectedly he offered to do an ultrasound so we could see the baby.  We did so, and Lorianne and I were both surprised by how large baby boy Toler looks and how cramped and crowded he looked in his little room.  Majdi confirmed the expected delivery date of mid-March.  After the ultrasound Majdi gave us a floor-by-floor tour of the clinic.  We saw the mothers’ recovery suites, the entrance to the birthing center, and the NICU for critical condition / premature and normal babies.  Lorianne was particularly impressed that all the critical condition babies were stable and all the babies were peacefully sleeping.  We confirmed the clinic has an anesthesiologist on site 24 hours a day, a Newborn Intensive Care Unit and back-up electric generators (lucky Lorianne was there – I never would have thought of that), as the power goes off with some frequency in Libya.  Majdi is a good doctor and a very kind man and we appreciated his friendship and attention to give us this tour.  If we ever unexpectedly need his medical expertise, we are confident in the cleanliness, technology, and modernity of the facilities available to us.

An associated note:  If baby boy Toler does decide to be born in Libya (note to pre-mortal baby boy Toler: please don’t do this), we should be able to acquire a U.S. passport and a UK visa without extraordinary problems.  Lorianne of course has a tendency to meet people helpful to her goals (she prays them across her path typically), and she sat at the same table as a woman who works at the British Embassy at one of her dinners.  This woman assured Lorianne that if baby boy Toler were born in Libya she would assist us in quickly and easily acquiring him a UK visa so we could get back to our London home.

After the visit to the clinic I returned home and Jamal took Lorianne back to her office to work on her civil society editorial [and further meetings]...

Lorianne returned home around 9:00pm.  We then bid our farewells to Jamal.  He had been a calm, reliable driver/fixer, our Libyan guide, but we had decided we no longer needed his translation services and had decided to switch to a lower cost option.  Jamal was nonchalant and as usual had few words – for Lorianne and me the parting was somewhat poignant as Jamal had kept us safe and secure in an unfamiliar country and we are unlikely to see him again.

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