I used to visit Libya from time to time for work, between mid 1970s and early 80’s. I wrote the following very short piece (650 words) about 30 years ago and just left it in a notebook. It was going to be the first chapter of a thriller that I was going to write and get rich quick! Once you read it you will see why that never happened! But the tiny episode does give a flavour of Tripoli around 1975. The recent events in Egypt prompted me to read it again and post it.
The character Ray in the story was a real person , a Canadian ex military ner do well who for his sins was working for a geotechnical company in Tripoli. I do not remember his real name but I hope it was not Ray Holson. I encountered the real Ray over a three week period in Benghazi.
The description of the Azizia Barracks is probably no longer true. They were bombed in 1986. In the mid 1970’s the Tripoli airport terminal building that I remember was a big corrugated steel shed. When the packed full BA planes took off for Gatwick every passenger (a mix of businessmen, oil workers, engineers) spontaneously cheered and drinks were being served before the plane was 200 feet high and when still steeply rising.
The current photographs in the news show Col Gaddafi in his traditional flowing robes. He is supposed to have mellowed with age. Or is he still as he clearly saw himself on the postage stamps that I have from the 70’s?
If you read the latest news Gaddafi is threatening certain ‘opposition’ groups from supporting rumoured demonstrations in Libya “Day of Rage” on 17th Feb. His threats seem directed towards Benghazi . I learned by word of mouth thirty-five years ago (and it seems still to be true) that Gaddafi has his support in Tripoli and Sirte, while the people of Benghazi in Cyrene would be glad to be rid of him. 42 years has been a long time to wait. It will be interesting to see if there are disturbances in Benghazi.
The coastal plain of Libya is a very interesting place with Mediterranean climate, long beaches, olive groves and excellent Roman ruins so it could be a great tourist destination. The people I met in the countryside were generally polite and friendly, while those in Tripoli especially the petty officials were the reverse.
Have you got a big yard with space for a very large tent and parking for a few limousines and tanks? If so, why don’t you give him a call and give the poor Libyans some respite?
Tripoli, Libya (1975)
“Achmed, stop blasting that horn!”
Achmed’s entire body flinched and he instantly obeyed. As compensation he thrust his mangy head out of his side window and roared abuse at a stray woman crossing in front. Swaddled in a white baracan and under Allah’s protection, the stooped ghost shuffled through the battle worn Fiats and Peugeots, each car jostling to gain a few inches on its neighbour. The traffic did not flow. It moved in fits of high-revving pauses, sudden lunges, and squeals. The only steady flow came from the constant metallic bleat of horns. Like a flock of rust-dipped sheep the traffic made its stupid progress. There was no traffic shepherd, no collie. Drivers’ arms languidly stretched from windows, rose to threaten and curse, drooped to cajole or concede. Achmed hunched back over the wheel and the VW truck forced its way forward. Only when they were clear of the worst of the chaos did he turn to steal a glance at his glowering companion.
Ray Holson sat stiffly at the opposite end of the tattered bench seat. Short spikey grey hair bristled above his sunbeaten brow and broken nose. Where his eyebrows should have been the skin was scarred and almost bare. His reddish face looked puffed and bruised. By appearance he could have been a fading boxer between lost fights, of below average height but heavy boned and strong .
Ray was troubled by something more than traffic. After two years based in Tripoli, he was accustomed to the driving conditions. He yelled above the clackety engine.
‘You’re sure they didn’t say why they want to see me?’
‘No, Mr. Ray, just that you must report to Azizia barracks at once. I tell you this before two, three times.’
Ray cast a cold eye over his subordinate level ‘fixer’ but could detect nothing from his dingy features. He slumped against his door and became immersed in anxiety.
The Azizia barracks sit stolidly in the southern suburbs. It is a secure residential fortress for top army and police officials and government, those being one and the same. Facing onto the airport road, it is convenient for shopping sorties to Paris, bank runs to Zurich, clubbing binges in London and hospital care in Moscow; and, when the game is up, for a final exile from rope and bullet. To the casual passer-by the barracks consists of a very high grey concrete wall that runs alongside the airport road for 300 metres. Dense coils of rusting razor wire top the wall. The only visible entrance is sealed by an enormous green door of steel plate, blank as the hull of a ship.
As Ray’s truck approached he saw two soldiers in ill-fitting green uniforms lounging in the shadows under the wall, Russian rifles slung carelessly over their shoulders. At the sound of a slowing vehicle the sentries stirred, unslung their weapons and pointed them at the windshield. Achmed stopped the truck and they stepped forward. The younger soldier sauntered around behind the truck, pausing to decipher the Arabic words hand-painted below the printed sign on the side, ‘Geotechnic Exploration Inc,, Shara Nassim, Tripoli 2432′. Achmed leant out of the window and talked quietly with the second man. As they spoke Achmed turned to Ray several times and the sentry followed his example, staring intently into Ray’s face. Moving closer to the door he waved Achmed back from the window, leaned in through the open window and carefully inspected the sand and fly laden cemetery of the cabin. Then he took their papers and walked over to a telephone mounted on the wall. After several minutes he hung up, glanced across to his companion, returned his nod and turning towards the wall he snapped out an order. The suburban fortress silently obeyed. The green steel split and slowly opened outwards from the wall. The truck crept inside. The huge doors reversed quickly until almost shut but just at the last moment paused, as if for a final breath of fresh air, then sealed with a trembling clash.
End of Part 1 من جانب آخر