I was on an expat forum the other day reading posts where expats were venting their frustrations about living in Libya and it was then I realized it has been a while since I have done so myself.

Have I become so used to the place that I already do not feel the need to complain? Have I become numb to the issues that can make this country difficult to live in for expats? Or is it that I am enjoying things out here and therefore don’t feel I should complain?  Thinking about it I realized it’s a combination of these factors.

I am fully aware that Libya has issues which can make living here as an expat rather difficult.

Issues such as language; English is not widely spoken in Libya and this can turn the simplest task into a massive endeavour. One example of this was when my housemates and I were preparing a barbeque and two of them went out to buy charcoal. At the first store they went to, the owner didn’t speak English, so my housemate tried everything to explain what he needed and even attempted to make fire noises and hand gestures. The storekeeper looked at him and said a word in Arabic, which my housemate assumed was the word for charcoal and then the storekeeper said ‘mafish’ (‘I don’t have any’). So my housemate went to all the other stores, repeating what he thought was ‘charcoal’ in Arabic.

When he got home with no charcoal, my Brazilian/Lebanese housemate asked him why he didn’t get any, to which the other housemate relayed the story. The Lebanese housemate asks him what word he had used for charcoal and he said ‘sifir’ at which point the Lebanese housemate burst out laughing because ‘sifir’ means ‘zero’.  Suddenly the strange looks directed at them in the stores made sense.

This is a funny story, but it can be very frustrating being unable to articulate the most simple requests and ideas to people. It was frustrating to me as well, but after a while I started getting used to this and forced myself to pick up some words and phrases to make my life easier.

Another thing which can be frustrating and actually quite scary at times is the driving. I’ve seen things on the road here which I’ve never, ever, seen in my life before. Libyans really do not understand the concept of traffic rules in the same way that many other nations do. My first impression of Libya was that I was going to die on the drive from the airport. The driving here is insane and it is not surprising that (according to a WHO report) Libya has the second highest accident rate in the Arab world. The disregard for road rules and safety can be infuriating at times, especially when you see a car filled with children (none of whom are in a car seat or wearing a seatbelt) flying past you at 140 kph. I have seen bad, reckless and dangerous driving on my travels, but nothing compares to what I have seen here.

I’ve actually decided not to drive here as I tend to have a short temper in a car, so driving  would definitely not help my stress levels.

These are just two of the issues expats face when moving to Libya and I could go on and on and on …  However, there is no point in moping as sometimes you just have to get on with life. Yes, venting does help, but sitting around complaining about how bad a place is won’t make it any better. Just think of sunrise over the desert …



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By Tony Fernandes

Sunday 5th December 2010