Saturday, February 03, 2007

Africa: Day 8 (A Lazy Day In Libya)

Dark tufts of grey cloud matter dot the even darker blue-grey nighttime sky over the Sea, marching forward in their announcement of inclement weather to come. This is the scene that greeted me tonight as I left the apartment in search of something with which to occupy my time.

Nadir, my Lybian friend and ex-cab driver, piloted us west toward Gurgarash district as the rare sound of rain drops played musical games on the windshield of our car.  I looked out the window as I do each time I drive past the harbor, gazing at the odd looking sea-port, filled to bursting with giant ships and cruise liners, all lying placid in their berths, looking as if the harbor could come to life in an electronic bustle if only the switch were flipped to bring everything into motion. Evenly spaced lights dot the harbor shoreline, their incandescent points brilliantly illuminating the ships in silent rest in their berths beneath the glow. From the window of the Nissan, angling back away from the harbor toward the inner city, their precise positioning along the harbor make the street lights resemble a measuring tape made of light, marking off the points towards infinity.

This was my afternoon, or should I say more adequately, my night, for I slept the day away like some nocturnal beast, rising only with the setting of the sun to prowl around the city in search of mental distraction. I did however have a goal in mind, which is why I called Nadir in the first place. Serving many years here as a taxi driver, I could think of no one I know who would be more suited to helping me when I need to hunt down something. Today I needed a guitar. Okay. Need might be a strong word, so let's say I really wanted a guitar. I woke this evening from sleep with that thought foremost on my mind. Most of you already know I'm teaching myself to play.

April will tell you that I never ever play in front of people. I suffer from a severe malady known as vanity. I fear to do anything in front of others at which I do not excel, thus my guitar practices are snuck in secretly between visits from friends and when April is at work. It would seem that the guitar is my mistress, only coming out to see me when everyone else is gone. Having said that, I can see no better time to practice than when I am over here in Libya, six thousand miles removed from those who would accidentally sneak up on my practice sessions and henceforth have their ideas of music forever altered to the worse, in part solely to my horrible skill level with this beautiful instrument. For while I can occasionally make music worthy of a six year old who plays the guitar with his feet, I find that the usual cacophony drives even the cats to ground, hiding as far from me as felinely possible during those times I practice.

As I had hoped, Nadir knew exactly the right place to go. Somewhere on Gurgarash street, to the west of the side of Tripoli I live in, he carried me to a Yamaha store where I found every style of guitar, sitar, cello, bass, violin, and others that I can't even begin to name.  Having forgotten where I was, my initial reaction was to simply ask how much the item was and then to pay for it. Thankfully the reactionary part of my brain kicked in early enough to remind me that I can haggle in this country. Picking first the guitar I wanted, a beautiful Eko Italian acoustic guitar with steel strings, I started working him down from the $300.00 price tag, slowly adding merchandise to the list to sweeten the deal for both of us until in the end I left with the guitar, a new set of strings, a strap, and a case for less than the original guitar cost. Feeling quite happy with my purchases, I headed home to practice until my hands could take no more. Even now, four hours later, my fingertips are so sore they are about to bleed. I am quite content, however to deal with the minor sensitivity while I wait for calluses to build up again.

Following our trip guitar shopping, we returned once again to the apartment here by the shore. Nader had nothing to do so I invited him up for a drink and to spend some time hanging out with Tim and I. Somehow, during our confusing narratives, we got on the subject of American football. Apparently this is something that fascinates Libyans, for he isn't the first native to assume that all Americans play football in our spare time. Deciding to educate him the easy way, I took him downstairs where we quite literally "played in traffic" for about an hour.

I have never thought how hard it is to teach someone how to hold a football. Being an American, I take it to heart that everyone feels at home with a pigskin in his hand, our fingers naturally seeking that thread pattern that preempts the perfect throw. Having never been a football player, I have always loved the game, though not to the extent that some of my friends do. I own neither jersey, nor paraphernalia. My house is not cluttered with signed copies of any famous player's autographs. Neither do my TV favorites include a weekly dose of the game, however I've always loved the pastime in my own way. Having never played in school, the one thing I am graced with from birth is the ability to throw a long clean bomb and drop the ball just about anywhere I want to, never missing a target by more than a foot or two. Notwithstanding the desire not to be the most oft-hit player in the game, I think I would make a great quarterback in another life. This talent is one I enjoy but don't find particularly useful in my day to day life. However, it did prompt me to buy a new ball before I traveled to Libya back in July of last year, only to never use it until today.

After spending half an hour explaining the finer points of the "bomb" which he kept wanting to confuse with throwing a shot-put, he began to get the hang of it, though his aesthetics will assure he never gets on a team in America. He did at least cease throwing the ball as if in an olympic egg toss, which I am glad of. I did feel that I had done my job well though, when he dropped three perfect passes to me in a row from about thirty yards, only hitting a vehicle once in the entire process and only sending me into oncoming traffic twice to make a catch.

 As always happens after a good exercise, I found myself quite hungry. I also needed to get to the Saraya to logon to the Internet so I could download some more guitar music to practice. I've expanded my collection from country to include Counting Crows, Three Doors Down, and Train to name a few.

Nadir had by this time fallen completely in love with my hat, so I let him wear that to dinner. Suffering from the occasional bout of obnoxiousness, I decided to don a doo-rag to complete my outfit and we headed out with Tim in tow to have dinner and gather strange looks from the locals.

When I say "strange" looks, I mean exactly that. The natives here still aren't used to seeing Americans, so I've gotten used to being an oddity everywhere I go here. They are exceedingly polite, nonetheless there is always a round of shoulder tapping that accompanies our entrance to any establishments in town. Seeing as I was in one of those moods, I figured I might as well dress the part. (see photo above.. lol). I am naturally taller than most any individual I have met in this country, indeed taller than most in my country. The average Libyan is around 5'8" to 5'10" or so and usually weighs around 140 to 160 pounds. Being 6'3" and weighing in at over 200 without any of it being in the wrong places makes me stand quite apart from the locals. Add to the fact that we Americans consider 60 degree weather perfect weather for T-shirts and shorts, the lack of a warm jacket and collared sweater further increase my visibility in a local crowd. As expected, we drew quite a few looks from everyone we saw and I think I even scared one European lady. I believe she considered a doo-rag, sunglasses, and a black T-shirt to me more than she thought she would encounter in the course of her evening. Que sera sera... I like to make a presence... lol.

So, it is now 11:30 PM and my day is mostly over. In fact it is with great reluctance that I must admit my first week is over. From the work point of view we have had an amazing week. It is quite easier to coordinate the logistics for two team members than it is for our usual eight man deployment teams. In fact, had we worked a little harder, we might have possibly finished off all of our work in Tripoli this week. As it is however, we have only about two hours left to work in the Tripoli sites before being ready to head off to Benghazi, then to Sebha, and finally to Khoms before returning home to the USA.

Our first day here working resulted in the completion of all documentation at three sites; Stores Admin, Material Control, and Branch Control. The following day was spent at the Planning Department, followed by the Headquarters facility on Thursday. Now, we have only a few hours work remaining in the wiring closet of the data center and then we are ready to travel, pending of course the client has actually read any of the emails I've sent them and has made plans to put us on a plane.

My CEO drafted a letter earlier in the week, granting me full authoritative powers to make decisions on the project while I am here, so I'm assuming that he too has been stonewalled about setting up my travel plans. Rest assured however, that I will be in Benghazi sometime this coming week. I may have to offend a few locals to do so, but that's not exactly ever bothered me in the past, so I'm sure I'll be able to return to my bad-guy persona with ease if it becomes necessary. Maybe I'll wear a doo-rag and a wife-beater to the meeting... I am hoping, however, that a polite request to fly will be greeted with acceptance and that we will be wheels-up by Sunday or Monday at the latest.

During this last week, I have spent many countless hours behind this keyboard drafting the final documentation that I need to deliver to the customer to close out this phase of the project. This is why my writings have been sparse in the prior few days. One document has reached 50 pages and is almost half way complete. The other document is now over 800 pages and still has about two hundred or so remaining before completion, so you'll forgive me if my journalistic attempts suffer slightly in both frequency and eloquence during this trip. I'm quite tired of typing at the end of the day lately.

For now, I will call it a night I think. It has been too long since I have heard April's voice on the other end of a phone and she is going to call me this evening I think. To the rest of you, I bid adieu for now. I'll write more later.

Much love,

Tommy 0001HRS GMT+2 020207

PS: I have taken videos this time, however I will probably need to return to the USA to obtain adequate bandwidth to upload them to YouTube. I'll try when I have some free time. Remind me that you all need to see the one of Nadir dancing to Ludicris... THAT is funny!


  1. Hey guy - it sounds like you are really into your element - doo rag and all.Keep practicing on your guitar - I'll take a song just for me as a Mother's Day present. I tried to call but can't get through. But know I am thinking of you and praying for you. I love you. Mom

  2. I actually made it through the whole blog this time. I enjoy your writing. I really think you should try writing a novel. Well, it's 29 here this morning and I'm off to Lowes to buy some insulation for my pipes in the attic. For some idiotic reason, I have a water heater in the attic instead of somewhere else. The 8 feet of pipe that runs from the top of the water heater down into the insulation and then into the house actually froze the last time it was 20 degrees. So, today, I'm off to buy some insulation to protect it from what is expected to be wind chills down into the teens tonight.

    Looks like I'll watch the Superbowl alone. This town is so miserable. Get me back to the city.

    Have fun with the guiter. We look forward to singing around the campfire one day.



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