April 2010

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In this archive we interview Lilia Delgado-Ramadan, who is a 60-year-old Venezuelan with a Libyan husband and a thriving business making soft furnishings.  Many know of her as ‘the curtains lady’.  She has lived in Libya for only the past 17 years, but ever since she got married, the intention was to eventually come and live in Libya.

What made you decide to move to Libya?  Love! I met my future husband in the States when I was young. He invited me to visit Libya and meet his family and they were so warm and welcoming that I had no doubts about marrying him!

What were your perceptions before you arrived?  I didn’t have any, although I knew that Libya was somewhere near Italy. The first time my boyfriend came round to dinner I cooked him a pork dish – you can see how much I knew about Libyans! He explained that he didn’t eat pork, but was polite enough to eat everything else.

I went to Caracas to get my visa and it only took a day. I flew via Italy where I was a bit shocked to be told that I couldn’t board the plane for Libya because I was too young, not a diplomat, and didn’t have an invitation. But I did have my visa which had been issued by the Libyan ambassador to Venezuela so they had to let me board. They said that I’d be on the next plane out – but I wasn’t …

What were your first impressions?  I was amazed by the beauty of Tripoli. It was 1973. The streets seemed to be full of bougainvillea and oleander. Sadly I have no photos because I wasn’t allowed to take photos in the streets.  I stayed with my boyfriend’s family for a month and had a wonderful time.

How did you make friends?  After getting married we lived for 14 years in the States where of course we were both foreigners. However, we became very friendly with a small group of Libyan families and when they eventually moved back to Libya, they remained our closest friends. Our children went to the Oil School so we got to know the parents of their friends.

Why didn’t you stay in the States?  Our intention had always been to return to Libya when the time was right. However, we stayed in the States for 14 years and our children were born there. But in 1992, my husband’s mother fell ill and so we decided to return.

What were your impressions second time around?  I was shocked at how dirty the place seemed. But there was a good community spirit and I was lucky to fit into both communities – Libyan and foreign.

What are your main leisure activities?  My favourite way to relax is to lie in the hammock on my terrace and read a book. Also, don’t laugh, but I love sewing for fun, even though it’s my job. I like the way you can sew something quickly and transform a room. I also love the sea.

Is there anything you frequently source from outside Libya?  When I first came of course I brought everything I could: furniture, clothing, toiletries, food … Now I find the selection of fruit and vegetables is excellent, even compared to South America. But I do miss being able to eat plantains regularly. Sometimes you can get them from Mali, but not often.

What’s the most difficult thing about living here?  Unpredictability and unreliability. When you’re running a business you need to know whether or not you can have a regular supply of a product and sometimes it’s very difficult to get people to tell you the truth!

Is there anything you would have done differently? No! I would marry my husband again! If I didn’t like it here I wouldn’t stay, but I am happy to be able to run my business. Maybe I feel at home here because people are a bit mad just as they are in Venezuela.

What would you like to have here that you don’t now?  I would like there to be a place to go dancing and a movie theatre, but I don’t think I’ll get either of them …

What would you miss about Libya if you had to leave?  My friends and the cosmopolitan community and the way that it’s not a huge community so you get to know all sorts of people.

If you need to get curtains, blinds or cushions made, contact Lilia on 092 541 9180.

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