Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Long time, no blog, Pt. II

Wow! I can't believe it's been three months since I've written anything. I go through peaks and valleys with the blogging thing. Some months I get on hot streaks and will jam out several posts a day. Lately, I've been in a valley.

For some reason I always feel compelled to post an update on what I have been doing in the interim (as if that is some kind of excuse). The truth is sometimes I get disheartened because I don't have very many readers and a lot of the times I think, "Why bother?"

And as I look back at my last "Long time, no blog" post, I can see that I already kind of recently did the "what-have-I-been-up-to" thing so I'll try to keep this short. Then I will get back to the real business of explaining how Democrites and liberals are ruining the world for the rest of us decent folk.

I spent almost all of May in Vietnam. It was a welcome respite from Saudi Arabia. I didn't really get out of Saigon. I basically just relaxed, shopped and enjoyed the pho and cheap massages.

After that I was home for about two weeks before my next assignment - Tripoli, Libya. Libya was pretty interesting in a challenging sort of way. I went there with another colleague to install the systems needed to process visas and American citizen services, and to train the staff to use the software and hardware. Unfortunately, my colleague developed a really bad cases of hives our second day there and she ended up leaving two days later. That left me with a lot of work to do and very little time to do it.

So what started as a two week trip turned into a four week trip. I worked most of the time since the embassy is located in the same hotel where I was staying. I did manage to get out and see some of the city. One Saturday, I did hire a car and went to ruins of Leptis Magna. Leptis Magna was the largest city the Romans founded in Africa. The ruins are large and very well preserved. Most of the statues and figures have been defaced but a lot of the inscriptions are still legible. There is also a very large ampitheater and several fora. It reminded me of the Roman ruins outside of Amman that we visited while we lived in Jordan in the 1980s.

Tripoli didn't make that much of a lasting impression on me. It reminded me a lot of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia (not a good thing). It was really hot (regularly above 100 F) but not as humid. Similar to Jeddah and Beirut, it has a long Corniche (ocean-front road). I did trek out to one of the beaches in town to collect some sand for my roommate Jamie's father (who is a former Marine).

Tripoli reminded me of Saudi Arabia in other ways, too. For example, there is the prohibition against alcohol and the near ban on almost all forms of public entertainment. Most Libyan women wear the abaya and nijab (the head scarf and veil that together make up the hijab) but it is not required as in Saudi Arabia. Also, unlike Saudi Arabia, women are allowed to drive.

Where Libya differs from Saudi Arabia is in the socialist character of the government. Muammar Qadafi (mostly just called "the Leader") is essentially a Nasserite (i.e. a Pan-Arab socialist). He calls Libya the "Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya". Jamahiriya is an Arabic word that translates into "state of the masses". The word derives from the fact that Qaddafi claims Libya is a "direct democracy" governed by the people through local councils.

More properly, Libya is a Soviet- type "cult of personality" similar to what I saw in Turkmenistan. Everywhere you go there are posters and billboards celebrating the Leader. Last month, most of the signs seemed to be celebrating the Leader's 36th year in power. (I would have thought that he would have waited for a milestone year, but I guess he probably celebrates every year in power.)

After I had been there for three weeks I started hanging out with one of the guys that works in the Consular Section. Ali is a Libyan who grew up in Egypt. He is a commercial pilot by training but is understandably having trouble getting employment in the wake of 9/11. What I found is that in Libya, like Saudi Arabia, there is fun to be had you just have to know somebody. We went out to a birthday party of a friend of his one night and drank Libyan moonshine. I don't know what it was made from, but it tasted like aguardiente or venado or some other clear white liquor. Not a strong taste and you can mix it with anything.

He also took me to a place called al Hufra. It's a series of restaurants co-located with the fish market. What you do is stroll among the fish stalls and select your fish for dinner. Then you tell the guy which restaurant you are eating in and they bring your fish to you. It was very good and, as you might imagine, very fresh.

I got home from Libya on July 12th which almost brings us up to the present. Since I've been back I have been getting geared up to move (again). I just found out that I am assigned to go to Recife in September so I am going to get married at the end of the trip. After that I will be in Hamburg in October.

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