(This wasn't published until my return to civilization on September 14th, 2007)
Upon entering Ras Lanuf camp, we were priveleged to get to know some of the expats, a friendly term used amongst the expatriots of other countries who have hired on full time with Veba, here in Libya. The universally proclaimed leader of this rag tag band of immigrants is Billy, the wholesome British ex-sailor who keeps the rest of the expats all sane. It bears mentioningthat this is in no part due to his overly kind demeanor or kind speech, for the man gave me understanding of what it means to curse like a sailor. His deep brogue makes his bawdy curses seem almost affectionate though and the smile with which he delivers them is a giveaway that he likes you, or so I'm told. I won't tell you the first thing he called me, but later Bryan told me "Oh, noo.. if he calls ye that, then surely he likes ye. It's when he's quiet that ye must worry overly."
Bryan, the supervisor for maintenance, is another Brit implant here in the colony of Ras Lanuf, the kindliest and most generous soul a person could hope to meet. I firmly believe he would give me the shirt off his back if his coverall design woud allow. As it will not, and I'd not have him bare-assed without his coveralls for proof, you'll just have to accept my word on the matter and let me move on in my introductions. Bryan has helped us more than any other person since we arrived, and all on his own personal kindness, not because he has anything to do with our project. Quite the contrary, his department is the only one we're not working hand in hand with. Nevertheless, his kindnesses make the days bearable when other circumstances make me want to crawl back under a rock and wait for Ramadan.
Harry is Billy's counterpart in vernacular olympics. Any time I've ever walked into the Brit-Shack, as I've come to call it, you can find the two of them comfortable ensconced in their relaxed postures, standing around the pedestal-bar, listening to 1940's jazz or 1960's Patsy Cline. The first night I was invited to spend time with them, I think I only gained a measure of respect because I had a rather impressive list of Patsy on my iPod. Otherwise he would have not believed me in the least and would have summarily thrown me bodily out on my ear.
The conversation on music led me to my next person of note; big Ivan. Picture if you will, a giant Serbian of a man, raised in the wartimes of Yugoslavia, and who dreams of coming to America to see the sights that we take for granted every day. We spent an hour the first night I met him talking animatedly about the music of the 30s and 40s. In his country, the government decided sometime in the 1950s that all new music was absolute crap, so most of them have spent their lives without the newer influences of the modern musical age, though the youngest of them could sit for hours with any elderly gentleman of our nation and discuss in detail the music of four generations ago as if it were only yesterday that Glenn Miller played on the record player in their home.
Another man of great note is Slavko. Slavko works for Harry in maintenance I think. I can't be sure of the department. The next time you think you have a hard life, take a look at a guy like this. Another war-torn generation of people who rose from the ashes of Serbia to try and escape to make a life for themselves, Slavko is one of many who reside in the construction camp a few miles up the road. They are locked in at night at 7 PM as if they are in prison, though they are in fact not. Slovko got to come over last week and hang out with us on my first night in the Brit-Shack and picked me as his immediate new best friend. You'd have to physically stand in front of the man to understand how intimidating a Serbian (russian) construction worker, who sounds like Ivan from the Rocky movies, can be a complete wonder to talk to. He was quite verbose about how much he loved what he does and how happy he is to be here. He fell immediately in love with my blue-black sunglasses, and I felt happy to let him have them. After all, I always come prepared and had my good pair in my suitcase in the room anyways. They seemed to thrill him to no end. I believe the phrase was "Look Billy. Slavko is american movie star." I will have you know that I DID fight to get my hat back, but that too has now been admired by the local Area Manager of the camp and it seems I will be bringing another with me on my return trip. Thankfully mine didn't fit the guy who so admired it!
Ha. That's Slovko giving me a big kiss. I got kissed by that man more in one night than I get kissed at home in a week. I love you, my darling April, and don't ever grow a moustache. It itches horribly.
There are many more to tell you about but I can't do it all in one night, so I'll spread the introductions out over a couple of posts.
In other news today, I did have occasion to run across the first camel spider I've ever seen in the wild. I have to admit, I was fairly surprised by agility and the ferocity of this creature. The picture shown below is a baby spider, spanning approximately the width of my outstretched hand. I would never have known if not for Bryan telling me, to look for its mother, which apparently stays near when they are still small, if only by comparison to other camel spiders, which I've been told can span ten inches.
I was posing with Bryan for this picture here, taken behind RTU-1 at the oil field tank farm, standing only a few feet from the dangerous little creature.
We all three walked VERY carefull back to the land-cruiser we had left idling a few hundred yards away. Our trip back was spent with much more time looking at the ground than the preceding trip was.
Though not deadly to a human at first bite, the feeling still would not be a confortable one. The camel spider anesthizes its victim at the moment it bites, numbing the area with a mild neurotoxin, so you never feel the bite. However, at that point the arachnid clamps on with its teeth and begins secreting a meat-eating fluid that will disolve the flesh of it's intended vicitm. This sounds much worse than it is. It's not as if the animal is going to eat you, though you might indeed wake with a small hole where you didn't have one before. It's likely enough that the creature will eat its fill of you in a matter of moments and then wander off in search of whatever it is arachnids search for.
In case you're curious, that picture you see is about half the actual size of the spider. I was searching for an item to use for a size reference but was unable to procure a volunteer willing to "lend me a hand," foot, or any other appendage for that matter and I cant say I was too keen on getting any closer myself.
What truly amazed me is that while Bryan, Kris, and myself circled the spider from a distance of about sx feet away the little spider was perfectly capable of watching us all at the same time. Whenever one of us twitched toward or away from it, it turned to face us directly head on, moving forward and raising its two front legs in a warning of attack. Never once did it retreat from us. When we closed in together on it, it only moved far back enough to get us all three in its vision before returning to the offensive. This is quite frankly the most hostile arachnid I have ever seen. I've heard lots of misleading stuff about them from web sites and from friends who have seen them in the deserts of Iraq, but never had the experience to see for myself what they are like in the wild. Quite disturbing to say the least.
That rock, shown to the left of the spider in the second picture, is about the size of my shoe, if that helps to put it in perspective.
I can say with honesty that this trip has been much more lively with respect to wildlife than my last trip to the desert.
Only yesterday, Kris got the chance to see his first camels inthe wild, traveling together over the dunes to the west of the road we were traveling on.
Today, as I was out walking solo on a survey expedition, I was able to spot wild dogs a little ways off and I spotted their tracks up near where I was conducting the survey. I tracked a gazelle where it had come through the fence line sometime during the night and then later saw where the dogs and a desert fox had come through the fence in different places, quickly locating the tracks of the gazelle and setting off in pursuit. I have yet to spot the gazelle or the fox in the wild, though I'd love to get a picture of both if circumstances permit.
I know that things here will grow tiresome and the yearning for home will grow like a cancer as days progress into weeks and weeks into months, but I write these things now in the hopes that I will remember my perspective as I face those challenges and deal with more and more time away from home. Trips like this into the desert and especially the times I've spent with the expats are completely irreplacable moments that no one else I know will ever get the chance to do. I'll carry some of these stories for the rest of my life and one day tell my grandkids of their grandfathers adventures in Africa and the people I met along the way who improved my life just by being part of it. The experiences I have here and the people are my own personal history in the making, the thing that makes my experience unique and personal to me.
I'll write more later as time permits, but I feel I must get back to the daily grind. If I can ever get an internet connection, I'll publish these posts to you all. I hope you all know you are missed and that I'd love to have you all here with me if I could!
Ma-Salama for now.