Lucky February the 17th: The time a missing passport meant I missed the Libyan Revolution

Life is completely unpredictable. A year ago today I was on flight out of Tripoli, not knowing that it would be the last time I would be taking that route out of what had been my home for over a year. However, what followed that day proved that sometimes the worst change of plans can actually be a good thing. Let me explain, the 17thof February was the day the Libyan Revolution started and the spark that initiated its civil war which only ended in September 2011. Let me explain, I left Libya a week later than I had to, for my routine holiday, the day the revolution started.

My 17th Feb stamp!

My Day of Rage: February the 10th

Let’s start at the beginning. A Libyan residence visa is only valid for a year and considering that I arrived in the country in January 2010, it would expire in January 2011, the month I was supposed to take my schedule R&R break. Seeing as I couldn’t leave the country without a valid residence, I had to postpone my R&R to February, February the 10th to be exact. I was ok with that and our VISA department ensured me the Residence and Re-entry Visa would be ready by that date.

So I arranged my holiday accordingly with Raquel (she had to book days off work), my family in South Africa (would be spending some time with them as well) and a colleague in Mozambique who would be joining me and my brothers for the U2’s 360 concert in Johannesburg. Tickets were bought and everything was organized! I was ready for my long sought out holiday.

The week I was to travel, I would make a daily visit to the VISA department to check on the status of my my VISA, and as always was assured that everything would be ready the morning of my flight (seeing as I already been given my VISA the morning of a flight, I was not too concerned).

Thursday the 10th arrived and I was packed and ready to leave. I arrived at work and the first thing I did was head to the VISA department to pick up my passport (which contained all my newly validated paperwork. “Sorry, your passport is not ready, you can’t travel today, maybe on Saturday, Inshallah!“ was the response I got. It was like getting punched in the stomach several times and then, for good measure, giving me a wedgie! I was furious, but there was nothing I could do. The following day I wrote  my most negative blog post since arriving in Libya

I quickly cancelled tickets and waited until the next working day to find out when my passport would be ready. The following work day after the weekend, my passport was handed to me. To say I was happy and relieved is to say very little, just read what I wrote on a post about it:

In my hands I have this little burgundy (not the British burgundy) booklet. In this booklet it says where I’m from. It also has a few pages with Arabic writing stating that I am allowed to work in Libya for another year. It also contains a page saying that I may re-enter Libya between now and a certain date. After last Thursday, I realized that I love this little booklet, otherwise known as a Passport.

The Arab Spring creeped up behind us

All the while I was dealing with my own problems, Libya’s neighbours were putting the country I was working in a bit of an awkward position. Tunisians successfully revolted and ousted Zine El Abidine Ben Ali who ruled the country for twenty four years. The Egyptians themselves were suddenly galvanized into protesting Hosni Mubarak’s thirty year rule. This revolutionary wave was making people slightly nervous about whether it would spread to Libya, but EVERYONE thought this impossible! Gadaffi would not allow it!

I even jokingly wrote a post about this, where I focused on the naming of revolutions, but stating that not much was going on in Libya. Then came the news the day after I was supposed to have left Libya, the 11th of February, Mubarak had resigned! Mubarak had ruled with an iron fist for 30 years and they managed to oust him! Suddenly everyone was feeling a bit queezy… How would this affect Libya?

Sh*t, there are protests in libya too?!

Tonito, I heard there is going be an unrest in Libya, following what happened in Egypt and Tunisia. Is everything alright there?

The days following Mubarak’s ousting, Libya popped up in the news a few times. However Wednesday the 16th, the day before my departure, I was receiving numerous email’s from friends asking how things were, to which my response was always “Nothing is going on here. Everything is fine.”. I then decided to check the News sites and lo and behold “Libya protests: Second city Benghazi hit by violence”. My colleagues simply put it down to news channels wanting another story.

The next day I left Libya for London. Everything was quite at the airport and there were no problems and left the country comfortable (and unknowingly for the last time).

The Day of Anger: February 17th

Friday and Saturday went by without me really looking at the news as I was spending time with Raquel. It was only on Sunday evening when a friend of mine phoned me while I was on my to Bath, to ask me “what the hell was going on in Libya”. I didn’t know, so he told me BBC was reporting that the protests were spreading to Tripoli and that they were being violently suppressed. Once back at the hotel we were staying at, I put on the TV to find that BBC was covering Libya as if it had descended into hell.

Filled with worry I tried to phone my colleagues. Nothing. Phone lines were cut and they didn’t have access to internet. Sunday evening went by like this… and so did Monday. I couldn’t get through to any of my friends and colleagues. I was extremely worried.

Finally Monday night, four days after the revolution had started and I had left, a colleague based in Ghana phoned me and told me not to return to Libya and not to worry as everyone was safe and going to be evacuated in a couple of days. I was relieved. Raquel then looked at me and said “Thank goodness you left a week late as you would have been on your way back if you had left on the 10th of February”!

That’s when I realised, how one little bit of misfortune meant that I missed what could have been a traumatizing experience for myself not to mention, for my family and friends, who would have had no way contacting me while I was there. From subsequent emails and conversations with friends, I also realised that the evacuation itself was a nerve wrecking experience with saying that the scenes at the airport were simply unbelievable.

In some I feel sad that I missed out on this, but once I align my marbles, I realised how lucky I was! It made me realise that sometimes an unfortunate event, can lead to quite a few fortunate events! So, yes, this was the story on how a missing passport meant I missed the Libyan revolution!

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