Whew! Comms – which have been patchy on my Libyan travels – are up and running again.
For a country that looks like it’s still half-built (unlike Egypt which looks like it’s half-unbuilt and going down, or so I’m told) Libya has pretty decent telecoms and infrastructure. Cellphones are ubiquitous and getting a local sim card was a doddle. (It didn’t work but that was my service provider’s fault, not the Libyans’.)
And while the east-west highway may be a two-laner once you get out of the city, it’s a two-laner with almost no potholes, at least on the long sections we drove to the fabulous ruined cities east and west of Tripoli.
There are plenty of half-completed buildings and houses, and lots of cars that have been ridden hard and put away dusty. But no beggars, no shacks, no homeless … Locals ascribe that to a strong family structure where people in difficulty are taken care of by the extended family. I can’t prove that, of course, and Tripoli’s a big place. A sprawling place, in fact – it just goes on and on without a break in the shops and houses and mosques.
Parts of Tripoli – the Medina comes to mind – look just like Maputo did in 1993 when Mozambique’s guns finally fell silent. There are narrow, dusty streets fronted by colonial buildings of indeterminable age where little shops huddle under crazy lashings of power lines (people have to make a plan if their power gets cut-off).
From narrow alleyways comes the rattle and banging of metalsmiths at work, while other, more fortunate men, sit in the doorways of their shops in front of ghastly piles of Chinese-made consumer goods.
And right there is one of globalisation’s blemishes. Once upon a time, romantics and idealists and backpackers railed against the Americanisation of the world – McDonald’s from Budapest to Bangalore – and the end of the world as we didn’t know it. In fact, that honour must go to the Chinese who have swamped the world in a tsunami of cheap goods and plastic bling-bling. Even in Libya, one of the most foreign places I have yet had the privilege of visiting.
There are upsides, of course, starting with the antiquities such as the ruined Roman cities that look out over the sea at Leptis Magna and Sabratha, and the lovely treasures in the Jamahiriya Museum, treasures which include cave paintings, Neolithic tools, Greek and Roman statuary – and The Leader’s very own, slightly battered Volkswagen Beetle.
I was so happy to be able to drink coffee still at a local, no name brand, coffee hole. I would hate to see Vidda’s (it’s ok for here) or Starbucks open on every Libyan street corner. The Mall culture kills all others!