Saturday, June 23, 2012

Grumpiness

It's been three weeks since I've seen Eric, and it will be at least three weeks until I seem again.  The flights I'm looking at to get to him cost $1100 at a minimum.  I know other people have it worse.  I'm only one time zone off of Eric, so that makes communication a lot easier.  But I'm still a grumpy, lonely pile of nerves without him.  Grrr.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Hardship Homemaking - Turned Up To 11!

I've long been a fan of the Hardship Homemaking blog, which gives recipes for how to make common American foods and household products with the less-than-ordinary products one finds overseas.  However, I'm faced with a more interesting challenge: how to cook with no stove.

You see, in our residences in Tripoli, we have refrigerators but no stoves, sinks but no plates, and electrical outlets but no microwaves.  All of our meals are provided in a common dining hall, and while the food is certainly fine, and I acknowledge that I'm incredibly lucky to have this service provided for us, sometimes you just want something homemade and familiar.  Or sometimes you've had a tough day and you just want to take a knife to a stack of vegetables rather than your coworkers.  So what's a girl to do when she's jonesing for curry or pizza or pasta?

Yesterday I did a quick survey of the housewares section of a large grocery store in Tripoli.  I spotted a knock-off George Foreman grill, a rice cooker, and a few hot plates, among other various kitchen tools.  I think, with some creativity, another shopping run, and perhaps some assistance starting a charcoal grill, I can make a few tasty things to soothe my cooking itch.  So, who's got some good suggestions for how to bake bread on a grill, or how to make soup in a rice cooker?  Do crock pots even exist outside of middle America, and can I find one that's European plugged to use in my kitchen?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Tripoli Expressions


I’ve been out and about a lot this week, and I’ve been focusing on the bits of Tripoli I see speeding past my window as we drive our compound to one ministry or another.  Fascinatingly and heartbreakingly, graffiti serves as a public memory and shared memorial to those who died in the revolution.  Every side street turning off the main road has been renamed in spray paint after a martyr – Zintan Martyrs Street, Martyrs of the Hawamid Family Street, Liberation Day Martyrs Street.  Some families have put up banners or posters to memorialize their loved ones: yesterday I saw a poster for a family that had lost four brothers on the day that Tripoli was liberated, on 21 August.  There was an image of each brother on the poster, looking for all the world like a high school yearbook photo. 

Almost every trip passes by one side or another of the former Gadhafi compound, located in the center of the city.  Apparently after Gadhafi fled Tripoli in August, the walls of the compound were still intact around the buildings destroyed by the NATO bombing campaign.  I’ve seen the photos of people celebrating as they picked through the rubble, amazed that they could go inside the barracks with impunity.  The concrete walls around the site have all been knocked over, though most are still intact – it looks like they were just pushed over because people needed to demonstrate to themselves and to the world that Gadhafi was gone.  You can still read the graffiti sprayed on these walls, which are tipped at odd angles and only now starting to be papered over with advertisements for baby formula, Tripoli University, or a new political party.  “We will never forget the martyrs of Misrata.”  “God is great.”  “Free Libya, united Libya.”  “The revolutionaries of Benghazi.”  “17 February.”  “17 February.”  “17 February.”  Over the walls, in some places you can still see the remnants of hangars, all bearing large holes in the centers. 

Libyans still seem to need to prove to themselves that Gadhafi is gone.  Some license plates bear a sticker of the new flag, a small map of Libya, or even an ugly dot of spray paint in the upper right corner.  It took me a few days to figure it out: new license plates have the name ليبيا  or “Libya” in Arabic, indicating the country in which the car is registered.  Older plates, on the other hand, say الجماهيرية or “al Jamahiriyyah,” which is the Gadhafi-era made-up word that loosely translates to “republic of the masses.”  It’s meaningless, except in the context of Gadhafi’s insane political theories, so people are physically obstructing the word until they get new plates without this relic.  The Central Bank has not yet designed new currency, so paper bills still carry pictures of Gadhafi, some denominations more prominent than others.  Apparently, in many shops the cashiers will methodically take a Sharpie to Gadhafi’s face on every single bill before handing back a customer’s change.

Public catharsis, or the hangover of a four-decade dictatorship?  It’s hard to say, and I’m not sure it’s not a little of both.  

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Hello from Sunny Tripoli!

I arrived yesterday afternoon with no problems and no militias at the airport, and today was my first day in the office. It’s a small Embassy, although it’s getting bigger – I’m in the first wave of “permanent staff” arriving this summer. (Since the Embassy was reopened last September, most positions have been filled by a string of short- and medium-term temporary staffers, most of whom are rotating out this summer.) Hopefully by the end of the summer we’ll be back up to our pre-Revolution size, though now we’re in a much smaller compound!

I got a brief tour of the city of Tripoli en route to a meeting this evening. I saw a number of locations that I only know about from the narratives of the Revolution – Martyrs’ Square (formerly Green Square), Bab al Aziziyah (the Gadhafi compound, which is now a pile of rubble), the Rixos Hotel (where journalists were virtually held hostage in the early days of the Revolution). It’s incredibly moving to see these sites and to realize how recent the scars are from the Revolution. Graffiti is everywhere in the city – from casual scrawling to artistic, detailed imagery. There are names of the martyrs, satirical drawings of Gadhafi, and images of the new Libyan flag everywhere. The one phrase you can see over and over is ١٧ فبراير ليبيا حرة – “February 17th, Free Libya.” That’s the day the uprising started, and it’s the date by which this revolution is hashtagged on Twitter. (All of the Arab national uprisings are abbreviated that way – #Jan25 for Egypt, #Feb17 for Libya, #Mar15 for Syria, etc.)

Today the date of the election, the first free election in Libya’s history, was publicly announced as 7 July. There are billboards all over the city, depicting Libyans holding up their voter registration cards. On our way back from a meeting tonight, my colleague asked our driver which party he preferred. The driver shrugged, stated his preference, and said, “But you know, these politics are new for Libya.” It was the simplest statement I’ve heard of what Libyans face in the next months and years, as well as how far they’ve already come.

I can already tell that there will be days where I’ll be frustrated with the limitations on my movements here and the challenges inherent in rebuilding a Mission from the ground up. Still, I’m so glad I’m here at this juncture of history.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Things I Do Not Enjoy

1.  Having to call United reservations at 02.30 AM.
2.  Having the United rep tell me that there's nothing she can do for me.
3.  Having to wake up every forty minutes or so overnight to check my email because the only helpful travel agents are in Turkey.
4.  Saying goodbye to Eric, then coming home to handle all of these shenanigans.

Four hours until my car pickup for the airport...

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Calm

Eric's flight leaves in about seven hours, and after several hours of wrangling with the Department's contracted travel agency and United Airlines, I'm almost completely 100% guaranteed a flight out of Washington tomorrow.  If everything goes as planned, I'll arrive in Tripoli around noon local time on Saturday.

Our bags are packed, the last boxes are mailed, and now we're enjoying the quiet before we hit the road to Dulles later this evening.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

More Changes

This morning, the Libya Desk at Main State called me.  "Come by our office before 2.30 PM to get your visa request letter," said a voice I knew only from emails.  "Your visa will most likely be ready by Wednesday afternoon."

I'd just resigned myself to spending a few weeks at loose ends in DC, practicing Arabic and catching up with friends and buying earrings in Eastern Market, and now it looks like I'll fly out on Thursday (that's three days away), as we'd planned when I first got my travel orders in March.

Eep.

On the plus side, when I dropped my visa application off at the Libyan embassy this afternoon, I ran into someone I served with in Riyadh - he's currently based in DC, and he was picking up visas for his some of his colleagues.  He said that he'd been to Tripoli in February and absolutely loved it, and that he's jealous of my assignment!  It's a good sign, I do believe.

So today was a lot of shopping for last-minute items.  Tomorrow is packing and mailing things, plus last-minute farewells that I thought I'd have more time for.  Wednesday is final errands and picking up my passport with visa, and Thursday is for spending a last day with Eric before we fly, visiting a few museums and snuggling.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Changes

In four days, Eric will be on a plane to Istanbul, where he'll wait until EFM positions open up for application in Tripoli.  Even after they open up, and even if he's hired, it will still take some time for all necessary clearances and travel orders, etc, to be issued.  We don't know how long it will be before we see each other again - part of the reason he's going to Istanbul (rather than staying in the US) is that it will be easier for me to slip away for a weekend to see him there, but we don't know how often I'll be able to get away, if at all.  And we don't know how long it will take for family positions to open up in Tripoli.  So I'm a little neurotic...  we've been apart before, but not for more than a few weeks and always with a definite return flight in sight.

Pardon me for being a bit selfish, but the worst is that he is leaving before I am - for some reason, it seems like it would be easier for me if I waved goodbye, got on a plane, sobbed for 12 hours, then arrived at post and started working.  Now I'll be here, brushing up my Arabic and repacking my suitcases while I wait for my visa to come through.  (Still no idea how long that will take.)

Grump grump grump.  At least I'm staying with a dear friend who's promised to smack me with a cooking spoon if I get to be too mopey.

Eric and I are talking about creative ways to stay in touch while we're separated - more than just Skype and emails.  He's very sneakily used this separation and then the tour in Libya as evidence why he needs an iPad (video chat! easy to travel with!).  Eric's trying to get back on the blogging bandwagon, so we've added him to this account - you may see posts from him in the near future.  (Right, Eric?  You're going to write more when you're in Istanbul, aren't you?)  We've invested in phones that will allow us to have unlimited international texting, and we're also building photo albums for each other.

Four days to go.