Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Reflections of Life In a 3rd World Country

I’m sitting here in the Amwage Hotel, recently changed to the Wenzrik sometime in the prior few months. For those of you who would like to, you can see where I am on Google Earth. I have looked at this location from the satellite imagery, so I know you can see me, but the images are but a pale reflection of life in this country.

Today, I stayed in the Hotel, once again sick from various things we get exposed to over here. I woke today thinking again how different things are compared to those back at home. Drapes are different in this country. At home in the US, we purchase curtains and drapes to accent our personal tastes, our furniture, our carpeting selection. We purchase curtains as an accessory to everyday life. Curtains here are utilitarian, remaining unchanged in their purpose; to keep out the sun and it’s harsh ever-burning rays. The Drapes in my room are Green, stitched with one of a hundred small inconsequential patterns that adorn much of the furniture here in this land. They are tall, heavy, and dark. When pulled together, such as they were this morning, they keep out every last gleam of light from the room, plunging the entire room into darkess as utter and black as a moonless night. Windows are not part of the room design in Africa. It is neither a lack of architectural ability, nor the money to purchase them that keeps them from being present. It is practicality. Windows let in the sun. They let in the heat. They bake the room in this oven-like environment. So, when I wake, no matter where I am staying, there is only the curtains and the one door to the balcony from whence I can gain light if I choose to.

I opened the drapes this afternoon and sat down to write. Immediately, it strikes me that Africa with light is a whole different world.

The view you see here is from where I sit, right at this moment in time, separated from you by six thousand miles.

The view outside my window is of life in a third world country.

Here below, you see what I can see from my balcony. However, the picture, no matter how good or bad does not transfer even a tenth of what this view affords one who is present here. From your vantage you can not hear the sounds of the muslim prayer that is broadcast from the towers 5 times per day.

Right this moment, what you might hear there is music from cars that pass by in your vicinity. Here, I hear the sounds of Arabic music being played in the street shops.

What of it actually reaches me is full of cymbal, reedy percussion, and vocals that wash me in in words that I cannot understand.

The other sounds are of horns, tires on asphalt, and the occasional greeting yelled from one local to another as they pass each other in walking down the street.

At home, right now, my senses would be full of the pollen of the sea

son, the smell of new pine and new oak growing, and maybe the first scent of cut grass for the year. None of these things exist here in this land. I am greeted instead by the scent of the Shisha bar near my window; it's alternating sweet and acrid moments carrying the scents of apples, cherries, bananas, and a plethora of others unknown to me.

The view afforded at 5 in the afternoon here is little different from what you might expect in a third world country. The nature, however, is a farce. The palms that dot this scene before you can not even survive here locally without intense attention to watering and shade. They do not grow here naturally, but instead are brought here at almost full maturity; only at that stage do they have enough vitality to fight this climate for any amount of time. They are crowded around public areas, such as the shisha tent roofs you see in the bottom of the picture. The streets here are awash with refuse; no local sanitation system will claim responsibility for cleaning these roads and side streets, so garbage may lay in place for eons, or it may be blown away on the next sandstorm that comes. Between the battle for water and shade, no grass grows here. Nowhere here do weeds battle the concrete of the sidewalks for dominance. Concrete, mortar, stone, and sand lay claim to this land, defeating all else except maybe for the wind. Mostly however, they are impervious even to that. The walls you see here can be two years old, or almost one hundred; there is no easy way to tell. Often, buildings are built from the ruins of a prior location, with only the removal of trash as the precursor to piling more stone on top of existing stone. In the United States, these buildings you see here would be hotels for visiting families to stay while they come to visit friends or family. Here, such is not the case. What you see to the left is housing. These buildings are created quickly and with an amazing efficiency, with their only purpose being to provide a place to shelter a family of 5 or 8 from the elements. At home, vines, Kudzu, and other creepers battle stone buildings for life as they reach their way skyward. Here, electrical wires cling tenuously to cracks in stone, balconies, and any other crevasse they can find. Water pipes creep up the sides of buildings in a hodge-podge with no rhyme or reason. Satellite dishes and air conditioners hang precariously from any point strong enough to hold their weight and deliver their services through holes bored crudely in the concrete and stone walls. Clothing and linens hang suspened over balconies, providing the only color in a tan and green world. Tan is the natural color of the stone, any any attempt to hide its narural domainance in shades of anything else are quiclky repealed by time, the elements, and the sand that blows ever through the air. Green is the color of Quadafi, his chosen representation I suppose of a united Africa under his rule. I don't quite see why he picked the color, for it is about as far from what Africa truly is, at least in this part of the country, than any other color in the spectrum. Every building; hotel, office complex, restaraunt, and other, is decorated with the shining visage of their leader, smiling down at his people in a dominant pose. This is law here. By law, every building reminds you of he who provides for them and shelters them against all things evil. Well, I had planned a nice long diatribe since it had been so long since I had posted anything of meaning, however life once again calls me to duty. The secondary team who arrived in Libya, as well as the remaining portion of the original team are preparing for their journey home tomorrow. Moods are festive almost, as if they are getting ready for a vacation, which I guess in truth, they are. Surprisingly, I find myself fairly OK with being left behind as the others return home to friends and family. It will be only Tim and I who remain here alone, until Doc and April come over sometime soon. Two months here find me fairly acquainted with the territory and with the population's customs; enough that I do not fear being left here alone. I am quite sure however, that by tomorrow evening, the cultural solitude will set in on me with a vengeance. No english conversation with anyone except the few words spoken by my Cab Driver and the people at work. No laughing dinners or stories told outside on the balconies. No more groups of 6 or 8 people spending time reliving our pasts in my room. It's going to be truly lonely here while everyone is gone. Most of me wishes to be joining them, to be home spending time with all of you, driving around town, listening to native radio and television. However, someone has to remain to keep a lid on this situation here while the rest are at home, else we will be completely back at square one when we return en-masse in June, if we truly can be back by that time. So, for the next two weeks, Tim and myself will be at work every day, struggling to get all the things done that the ten people before us could not. That is not to say that any of them are ineffective; quite the contrary. I consider this to be the most intelligent and efficient team I have ever had the pleasure to work with. However, as the Project Manager, it is much easier to coordinate the responsiblities of two people and two sets of issues, rather than those of ten people. Two people who are working together on every problem will, by nature, stay more synchronized than the ten who are all working on independent projects and small group projects. It also takes down the pressure from the client; for they can only ask so much when there are only two here to implement their requests. Common sense will prevail a lot more, at least that is my hope. So, it is with mixed emotion, that I bid adieu to all of those who have been with me for so long here, and I say "see you soon" to all of those back home. I miss all of you and will miss you all more in the coming days. Please try to write when you can. I miss seeing the lives' of others on here. It was great hearing from Todd, Sameena, Marcus and Mary, Nicole and Lee, Mom, and all the rest of you who take time away from your lives to post on the blog. Talk to you all soon. Ma-Salem. Tommy


  1. Hey Tommy,
    The fresh cut grass is a great smell, until, you hit those clumps of wild onions:) The fertilizer trucks are running wild in my neck of the woods today, and between that, the dust from the dry ground and the pollen, I love staying inside, with the A/C. Do you mean there is no pollen where you are? Sign me up, I'm ready to go!
    I do know where you are coming from, though, it's funny what you remember from home. Smell's are triggers to memories. I have always hated to smell chicken boiling, but when we were in Germany, I even taught myself to make chicken pastry from scratch, because that was a specialty of my Mom's.
    How long before you get to come home, for a visit? I wish you could come home to fly back with April. I think she is a little anxious about flying alone. She is worried about going to sleep, surrounded by strangers. I know if she is calm enough to get to sleep, her surroundings will not be any problem, unless she starts throwing those arms and legs, right? :)
    We are missing you, though, and look forward to seeing you. Cathy and Frankie

  2. Yeah, not much pollen here, although I'll refrain from telling you some of the other things that you can smell in the air here. I could deal with the onions in the grass. Its the ruination of my new tennis shows that invariably happens that I hate though!

    As far as comin' home, it's lookin like its going to be the 5th to 10th of May or so. I was hoping to have April here by now, but the wonderful Libyan people who are helping me facilitate the visas are less then easy to get along with.

    When I DO come back though, I'm taking some time off.. I've been going too hard for too long to want to keep up this pace for much longer. Anyway, part of the deal I made for staying over here was having her come join me here. So, if I can't get her here, then I'm going home to her. I've been quite long enough without my darlin'.

    And as far as traveling, pfft... I've seen how she takes up a bed and throws those arms and legs around... no one in their right mind would bother her sleeping! lol.

    All in all, I miss you all too. All of you. There are a hundred people I want to just see and hug again.. hell, I'll have to take a vacation from my vacation at this pace.

    Anyway, thanks a LOT for posting your comments. Keep them coming. They give me something to look forward to on here.

    (Bannag: That was a hint, incase you missed the subtlety... lol)


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