Saturday, September 02, 2006

Africa: Day 47 (Into the light) (Written August 24th)

Hello world. It's been quite a few days since I've written anything of substance so I thought I'd take this time to try to compose a post to those of you back home. Quite honestly, it's been a bad couple of days, but hopefully we're on the upswing of all of this now. I have learned, however, that I can depend on no one but myself here in this country. Our local team and those assets we are able to acquaint ourselves with here are all the resources we have that we can depend on. Four weeks with no phone, six and a half weeks with no internet, and the larger part of two days with no power taught us that lesson. The latest of those events was just another example of "don't depend on ANYTHING that you don't know for yourself, firsthand." I think when I get home I'm going to write a "Idiots Guide to Surviving Libya." Anyway, I'm going to try to write this in a good humor so I'll take this moment to segway into something else in order to best preserve my mood.

I was reminded of home today. Thursday is the end of the workweek here in Libya, so we left work at 4 PM and came home to enjoy an early dinner. Gregg has been making nice with a local woman here that works at the British Airways office and she told him of a nice tourist beach we could visit, about 150 kilometers from here to the east. With that in mind we set off on a journey to dine and do some shopping for the beach. We decided to take a cab to Burja Fateh and visit the quaint second story cafe to enjoy a nice lasagna, which turned out to be more than we bargained for. I had been here before without really liking it too much. There is a wonderful restaurant on the 26th floor, the El Dawar, that specializes in Italian and Mediterranean cuisine, but today's plan was for quick and cheap. After waiting the customary forty minutes for our food, Tim and April were served their dinners. Gregg and I waited another 30 minutes or so to get ours, and I'll admit that my patience was starting to wear thin. Doing anything at all in this climate for long will strain the limits of congeniality in most people, and everyone knows that my grasp on the more social virtues is tenuous at best sometimes. So, when the final two lasagnas arrived at our table, I was less than pleased to find that mine was cold in the center. Not cool, not unhot, but ice cold. Gregg's too was much the same. In an effort not to completely verbally disembowel the cook, I simply left the restaurant and walked downstairs. My dramatic exit was however interrupted when I noticed that I forgot my cigarettes on the table. Having had quite enough of that place for one day, I stalked back inside, pocketed my cigarettes, and stalked away once again trying my best to remain indignant and flashing the cook a "please say something so I can rip your face off and serve it on a plate" look.

It came to my attention two restaurants and two hours later that I apparently left the waitress in tears, which made me feel bad, though it was a slight sensation that soon passed. After all, I had my mind SET on lasagna and a coca-cola, only to have my hopes dashed yet again for the second time in a row by this restaurant. To continue, I grabbed a passing Taxi with Gregg and headed to the corinthia for Italian cuisine at the Venezia restaurant on the second floor mezzanine. Usually this place is comforting to me. The food isn't great by any means, but it's always reliably the same. Today, however, the lack of lasagna on the menu left me with only my usual as a preferred choice. It was with minimal enthusiasm that I ate my meal of tagaliatelle with prawns.

To condense this story, April and Tim met us at the restaurant and we made plans to stop by some dive shops I'd seen on a prior tour through town. We were in search of footwear suitable for Gregg to wear in the water when he goes to the beach tomorrow. Visiting various stores proved to be fruitless as no one carries anything here equivalent to an american size 13 shoe, which by the way is a 47 and a half in european standards.

While walking past the dive stores, I was assaulted intensely by a familiar scent from home, truly unusual in this locale. I looked to my left to find hidden within the concrete whitewashed recesses of this building, a tiny almost forgotten tackle store specializing in crab netting, Penn fishing reels, salt-water tackle and harpoon gear. It was such a surprise that I completely forgot to breathe for a moment. It never occurred to me until now to separate the smell of the sea from the smell of things that go IN the sea, but it was nonetheless profound for me. I was already standing on the sea, so it wasn't the salt water. Salt water here has a completely different scent and it is usually covered by the musky, thick scent of fish left to dry too long in the sun, mixed with the soup of burning diesel that floats through the air like dark honey dripped into a cup of light tea, visible to anyone who looks but soon dissapating into the merangue of sea scents. No, instead of the sea, I was distinctly trapped by the scent of twine. Salt water twine and crab netting have an old sea smell, only recognizable if you know anything about them. The twine was shiny and composed of a myriad of colors ranging from sea green to brilliant blues, pinks, and back again, all stacked hodge-podge in the corner wall of this store. What occurred to me immediately was that I was being stopped by the scents from home, not of the twine, but of the wood.

I remember from home seeing all the old spools of wire, twine, rope, netting, spline, weights, and all the other accessories that make up the parts of netting and fishing supplies. What I remembered immediately at that moment though was that the reels that these things are wound on are often years old. Fishermen and net-makers will use the same spools and reels for years as long as they suit their purpose. The same wooden spool of netting this year, might have been wound with different netting ten years ago. Any wood, cardboard, metal or anything else that get subejcts to intermittent salt water contact develops a certain "sea-scent." That's what attracted me. For just one moment in time I recaptured being in my early teens, standing on the ferry dock in Manns Harbor in a pair of voit tennis shoes, some non-name brand shorts, a t-shirt, and holding my Crossman 720 pellet rifle loosely at my right side while balancing on the pier jutting out into the sound, searching in desperation for one more beer or liquor bottle to shoot before my brother found it first. Sounds of the old diesel generators down at the seafood dock floated back to my ears while the scent of salt water and marsh entered my mind. I shant ever forget the unique smell of that place. The unusually high amount of flotsam accumulating at the docks and the presence of the pier that belonged to the long abandoned ferry system, provided a great roosting place for travel weary seagulls, pelicans, and other oceanic fowl. The large massing of these birds left behind a proportionally large amount of guano that mixed with the sea smells that permeated the area. Water washing in and out of half empty beer bottles and cheap remnants of Mad Dog 20/20 occluded the fresh-water marsh scents. All in all, it was a heartbeat of a moment that I paused there, lost in thought, but it was a lifetime of smiles and funny memories, for which I have been in desperate need as of late. So THERE is my story. For those of you who were hoping for a climax, or maybe a moral conclusion to today's events, I am sorry for letting you down. I have only the fond memory of salt-water and bird shit to brighten your day! I hope it will brighten yours as much as it did mine.

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