Monday, March 4, 2013

Final Libya Ledger, Days 24-29

Streets of Tripoli were all decked out for the second anniversary of their "Independence Day"
[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

Tuesday, February 12, 2013 – Day 24
Sabratha, Libya & Tripoli, Libya
We had arranged for Issam to pick us up at 8:00 a.m. so we could begin the 1 ½ hour trek west of Tripoli to the archeological ruins of Sabratha, Leptis Magna’s little sister (and the third of the three cities comprising Tripolitania, or triple cities).  Yet no one else was home or up to allow Cosi, the cleaner in, so we bided our time and unfortunately made Issam wait for a bit before finally getting in the car.  On this excursion, the checkpoints were again more plentiful, but we experienced no unusual delays and arrived at a dingy outpost/entrance to the ruins at around 10:30 a.m.

Second and third century BC Roman Sabratha was built on top of Phoenician Sabratha, founded around 500 BC (maybe about the time of Enos or Jarom in the Book of Mormon?).  It takes much better advantage of its coastal access than Leptis, and makes for breathtaking vistas among the ruins.  After discovering that the Roman and Phoenician museums were closed (it must be hard after a revolution to get government services down to that level reinstituted), we began exploring the site on the residential side of town.  Although Leptis is incredibly impressive in its size and preservation, we found Sabratha charming and intimate, in that we were able to dig up our own pottery shards amidst remnants of homes all interconnected by some kind of well or underground heating system via deep shafts.  We discovered remnants of black and white mosaic floorings that enriched homes, imagined where children would have lived, played, and put their toys (can you tell what is on our minds?), and found wall etchings in white and green still visible everywhere.  A highlight was finding an ancient rubbish heap with bones of animals thrown against a wall.  And all of this while the only tourists there.  We encountered maybe only six or so other tourists during our whole visit to the site.

We then meandered into the area dedicated to the Roman temples, marketplace, basilica, and Byzantine church with a baptistery in the shape of a cross.  Our favorite part of this area was finding the tunnels that lead to the public baths overlooking the seashore with its brilliantly colored (still!) mosaics and luxury communal toilets in an octagonal room. 

We then made our way to the theatre, three stories high and partially reconstructed by a careful Italian in the 1920s that is still in use today.  There we began to be pelted by rain and saw our time slipping away from us.  We had been advised that Sabratha would only take us an hour or so, and here we were pushing two and a half with several areas left unseen.  We left frustrated we had not given ourselves more time, as there was still more to see, but Lorianne had to get back for meetings and allow ourselves enough time to navigate checkpoints and pick up lunch along the way.

A quick note on the continued warmth of the Libyans.  When we first arrived at Sabratha, we had a difficult time navigating to the public toilets.  A Libyan grounds worker who spoke no English noticed our plight from afar, called to us, and pointed in the direction of the toilets.  Then, when Lorianne exited, she could not see Lance, standing just out of sight.  Again, the Libyan, 100 yards off, noticed, and indicated to Lorianne in which direction she could find me.  Later, in traveling home, we stopped by a grocery store to pick up lunch.  The checker, again who spoke only a few words of English, put a few more items into our bag free of charge and indicated that it was for the baby.


[After meetings at the Rixos with GNC members,] Lorianne then trotted off to Gargarish—an area of the city with many expats in it—for dinner...  On the way there, she was stopped at a checkpoint and asked for her business card.  (There were several checkpoints throughout the city in preparation for the demonstrations scheduled for Friday, and we had yet to be stopped at any of them.)  Issam was then asked to pull over, and Lorianne was asked for her passport.  She hesitantly handed it over, hoping this was an “official” checkpoint.  Luckily, it was, as the armed soldiers looked at the picture, then at Lorianne, commented in Arabic with gestures that she did not have curly hair.  Lorianne smiled and waved, and then the soldiers began waving victory signs with their hands at her, and handed back her passport.  Lorianne was relieved when she and Issam pulled away, just a little bit shaken.  Although the restaurant was smoky, the food was quite good (Lorianne was served an entire fish – eyes, scales and all—that was stuffed and quite good), but served extremely late.  Once it hit 9:00pm, even though Issam was driving Lorianne that day, Ali called and let Lorianne know it was time to go.  He then unexpectedly showed up a few minutes later and insisted that she leave.  Ali warned her that fake checkpoints might be possible late at night and she might be harassed.  Once home, he instructed her that she should not be out late this week.  We continue to feel lucky for Ali and all of the roles that he fills in addition to driver—body guard, counselor, and comedian.

Sabratha's residential district

Luxury public toilets

It's hard to convey just how impressive this reconstructed theatre was

Wednesday, February 13, 2013 – Day 25
Tripoli, Libya


Finally back at [the office], Lorianne worked on her final editorial while Issam delivered lunch – yet again another Turkish chicken wrap.  At 2:45pm, Issam and I arrived to go to the Rixos for a series of meetings—one confirmed, two not.  ....

Thankfully, by this point, the demonstrators down the road were no longer out in full force and the guards recognized Lorianne, so we were let in through the gate and set up shop in the Rixos lobby.  Lorianne periodically called her 3:00pm to no avail, but we enjoyed meeting several in our make-shift office....each giving more news of the days’ happenings, and Lorianne was able to piece together a story on the nomination and approval of at least part of the committee who would write the electoral law for the Committee of 60.  This she wrote (available here) after finishing up her last editorial on the importance of designing a constitutional process.

Now I will again do some bragging about my wife.  It was remarkable and interesting to see her in action, in her “element”.  A congressman would pass by, she would draw him in with her smile and tractor beam, interview and charm him simultaneously, bid him farewell, then document her findings in minutes in her article.  And then the scene would repeat itself.  We sat in that hotel lobby and I swear six to eight Libyan Congressman approached us to speak with Lorianne and give her helpful information for her work or articles.


Around 6:40pm, [the diplomat] left and Lorianne was able to finish both pieces (you may read the editorial here) and order herself some dinner so she could attend the press conference.  Yet by 6:55pm, it appeared nothing much was happening, and Lorianne called [the Congressman she was meeting with] to find out that the press conference had been cancelled, but he was there and available to interview in the smoking lounge.  Having just received her food, Lorianne wolfed down a few fries before heading back to the smoking atrium.


At one point in the conversation, the Congressman began to look uncomfortable, and [the associate/translator] indicated that he wanted to smoke but didn’t want to do so around Lorianne without her permission.  She thanked him for his consideration (she wasn’t going to say it was OK – it wasn’t), but suggested instead that she go eat her food while he enjoy his cigarette. Minutes later, the two were able to resume their conversation with better concentration.

After the interview ended, the Congressman indicated he would like to meet me.  Lorianne retrieved me from where I was located in the hotel lobby and we sat with [the associate/translator] and the Congressman for 10 minutes or so.  [The associate/translator] and I discussed the new business magazine, The Libya Herald Business Eye, that he had produced and he gave me a copy.  After saying our goodbyes we arrived home shortly before 9:00pm and Ali called Lorianne that evening around 9:30pm to again scold her for getting in so late.

Thursday, February 14, 2013 – Day 26
Tripoli, Libya
This morning we were about to commence walking in to [the office] together when the clouds broke into a torrential rain.  Lorianne called Issam, who drove her in to the office.  



Lorianne then went back to the office at around 4:00pm, utterly exhausted and brain-dead.  She spent an ineffective hour or so attempting to work before a volley of celebratory gunfire let off from a car passing the Radisson prompted [her workmate] to tell Lorianne she should call me and Issam to come and get her and get home.  She called me to no avail (I and my phone were stupidly in different places at the villa), but Issam quickly came to get Lorianne and she returned home in plenty of time before dark.

As it was Valentine’s Day, Lorianne made an amazing meal, intercepted at some point by a long call with Michel to edit 
the editorial Lorianne had sent in the day before.

Friday, February 15, 2013 – Day 27
Tripoli, Libya
After an abbreviated church service—our last in Libya—Lorianne and I took advantage of the gorgeous day and went for a long walk through our area of Tripoli and then down towards the seashore, finding a path and a park that ran the entire course of our normal route from home to work.  (Wish that we had found that sooner!)  It was one of the nicer areas of Tripoli we had encountered, with manicured grass, carnival-like playgrounds complete with massive blow-up toys, and several places to sit and enjoy the seaside breeze and view.  Lorianne had heard of a graveyard where American navymen were buried after attacking Tripoli in 1804 as part of the first Barbary War (1801-1805) (a fascinating Wikipedia article on Barbary pirates, the creation of the US Navy, and America’s longest-standing treaty with any foreign power and a Muslim country can be found here).  We found a small enclosure with an olive tree and a gate locked from within that we believed was the place and was able to confirm later on Sunday that this “Protestant graveyard” was indeed the place.  As we sat allowing Lorianne to rest and us to take in the view, I spotted a dolphin hunting along the coast and watched his progression and then regression for upwards of half an hour.

We then headed home.  Today was the day designated for massive demonstrations against the government and was the reason most Westerners had left for the weekend, the land borders were closed, and airlines had cancelled flights for the day.  It turned out, however, that the GNC was able to negotiate with demonstration leaders, mostly from Benghazi, to step down. This because of reports that pro-Gaddafi forces were planning on capturing the demonstrations and causing real violence and harm to Westerners.  A few such individuals were captured by Libyan authorities and any and all radical, violent elements of the day were quelled.  This was due, in no small part, to the many checkpoints throughout the country.  We learned that many were staffed by local volunteers.  There was one such checkpoint quite near to our home, and Lorianne decided she needed a picture for one of our articles, so after arriving home, we grabbed our camera and went out to take some pictures.  We were quickly intercepted and there was a moment where we thought this had all been a bad idea, but the soldier who had stopped us then asked in English where we were from. He then proceeded to make friendly conversation and introduce us to others with whom he worked.  We even got pictures with some of them.

Although the celebrations leading up to the 17th were likely to be safe and filled with excitement that night, we decided to stay in.  From the house, we could see fireworks, here the continual calls to prayer from local mosques, and see Chinese lanterns gently rising in the sky.  Watching this scene to the magical voices of those calling from the mosques, we truly felt that we were not in Kansas anymore.

Saturday, February 16, 2013 – Day 28
Tripoli, Libya
FHE this morning consisted of going again to the old city and finding a souvenir for Lorianne’s mom (Mom Updike, hope you are interested in a handmade something from Libya!) and [an errand] at the Anglican Church ....  After traipsing through the nearly deserted, narrow streets along last Saturday’s route to the church by the Marcus Arch, we tentatively knocked on the vicar’s home within the church...

We then made our way back to the area of the city where we wanted to find Mom Updike’s present and discovered another beautifully renovated hotel—reminded us of the Prince’s estate in Potomac where we had our ring ceremony and reception—and a small weaving shop where handmade rugs and blankets were made for 15 and 70 dinars (10-50 dollars).  We then made our way back to Ali with a few exploring detours along the way and headed to [a friend's] to grab lunch together.   Lunch with [our friend] involved Turkish food (yet again) and some amazing gelato—there are benefits to having once been an Italian colony!


military rappelling down a building facing Martyr's Square

Sunday, February 17, 2013 – Day 28
Tripoli, Libya


Big Ali picked us up with our many bags, including [the many bags we had packed for our friend], to drive us back to the airport.  We dropped off [our friend], and then headed to Martyr’s Square for one last look and too see what, if any celebrations of the big day, we could see.  Although the road was technically closed, Ali was able to sweet-talk our way through guards and large tanks and we slowly drove around the square, this time decked out with many flags and black, red and green.  On the side furthest away from the Medina, there were military men rappelling from the top of a building.  It was unclear why they were doing this (perhaps it had something to do with a lot of military in one place, lots of excitement, and nothing to do?), but they were drawing a crowd and we decided to join them.  This again took some doing on Ali’s part, but we were able to negotiate a good spot and got some great pictures....

It was nearing the time when we thought we should get to the airport, so we urged Ali into the car and left the excitement of the square.  Ali drove us through parts of town that were particularly well-festooned and Ali commented that it took no government money—the people had decorated the streets all by themselves and reminded themselves that, despite there being challenges, they had won their freedom and were happy to be rid of Gaddafi.

At the airport, we had to say goodbye to Ali as we passed into a passengers-only area.  We got a picture with him before we left and although it might have been hard for him to admit, I think he was sad to see us go.

We had been somewhat concerned about flying on the 17th, as Lorianne was one day passed being 36 weeks pregnant, and British Airways policy was that one could fly up to 36 weeks.  She had dressed in a manner that hid her bump and we thought we had cleared all necessary hurdles after having gotten our tickets and checked our luggage when a British Airways employee came up to us as we were paying for one of George’s extra bags and asked Lorianne how far along she was.  She did not want to say “eight months pregnant,” so she said she was right on the border of when she could fly.  He asked her if she had a letter from her doctor which Lorianne produced right away.  There were a few tense moments where employees behind the counter began looking at BA policies and then at calendars.  We blithely stood by and tried not to look concerned.  Then it was all smiles, we paid for the excess baggage, and we were on our way through several security screenings and into the British Airways executive lounge (Lorianne’s silver membership does come in handy!) for some free Libyan food and drink and a largely smoke-free, clean lounge in which to rest for the two hours before our flight.

About 50 minutes before our flight left, we were told to head to our gate.  There we endured yet another security screening—this time, the kind you would normally expect at airports, complete with liquids, shoes, and laptops being removed.  As Lorianne did not want to go through the x-ray machine, she received a very gentle pat-down from a female security officer in a small booth where her belly was patted twice while the woman employee said “bambino” with a smile.  Our bags were closely inspected and partially emptied – the inspectors were a bit puzzled by my keychain vial of consecrated oil, but they let it go.  With security completed, we boarded our nearly empty flight and settled in for the three hours left back to England.  This flight was uneventful but for an impetuous, $22 duty-free purchase of jelly bellies and Uno cards in the shape of jelly bellies by a certain pregnant woman and we arrived at London Heathrow grateful for resident visas and a safe return back to a safe country.

And thus our Libya adventure drew to a close.

we wished a fond farewell to Ali, our driver/protector/comedian

No comments:

Post a Comment