*Also published as an Editorial (9 January 2011) on Look Out Libya**
A year ago today I had just arrived in Tripoli. I still have vivid memories of wandering around the arrivals hall in the clothes I’d been wearing for the previous three days (due to flight cancellations and an unexpected stay in London without my luggage), fighting the cigarette smoke everywhere, being pestered by “Taxi? Taxi?” as I walked out suitcase-less (lost in transit), wondering where on earth was the driver who was meant to pick me up, and with no means of contacting the HR rep who was supposed to have everything sorted for me. My first thought was, “What have I gotten myself into?”
After waiting for over an hour and a half I managed to cajole someone in an office into using their internet and phone to speak to my HR representative. Apparently the driver assumed the flight was cancelled and didn’t go to the airport. Finally, after two hours in the arrivals hall (believe me, that’s more than long enough), the driver arrived. The drive to the house where I would be staying was, in one word, terrifying. I thought to myself, “Ah! Now I know how I will die!”. Finally I arrived at the house, which was somewhere in Janzour. Now for those who are reading this and don’t know anything about Libya, let’s just say certain areas of Janzour don’t make you think “I’m SO happy to be living here!!”.
That was my arrival in Tripoli. Not the best start nor the best first impression. The first week was difficult simply because I had come from a really good life in Abu Dhabi to something a lot “simpler”. (I’m being diplomatic here.)
A year later what are my thoughts? No regrets. None whatsoever.
Libya can be a difficult place to live in due to language barriers, bad driving, lack of leisure activities, etc. However, every country has its negatives and it is up to you to try and overcome those and make the most of the experience. That is the approach I took after deciding I was not going to let Libya get me down. That attitude served me well as, with time, I started enjoying my new life here in Libya.
So what are the things that I like about Libya?
The people. Libyans in general are some of the nicest people in the region. In comparison to Emiratis, Libyans are relatively open and curious about foreigners and usually very engaging. When they don’t speak English they will try and help you or find someone who speaks English. Yes, like any country, it does have its bad apples and idiots, but in general I find Libyans very friendly. I do understand that being a male expat in Libya is completely different from being a female expat, therefore I completely understand that many expat women may disagree with my view.
The country. My willingness to explore Libya and my luck in finding a Libyan friend to join me meant that I have been able to see sights that not many people in the world are able to see. Libya truly is a treasure trove of beauty, from the magnificent Roman ruins to the vernacular Berber architecture or the simply stunning Saharan landscapes. There really are a lot of amazing things to see and the beauty of it has sometimes blown me away leaving me awestruck. I’ve been fortunate to have already seen quite a bit of Libya and I only wish that I had more time to explore the country. However, considering that I plan on staying in Libya for a while, I’m sure I can squeeze in a lot more.
Work and colleagues. I’ve been quite fortunate with my job as I’ve been able to learn, grow, and develop skills I would not have been able to in London or even Abu Dhabi. Sometimes the job can be stressful but in the end I’m doing something interesting in an interesting environment. I’ve also been very lucky when it comes to my colleagues. I’ve developed some really good friendships here, more than I have in other jobs (though obviously circumstances are different). It makes adapting to the country easier when you have several other people of roughly the same age in the same boat as you.
So all in all, I can honestly say I’ve enjoyed my first year in Libya. At times it has been a love/hate relationship but with age I’ve developed a “what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger” attitude to life, so I know whatever hardships I might go through here, they will in some way make me a better person (very spiritual, I know).
Here’s to another year of expecting the completely unexpected!