January 2011

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In this interview we meet Mirja Wark who is about to depart Libya after three and a half years in Tripoli.

Please give a little bit of personal information about yourself.

I’m Dutch, married, with three grown-up children who live and work in the Netherlands. I originally trained as a physiotherapist, but later became a hand-weaver. I have been in Libya for three and a half years and am just about to return to the Netherlands and settle there.

What made you decide to move to Libya?

My husband’s job! We have lived in the USA, Australia, Venezuela, Oman, and  Syria as well as Libya.

What were your perceptions before you arrived?

An Arab-African country which until recently had been regarded as a rogue state and which was described as a socialist Muslim state.

What were your first impressions?

A chaotic boomtown!

Did you find it easy to connect socially with others outside your company?

It has always been hard to meet Libyans. However, it has become easier and easier to meet other expats due to the increase in social groups and activities along with improved communications (internet and phone).

What are your main leisure activities?

I like going on weekend trips, sometimes camping, to the desert, Jebel Nafusa, and the coast. I also jog in winter and swim in summer, and do yoga.

Are there any items you wish you’d packed? Any items you frequently source from outside Libya?

When I first came I would always bring cheese back from home, but that is no longer necessary. I probably should have brought more books and DVDs with me. I had to bring all my weaving equipment with me and still buy most of my weaving supplies outside Libya.

What’s the most difficult thing about living here?

Apart from the rubbish everywhere, it’s the feeling of insecurity regarding travelling in and out of the country. I got stuck here during the Schengen problems, and visitors were not able to come at that time. I also had my passport stolen and so for months I couldn’t leave the country. That was really terrible. Even when everything is normal it is not possible to leave without permission and it is difficult organizing visas for visitors.

Anything you would have done differently?


Is there something you are determined to do before you leave?

Well, it’s too late now! I am kind of disappointed I never got over to the Eastern Fezzan (e.g. Kufra) but the reason for that was we enjoyed the freedom of making trips under our own steam. We did a two-week trip to the Acacus region which was fantastic. As it was during the Schengen problems, we didn’t see any other tourists …

I was lucky enough to meet several Libyan artists and regret not having spent more time with them, but I simply did not have the time because of teaching weaving here. By the way, it was great to have the opportunity to teach weaving!

What one piece of advice do you wish you had had?

I can’t think of anything, but I can give some advice to others. Choose to be here and make the most of the opportunities here. Lead your own life and don’t be dependent on your partner or children to fill your days.

What will you miss when you eventually leave?

The trips and being able to camp wild. The traffic – I now find driving in Europe rather boring. The fresh fruit and veg which are so easy to buy. My house and also my Ghanaian houseboy. The freedom from social obligations. My weaving students. The possibility of adventure!

Would you consider prolonging your contract or returning for another posting?

No, because of the lack of freedom I mentioned above. However, I’d happily come back here for a holiday.

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