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Everywhere in the world : Conclusion



Last week, rattling on again about my years in Libya, I noted that one year in Benghazi (where I lived and worked) Gaddafi’s revolution of September 1st 1969 was commemorated by a display of art-works—specifically, collages—of the Great Brother Leader, made by schoolchildren. Just to remind you, a collage is an art-work made by assembling little cut-outs from magazines or newspapers to make a striking design. Most hilarious of all was one purporting to be the Colonel riding a camel—for Gaddafi very proudly stressed his Bedou (desert nomad) origins. This one had a camel striding forth and a photo of Gaddafi in full military garb, taking the salute. The photo of Gaddafi was simply stuck on the side of the camel, like a weird piece of architectural engineering. Having by then ridden camels myself (an experience not to be recommended) I could have told him this was no way to do it. On the subject of the Colonel in a fancy dress, a memory from just before the 1986 bombing. Gaddafi attended a conference of the OAU dressed in full African chieftaincy garb (West African, I think) and brought in chiefs from Ghana, Nigeria, wherever, to dance around him, praising him while rewarding them with handfuls of gold. A repugnant spectacle, and proof that even then his dementia was setting in. At this point, as I continue to burble on about my memories of Libya, I was going to regale you with the story of the only football match I have ever attended in my life—a qualifier of the Africa Cup played between Libya and Tunisia. But I’ve decided to relegate that to a future column (watch this space!) titled “Me and Football.” For the time being, back to memories of my last days in Libya. After the bombing I decided to leave the country. There were several reasons for this. First, the place was obviously going to implode or explode at some point and I didn’t fancy becoming part of the debris. Second, I wanted to continue producing academic writing and facilities for doing so at the university was almost non-existent. Third, although I was keen to remain a scholar, I wanted a break—maybe forever—from undergraduate lecturing. I wanted to see if I could survive as a freelance writer and—with frequent trips to West Africa, my main research base—I wanted to live in Peru. Two years in Peru followed, a turbulent time I don’t intend to take my readers through (though I shall do a light-hearted piece on my trips to the Amazon). As it turned out, although I picked up plenty of writing jobs, especially for the wonderful but, alas, no longer up-and-running West Africa magazine, I couldn’t make ends meet and so started applying again for an academic post. The NUL picked me straight away and that’s how, in 1988, I landed in Lesotho. Before I wrap up on Libya, I can’t resist relating my mother’s reaction when I phoned with the news that I was about to set up in the mountain kingdom. “You have lived,” she growled, “in places most sensible people wouldn’t even visit for a day. Lagos, Libya, Lima. And they all begin with “L.” Now there’s another one.” “No, mum,” I said, “Lesotho’s really nice.” “Why not,” she snapped, “go and live in Lebanon. There’s a full-scale civil war going on there. Suit you fine.” Back to 1986, and Libya had one final jolt in store for me before I left. I spent a wonderful week staying with students and their families in the north-west of the country (that’s where I got to see the amphitheatre at Sabraatha). The day to leave came—tears all round and another slaughtered sheep. I was due to fly Tripoli-London on an airline that no longer exists, British Caledonian (BCal). Got to the airport and discovered that all BCal flights had been discontinued, permanently. What had happened, it seems, is that BCal had been discovered to be transporting exports of sensitive computer equipment to the Gaddafi regime and an enraged British government had pulled the plug on them. The airport was thronged with freaked-out Brits and others trying to get on an alternative flight. Luckily my student friends were with me and one of them had a cousin who was on the airport’s Revolutionary Committee. He got me into an office upstairs somewhere and, after I gave another donation to the Great Man-Made River Project and received yet another sticker of a manic Gaddafi as river engineer, he gave me my tickets for an alternative flight on ALITALIA, Tripoli-Roma-London. Now, ALITALIA isn’t exactly the niftiest airline in the world (the joke has it that the acronym stands for “Aircraft Landing In Tokyo. All Luggage In Amsterdam”), but I was about to be airborne. Over and out. Chris Dunton

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