November 2009

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In this archive we meet Canadian family, Mike and Melanie, who are currently living in Benghazi, Libya, along with their two young children.  This interview was published in November 2009.

What can you tell us about yourselves?   We are Canadians and we have been in Libya for three years. Mike was here before on rotation but my first time here was when we moved here.  We have travelled a whole bunch but this is our first post abroad and we are loving it!

What brings you to Libya?  Mike is VP of a Canadian company specializing in condition assessment of infrastructure.

What made you decide to move here?  Work, the weather, and saving money of course.

What were your perceptions of Libya before you arrived?  As Mike had been here before he of course had filled me in on all the good parts so I was really excited to see what it was actually like  and he was mostly right, thank goodness.

What were your first impressions of Benghazi?  When we first arrived on 1 December  2006 it was dark and rainy and I was amazed at how many cars you could fit into one  lane of traffic and wondered why we didn't do the same in Canada!  The next day it was sunny and warm and we headed out on a walk in Benghazi so I could start to get my bearings and knew that I would really like it here.

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 company?  We were lucky enough to live above the Headmaster of the British School and we were invited to the Christmas Bazaar where we met most of the expat community.  At the time there were maybe only 50 or so expats living in Benghazi; now there are many, many more. We gather often for dinner parties or holiday occasions and just generally have a grand ol' time together.

What are your thoughts on raising a family as an expat in Benghazi?  Well our second child was born here so we feel pretty good about raising a family here. There would be no way in Canada that we would get to spend this much time together as a family or do the travelling that we have been given the opportunity to do. Our eldest daughter has just started nursery at the British School Benghazi and is really enjoying it. Our favorite days are definitely Fridays when we all gather and head to the beach for the day.  Can't think of a better thing to do.

Describe your social life/hobbies in Libya.  Were you able to do the same things you did before or have you had to adapt your hobbies to suit a different climate and culture?  I love downhill skiing and have managed to do it here in Libya, would you believe. Beware - sand does not melt like snow, especially in your underpants!  We still go running and push our kids in the jogging stroller. We hike and I pull the kids to school and around town with my bike trailer.  We have found some good gyms that even have yoga classes, and there is a great beach club right here in Benghazi that is internationally certified to teach scuba diving, sailing and windsurfing. We have started a gymnastic club at the great facility here in Benghazi and hit the Tibesti Hotel often for swimming during the "colder" months.

Do you speak Arabic?   How do you find communicating with locals in Benghazi?  ‘Schwaya schwaya’ as they say.  Mike does very well, and I can hold my own. I start proper classes soon so that I can learn to read Arabic. Generally most people want to practise their English so are happy to fill in the blanks of my Arabic. Last week I managed to order tables and chairs for a party and had them delivered to our house. I was pretty proud of myself.

Are there any items you wish you'd packed or any you frequently had to resource outside of Libya?  Hmm you can get pretty much anything here in Libya now foodwise, we've even managed to get our local fruit and vegetable man to bring in avocados! I wish they had soy milk, rice milk and more alternative foods but I am sure they will come.  I bring in all our shampoo and soap but that's only because I am freaky and don't use any chemicals.  We even make all our cleaning products - with local ingredients of course.

What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of living in Libya?  The most challenging part for me is the gender gap. As a female in Canada I can go for a run on my own, or a bike ride on my own, but here it's a little more restrictive. Just takes some getting used to, and, well, dragging my husband out to go with me. It's good for both of us right!?  The amount of garbage that people consume and throw away is a little mind boggling but not sure what's better - having it in a huge landfill with the "out of sight out of mind" philosophy or having it right in your face.

What do you enjoy about life in Libya/Benghazi?  I enjoy our family time, the adventure of every day and finding new places or new things to do. I love the beach and the incredible weather. I cherish all the friendships we have made with Libyans and expats alike.  The Libyan people love children. They will drop whatever they are doing to make your child smile, or laugh. They will carry them away in a restaurant to show to the staff in the back.  They will give them many sweets (without asking of course) and your child will think this is the norm and wonder why when they are in Canada they don't get anything.

What one piece of advice do you wish you'd received before relocating?  You've packed too much.

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