Greetings from Libya!

I’ve returned yet again to the Arab world, this time to the north coast of Africa, staying in the affluent capital city of Tripoli. I will be here for three weeks, working for a financial consultancy called OpenCities, helping develop English teaching material for tutors based in Libya.

It’s very beautiful here in many ways, especially because of its location right next to the Mediterranean Sea. In fact, my apartment’s only about 400 yards from the shore, so I can easily take a break from work and go exploring along the blue water! Unfortunately, however, the beaches by Tripoli aren’t all that sandy and are under a lot of development at the moment, with various construction sites and large yellow vehicles dotted up and down the coast. They seem to be working on transforming the area into a kind of Dubai or Abu Dhabi – using, of course, the vast amounts of oil money that Libya has at its disposal. The weather’s another beautiful part of Tripoli, especially at this time of year when it’s not too hot and there’s a refreshing breeze that sweeps in from the seaside. Later, however, during the summer months, I hear that the heat can be quite unbearable and apparently (…according to Wikipedia) the highest ever recorded air temperature was in Libya, in the desert just southwest of Tripoli – at 57.8 °C (136.0 °F)! For the time being, however, the weather’s perfect.

It just so happens that one of my Arab friends from Durham, who is studying a PhD in Translation there, is also in Libya now, visiting his family here. We’ve agreed to meet up and he’s going to show me around tomorrow. We’re going to visit the obligatory tourist sites, including Leptis Magna, which has an amazing amount of Roman ruins. Hopefully we’ll also have time to head down to some (sandy!) beaches near his home town of Khoms.

I’ve only been here about a week, but I can already see that the society here is much more conservative than in Syria. The population is approximately 98% Muslim (Sunni), and only about 1% Christian. So far, we have discovered two churches; a Greek Orthodox church and an Anglican church. Naturally, most of their members are foreigners, from all over – including Egyptian Copts, Nigerians, Europeans – but few actual Libyan Arabs. They run services twice a week (Sunday and Friday). I’m hoping to check one out, probably next weekend, and see what the services are like. Apparently they’re performed in multiple languages, which I’m sure would be really interesting.

Also, alcohol consumption/buying/selling here is illegal. Of course, this does not stop everyone, however, as my colleagues here soon discovered while at a very fancy house party last week, where some of the rich British ex-patriots at the party somehow managed to get hold of some alcohol! Needless to say, I shall not be pursuing such things – after all, Libya is notorious for locking people away for months or even years at a time without trial. Not a good idea!

You also find here that although covering up or wearing the Hijab is not enforced, most of the women do so anyway, most likely because of strong pressure from their families. Women wearing the Niqab are sometimes seen, but it is quite rare, and so far I am yet to see any women wearing the full Burka (which is more typical in places such as Afghanistan). There are, of course, still plenty of women not wearing the Hijab, although they tend to be either foreigners, or part of the more wealthy middle to upper classes. In my experience in the Arab world, it seems that in general the richer the woman, the more liberal her attitudes and the less she covers up (only to a certain extent, of course!).

The local dialect takes some getting used to, but fortunately it’s not as difficult as in places like Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia to the West. Unfortunately, since I have not had time to adjust my language, I end up speaking mostly MSA (Modern Standard Arabic, also known as “Fus-ha”), which is almost like speaking ancient Greek in Greece (although they still understand everything you say). “I say… anyone here speak Classical Greek…?” lol!

So far, I have managed to visit some key sites within the city of Tripoli. My colleagues and I explored the “Old City” (similar to the Old City in Damascus, except by the sea) and visited the main museum there, which was a kind of ancient history and natural museum. There were all kinds of things on display – ranging from ancient Roman artifacts to bizarre two-headed goats!

As for my work over here, I am constantly busy. I’m here with three other colleagues, who are also from Britain and who have the same sort of background as me in Arabic studies. We are working as a kind of team to produce teaching material that will eventually be used by English tutors in Libya. We are creating six exercise books, each with around forty pages. Apparently our work may even be professionally bound, with our names on the front, which would be pretty cool – but we’ll have to wait and see about that. It’s a lot of work but can be quite fun at times. We’re dealing with so many English words and their subtle nuances that throughout the day we’re constantly coming up with puns and other jokes, which adds some comic relief to a very intense work schedule. We’re all staying in the same apartment and although we’re working from home, we’re supposed to adhere to working hours, which are from 8:30am to 5:30pm with a break for lunch, which we can take at any time. Most of the time, however, we end up working even later, sometimes until seven or even eight o’clock at night!

Anyway, that’s enough for now – I shall write more later.

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