Monday, March 30, 2009

The Ghibliest of Ghibli’s

It is HOT, HOT, HOT in Libya at the moment as we are experiencing what is known as a Ghilbi or Gibli.

The Ghibli is a sandstorm where there is a hot (40 – 50 degrees), dry, dust-bearing wind sweeping all over from the desert. During a Ghibli there is so much sand carried by the wind that even with your windows and doors closed, you will still find fine sand in your house. It’s absolutely crazy and is far different to any storm I have ever experienced in Dublin or London. (Secretly, I'm terrified!)

Saturday, March 28, 2009

It’s "Libyan Time"

The Libyan people are so generous, helpful, warm and friendly but boy oh boy are they bad timekeepers. The attitudes here are so laid back and thus time seems to be a minor detail of life which is overlooked.

Getting something urgent done at work is like a 4 week process, label a document urgent to be delivered and that document will travel through the entire community before reaching it’s destination – it will stop off for a cup of tea, it will meet and greet the family and get distracted in numerous discussions before finally being delivered.

In many ways laid back is quite nice after living in London for the past 10 years, but as I work for the busiest department, I can’t enjoy all of the luxuries of the slow paced lifestyle. I am actually really happy to be so busy at work, the day flies by and before you know it, it’s 4pm and your home by 4:30pm with the rest of the evening free.

Today however, has been a rather annoying experience of “Libyan Time”, it is my weekend and I’ve spent the day waiting for work men to come to fix numerous things in the apartment today but nobody has managed to show up! I want to cook, I want to shower and I want to wash my clothes, but I have a feeling I may be waiting for a lot longer than I’m being promised. Oh well, maybe my odour will keep the mosquitos away.

See I’m already learning to let the smaller problems I encounter here roll off my shoulders and appreciate the positive. (Even though it smells bad!)

Friday, March 27, 2009

Am I an EXPAT?

One of the many signs at my compound (most commonly known as Regatta or Al-Magrib Al-Arabi Residential Village)


Expatriate; Expat - An expatriate (in abbreviated form, expat) is a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country and culture other than that of the person's upbringing or legal residence. The word comes from the Latin ex (out of) and patria (country, fatherland)

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Last night I was taken out to a dinner party which was being thrown for an expat who has lived here for the past 14 years and is now returning home to Bulgaria.

It was a great opportunity to meet the expat community and also to get some food – something which I ignored all day during the non stop move.

There was a variety of people at the dinner – Scottish, English, Irish, American, Italian, Jamaican etc, all of whom were aged 40 plus. I seem to be the youngest expat that has come to work on a town based assignment – this seems to be the trend with the oil and gas companies recruiting from abroad, they want to ensure that they are taking on someone who will settle down here and won’t get homesick and leave after the expense they have gone to in order to relocate them.

The expat community here is relatively small at 3,000 people and there seems to be very tight knit groups within that again.

It is very segregated from the Libyan society and in a sense quite “inbred”, everyone seems to know each others business with chinese whispering campaigns & a very fluid gossip grapevine.

There is also a certain arrogance connected to the attitudes of some people who are all joined together with one common goal – money. It is as though they are creating there own aristocracy within this country. There is a certain status for people who are recruited from abroad, junior expats earn double the salary of a senior Libyan member of staff. Further more they are given free accommodation , travel and so forth. So it is as if you adopt a certain status here, when really if you return back home – you are just a nobody like everybody else!

That said, I have met some wonderfully genunie expats, in particular, my adoptive Mother, the Irish secretary I spoke about previously. She has been absolutely wonderful , she cooked me breakfast and dinner today AND took me out for lunch and to the market! Her advice, tips and care have gone down really well, I have to say, I’m really lucky to have her here. (Tis the luck of the Irish!)
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Regatta or Al-Magrib Al-Arabi Residential Village

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The longest day so far...It’s Moving Day ....


One week later and hallelujah I’m in my own apartment.

Quite sad to have left Bab El Bahr hotel - it was starting to feel like home for me in Libya! The staff have been so friendly, respectful, genuine and helpful. I can’t think of anywhere where I have experienced such homely hospitality (apart from at home!) Can you believe that they actually called me to ensure that I had arrived at my new apartment safely and that it was all to my liking?The hotel life is not a bad one at all, I can now see what it must be like to be an old fashioned lazy man, come home from work, have your meals prepared, your laundry done....ahhhh what a life!


In terms of the apartment,I finally seem to be able to quote the phrase.."the luck of the Irish", as after hearing the experiences of other expats, I am extremely lucky in terms of the standards and quality of treatment I have been given. (Hate saying it though, as usually when you acknowledge your luck, it quickly runs out!)

This apartment is SO MUCH better than the one I was shown previously, it is practically brand new having not been lived in for the past few years. It has been freshly painted and there is a BRAND NEW toilet, BRAND NEW shower, BRAND NEW bath, BRAND NEW mattress.... I am delighted!

The day itself has been a lengthy haul – on the go non stop since 6am without any food!

There were plumbers, electricians and TV guys in the apartment, fixing up the place for me. Deliveries also came throughout the day including all new kitchen appliances, cutlery, plates, blankets, pillows and so forth. I have been assigned a really nice supervisor from my company who is overseeing my relocation onto the compound. He is a really friendly Libyan who keeps telling me he is like a brother to me and warning me about locking my door and keeping away from men!

Ashamedly at the age of 27 I have never actually lived fully alone, so a part of me is anxious and nervous but then the other part of me is excited to have my own space where I can retreat to everyday after work.

Right outside my apartment there is a huge palm tree and directly in front is the mosque which I’m thinking is good karma and will hopefully bring me blessings and keep me safe during my time in Libya!

Inshallah!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Can’t sleep, Won’t sleep...

So this is why God invented coffee? As a coffee virgin I have to say WOAHHHHHHHHH to the liquid crack for the masses, what a blessing it is!

Throughout the working day today I have had sudden moments where I have looked around me and been stuck in a real surreal moment thinking what the hell am I doing here?

I miss my family and loved ones badly right now. It's not like I have been away for very long, today is only day 6, but I think it's more the knowledge that I won't be seeing them for at least 6 months which makes me miss them so much more.

Still have to keep reminding myself why I am here and the benefits of what I’m doing.

I’m also filled with anxiety about the move to the compound, today I was told I will be moving to a different apartment than the one I have already seen and that it will be ready to move in to tomorrow. Having just settled into the dramatic change and gotten used to the hotel being my safe haven, I am really starting to dread the fact that I have to move now. Change is never easy.

How and ever, a lovely Irish expat has taken me under her wing, she went shopping with me today and has been extremely kind and generous. She also lives at the compound and will be leaving the office with me tomorrow to help me move in and has invited me over for dinner. Decent grub at last!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Libyan Nights

Libyan Night at Bab El Bahr


There was a Libyan Night Celebration at the hotel tonight so dinner was held in a different restaurant than usual. The entertainment was hilariously bizarre and kept my attention diverted from the fact that the food is still unbearably bad. I am absolutely starving and in need of a decent meal - since hearing camel was on the menu I have steered clear of unidentifiable meats.

None the less, it was great to see a bit of Libyan culture. The dining room had an overwhelming smell, a mixture of incense and burning. There was a band, a dancer, some very unhappy children dressed up, some rabbits and chickens and a tent full of Tunisian men in all their gear. (For pictures please see my slideshow below).
My favourite being the lady dancing around with a vase on her head – her name is Faria and she is a really sweet lady but I have to say her act needs a bit of variety to say the least. (I can't stop laughing as I write this!)


video

Faria dancing with a vase on her head
(Apologies for the sideways video!)

Can you read this?

Neither can I!


Welcome to my new world. This is what my working day is like. I work in a huge office with over 1,000 people in my department alone and a large number of them who have to go through me speak to me in Arabic (regardless of the fact that I speak only English) or hand me Arabic documents. I have picked up a few basic phrases but that’s about it so far. I am going to have to learn some Arabic soon otherwise I’m going to sink instead of swim.

And right now I want to win the race!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Exhausted....


The apartments in the Regatta Expat Community
(Mine looks very similar but not quite as nice)


These early starts are KILLING me so please excuse me if this post is full of babble!

I had my first full day at work today and the language barrier is becoming more and more of an issue as I try to fulfill my role as a Senior PA. The people however are all very welcoming and so sweet, all the women tell me I’m beautiful and nice and bring me gifts of cookies and cakes (went down well after no breakfast again I can tell you!) Libyan women differ as a majority to British – there is no competition, hate or disregard – just a really comforting feeling of sisterhood, I love it.

The employee benefits at this company are also great, as hard as it is, I’m really getting to grips with having a driver! (Beats the tube anyday!) Lunch time is excellent too, the lights are turned out to ensure everyone stops working and takes their break. The majority of employees bring their own lunch but I’m settling with the company lunch for now – tuna baguette, olives and a soft drink – all for 50p! Although eventually I’m sure I’ll follow suit as tuna is the only option on the menu!

I went to visit my apartment in the expat compound as I requested today. The compound itself is quite nice with 3,000 expats living within the gated community. There is a shop, tennis courts, a restaurant and a beautiful private beach onsite. I wasn’t fully happy with the condition of the apartent however – the layout is good, spacious living room, big double bedroom, bathroom and kitchen – but the mattress on the bed looks very used , the sofa’s are stained and the bath has rust and paint splashed in it. So, I have requested to stay in the hotel until all these facilities are fixed. Other negatives which can’t be fixed include – no internet access, no house phone & the satellite TV only has 5 English speaking channels which are all news stations. On the plus side they have freshly painted the apartment and have bought a number of brand new appliances for me to use there -: deep fryer, kettle, sandwich maker etc.




(The view of the sun setting from my hotel room)

Sunday, March 22, 2009

First Day at Work & Fantastic Fish

(Fresh Fish at Tripoli Marina)

Work starts at 7:30am here and as I’m still on UK time it was definitley like starting work at 5:30am. Without any breakfast and completely shattered I was taken to two hospitals to have chest xrays and blood taken, a governmental regulation in Libya for any expat (even though I had a full medical in London in order to obtain my entry visa). All I can say is Thank London for the NHS, you have not seen a queue for medical attention before until you see the “concert crowd” masses waiting to be seen outside the hospital here! Absolutely crazy, but luckily for me as a female and as a member of my company I was taken straight in on both occassions.

After this I went to meet my boss and discovered the HUGE workload that awaits me. Initial feelings were of complete panic but now I’m thinking "bring on the challenge". The department is struggling hard to maintain order and the amount of paperwork is huge. Administration is very old fashioned and traditional here, with signed and stamped memos being favoured over emails.

Having been introduced to all the senior members of staff I then got to meet some lovely Irish secretaries who have been working there for a while (one as long as 26 years). I also got to meet my assistant, an absolutely adorable girl but we have one problem....she doesn't speak a word of English. As we collapse in fits of giggles with her speaking Arabic in response to my questions I realise how interesting this is going to be.

To top the whole day off I got picked up at lunch time by my middle man & his colleagues again, who arranged for me to have the rest of the day off work (result!). They took me to Tripoli Marina where there is a fresh fish market running through the centre of a bunch of restaurants. So I got to pick my fresh fishie and chose how I wanted it cooked! I had a whole divine grilled sea bass and loved it! Now thats what I’m talkin about...
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(Dinner at Tripoli Marina)

Tomorrow morning I shall be picked up to see my new apartment and hopefully if it’s all up to scratch and I am happy with the conditions... I’ll be moving in!

The journey continues.....


PS HAPPY MOTHERS DAY MUM! I REALLY REALLY LOVE YOUX


Saturday, March 21, 2009

Another day, Another Dinar...

Well it’s my final day of complete isolation and being totally out of the loop in terms of my schedule! A representative from my new company will come to pick me up at 7:30am (ouch!) tomorrow morning and will take me to complete any formalities – working visa & medical etc. From there I will at least be given an idea as to when I will be moving in to my apartment in the expat community and when I will begin work.

**Newsflash** I got out of the hotel room tonight! I was picked up by a middle man who has arranged this position for me and two of his colleagues. What a relief it was to see them and to get taken out to see what the city is actually like beyond the hotel.Was still being stared at like never before and it was a freezing evening but we went for coffee and a shisha (which costs from £1 - £3 here!! ) and then I had the best chicken shwarma ever – spicy chicken, potato, onion and chilly in a lovely soft pancake style wrap.


AHhhh the simple things do delight after a few days spent alone!

Very Interesting - Libya's Struggle

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/20/world/africa/20libya.html

Friday, March 20, 2009

Day Two And Nothing Much To Do!

(The View From My Hotel Room)
After a LONG nights sleep I wake up ready to embrace Tripoli – but first I have to eat!
I venture out of the hotel room and grab my first Libyan meal at the hotel restaurant. This consists of couscous, lamb, salad and Libyan soup! Happy that I have tasted the cuisine but really disappointed in the flavours and the fatty, oily meat!

Next, armed with my camera I leave the hotel room in the hope of catching a bit of the local culture – this however turns from a fantastic idea to a disappointing reality. Practically every car that comes by with men in it horns or stops! I have numerous offers of a lift, phone numbers and friendship! Nervous and frustrated, halfway down the road I quickly turn on my heels and head straight back to the hotel.

The weather is lovely and warm, so determined not to retreat to my hotel room I go to the back of the hotel and sit by the sea, watching three fishermen catch fish and crabs. It’s idyllic, calm and completely peaceful – a world away from the hustle and bustle of London. I am the only person sitting at this vast stretch of sea besides the three fishermen in the water!!

Back at the hotel the staff are all extremely friendly and hospitable, everyone either knows my name or calls me "sister". In general the Libyan people come across as a lot more warmer than in the West - they eminate a strong element of goodness and kindness which is very refreshing!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Arriving in Libya



(Bab El Bahr Hotel - "Gateway to the Sea")


Wowsers, the day has eventually come where I’ve abandoned all I know and somehow have ended up travelling to Tripoli, Libya to work for a major Oil Company.The enormity of this doesn't hit me until I arrive in Tripoli International (AHEM!) Airport. Instantly I am in a completely different culture and am completely overwhelmed. The arrivals section is thriving as there are hoards of people surrounding the gates welcoming those arriving from flights. There is a very heavy military presence in the airport and the majority of people there are male. Everyone stares at me like I am some sort of alien arriving from a different planet.

I left the airport, into the warm humid breeze of Tripoli with a representative from my company. A very friendly gentleman however an utterly crazy driver. As he drove me to my hotel I clutched the seats as he swerved all over the motorway and went straight through red lights.

Upon arrival to the hotel he told me he would pick me up on Sunday morning and promptly left. (It is Thursday – Friday and Saturday is the Libyan weekend),

The lack of sleep and emotions surrounding leaving London alongside the total feeling of abandonment at the hotel is all too much as I retreat to my room for the rest of the evening and night.