January 2010

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In this archive we take a look back at one of our expats who has since moved on from Tripoli.  Colleen came to Libya with her husband’s work and lived in Tripoli from 2007 to 2009.  She and her husband have now repatriated to Canada.

What brought you to Libya?  We came to Libya with my husband's work (oil industry).

What were your perceptions of Libya before you arrived? I thought I might have to be fully scarved, not allowed to drive or go out on my own.  I had no idea of how many expats were in Libya and so I thought that I would be very bored with nothing to do.  I love the heat and the sun but had a misconception that it was ALWAYS REALLY  hot and that I would never be able to stand the weather. I was concerned that I would have to live on a compound and wondered about all the restrictions I would have on my life.

What were your first impressions of Libya? Loved the weather! We were lucky enough to go for a "look see" before we signed on to move there...we were put up in the Corinthia so I was very impressed...just did not expect such a beautiful hotel.  The traffic was overwhelming and at the time there were very few women drivers but that ended up changing shortly after we arrived.  I could not believe the number of shops...some of the very revealing clothing in shop windows...the selection of groceries.  I really did not expect to see these things.  I felt a little afraid at first but in hindsight think it was just the language barrier, I was always treated politely wherever we went.

Did you find it easy to connect with others outside your company socially after you arrived, or have you mostly relied on friendships within your husband’s company?   Initially we just socialized with people in the company but that quickly changed when the American School of Tripoli held a newcomer's coffee morning.  I met so many different women there and many phone numbers were exchanged, everybody was so friendly and looking to meet people.  A large group of us got together that very day and went to Regatta beach and friendships formed right from that moment.  My husband and I then joined a running club and met many more people (none from his company) and this just led to more social gatherings with other groups of people.  Suddenly we were being invited to all sorts of events that we did not even realize were taking place in Tripoli.

As an expat in Libya, where did you choose to live?  Would you recommend this area to other expats? We lived in Seraj and I liked it there very much. I was close to shopping areas where I wanted to go and close to many of the other "company" people who had also just moved to Tripoli.  We had no expats within the near vicinity at the time, we were the only expats within about a three-block radius.  We were never bothered (well...actually got broken into twice but had no bars on the windows or guard at the time).  We did get bars and a guard and had no problems after that.  During both break-ins we were fast asleep upstairs...they were only after electronics..and a pair of my husband's shoes!  I don't believe they were violent and would have fled if we had heard them and confronted them. I never once felt afraid in the house, even when my husband was away on business trips.

Are there any items you wish you'd packed or any you frequently had to resource outside of Libya? Because I was lucky enough to come for a "look see" before moving I was able to make up a good list of items to bring from home.  My shipment was basically stocked with specific toiletry items that I preferred...hair care products, make-up, feminine hygiene products, lotions, etc...  I also brought zip-lock bags as I found the ones in Tripoli quite thin.  A few food items but more in the line of certain spices that I did not see in Tripoli initially.  I brought a lot of books as English books were difficult to find in Tripoli.  For the most part these were just "preferential" items (other than the books)...I pretty much really was able to find most things in Tripoli after a short while.

What did you find to be the most difficult thing about living in Libya? Just finding out how to do simple things like...where do I pay the power bill...how do I get a satellite hook up...how do I get the plumbing fixed?  Sometimes it took several days to find these things out.  It would be nice if there was some type of business phone directory (in English). I felt a little nervous about seeing a doctor/dentist in Libya and usually booked these appointments back home when we came back in the summer.  However, I did have to go for a couple of diagnostic tests in Tripoli and found the service to be just fine and expedient.

In hindsight, is there anything you would have done differently? Anything you wish you'd taken advantage of? I would have insisted on having bars and a guard immediately...the break-ins really bothered my husband.  I would have spent more time sight-seeing within Tripoli itself...I took a lot of pictures but now wish I had more.  I miss the medina, the sea and the excitement over a new shop opening!  I wanted to do a trip to Ghadames and Tobruk but neither happened...I would still love to return to do this.  Our time there got cut short by a year so many things I wanted to do just never happened...I would have started doing more things earlier on instead of just enjoying so many lazy days at the pool or the beach with friends.  I would have explored the city more.. I took it for granted when I lived there, thinking it would never end.  I could move back there easily... even on my own if I had work there.

What one piece of advice do you wish you'd had? Nothing really... I enjoyed being met with some chaos... it gave me a better experience into the culture.  My advice would be to come with open arms and an open mind... life gives you back what you put into it so just roll with the punches and find something positive in every experience.

How did you find being a married couple impacted your social life in Libya?  Did this make it easier or more difficult to meet others? Difficult to say, we socialized with many singles and married people.  I don't think it really mattered whether single or married... everybody was so "open" to meeting new people single/married that it did not matter.  It was comforting to be married knowing someone was with you every night... I guess I felt more secure, but whether or not it would have impacted my social life is difficult to say, but I really don't think so. The social gatherings were never exclusively for single/married... everybody was always welcome.  As in any country... it really is WHO you know that gets you places socially.

I also had many friends with children.  I think it was easier for them to meet people as they automatically had the school as a connection: play dates, school functions, Mom's groups, etc...  Most of the people that I knew were very happy with the education and exposure to the rest of the world that their children were getting.  The small class sizes were a wonderful learning environment for these children.

You mention your time was cut short, did you go on to another assignment or repatriate home to Canada?  How was the adjustment?  My husband initially signed a three-year contract which would have kept us in Tripoli until February 2010.  He was  repatriated a year early as he was interested in a position that came available back here for him.  The adjustment, even though we have come back to Canada, has been a struggle for me.  We came back to Canada but not from where we were... we have settled in a northern community where my husband grew up.  He was able to go back to work with many people he already knew, plus has family, relatives and old friends here.  I am unable to get work at the hospital here as there is a hiring freeze, so after almost a year I am still unemployed.  We are almost a five-hour drive away from the nearest city where I can work (or shop!), so I feel very isolated.  There are no jobs in the health care industry here for me and I don't want to start at some office just answering phones... been there done that 20 years ago.  I had a very successful career when we moved to Tripoli so it is very difficult to come back to nothing.  Sorry, this is sounding very negative and I don't mean it to be, but the transition to repatriate has been more difficult than moving to Tripoli.

What do you miss about Tripoli? The weather, my friends, experiencing the different culture, the sea, the social life, cash only... It is very tiresome checking debit transactions and credit card bills every month.  I miss the great coffee shops, the schwarma, the ambience, the "call to prayer", the rooster crowing next door... now I feel homesick!

Would you consider another posting here? Aahh.....YES!

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