Today marks my first month in Libya and I think that’s as good a time as any to reflect a bit on this new adventure.
I think the word adventure really is the best way of describing what I’m living here. Especially after a year in a place like Abu Dhabi, which despite some issues can in no way be grouped with other developing cities. Infrastructure wise, the city is on a par with most western countries, so moving from London to Abu Dhabi wasn’t a hard adjustment to make.
Moving from Abu Dhabi to Tripoli is another matter.
The country is clearly a developing country and there are constant reminders of this. Streets are littered with rubbish. Most nights when I get home, I’m welcomed by the oh so fragrant waft of sewage. We had no internet or email access at work for 3 days this week. We do have occasional electricity shortages. Driving conditions and driving in general can be considered, well, calling what they do here driving is being nice. It is more like a combination of rally driving with a more cavalier kamikaze approach to it. Shopping centers and humungous supermarkets that sell everything you need is a mere distant dream. Given the political sensitivities here you have to be very aware of not asking too many questions and annoying anyone. And despite its relative openness with regards to the internet (more open than the UAE) it has suddenly decided to block youtube.
So yes, there are negatives. There are always going to be negatives in developing countries, not to mention developing countries with some political issues.
However, the negative are outnumbered by the positives.
Despite its scruffy appearance it really is a beautiful countries with some amazing landscapes and sight and not forgetting some friendly people. The sanctions and the isolation were bad to the country no doubt about that but it might have had a couple of positive though. The country hasn’t sold its soul to tourism just yet which means some of the most beautiful landscapes on earth are ruined by the drone of thousands of tourists. It also means that there is a more simple, rustic and authentic tourist experience.
The lack of mass tourism up to now has meant that Libyans aren’t indifferent to tourists as in other places. You are not another person they can rip off. The Libyans I’ve encountered thus far in the souks in the medina aren’t interested in pestering you but instead want to know what brought you to their country; where you are from; do you like it here etc. On my walk in the medina a couple of weeks ago a couple of people would shout out ‘Welcome to Libya!’ as I was walking past them (I forgot to mention this in the post about Tripoli). Our guides in the trip to the Sahara were really interested in what we thought of Libya, whether we liked it etc. At one point when Felipe was sitting with the 3 Libyan guides showing off his limited knowledge of Arabic, they sat around him genuinely interested in his efforts. But this interest is obviously a two way street. If you are dismissive towards them, they will be the same towards you.
After a month, I can say I’m relatively happy about my choice to come here. Yes I realize there will be times when it’s difficult and I just want to leave. But that’s part and parcel of these types of experiences and I’ve accepted it. The key is to try and make the most out of these experiences and that is what I am trying to do.
This coming weekend I will be visiting Leptis Magna, the ruins of a once great Roman city. It’s one of Libya’s biggest tourist sites. I will hopefully be joined by Abdullati who used to work as a tour guide there before, so should be interesting to have a personal guided tour. Most people here go there on a Friday morning and come back in the evening. I have decided to camp there on a beach on Thursday night so I don’t have to get up too early on Friday and waking up by a beach can never be a bad thing can it? (I’ve been called the ‘crazy camper’ here, I hope it sticks, I like the nickname! )