The Road Trip Out of Libya

So as closure to my experience during this whole Libyan crisis, I’d like to share the day when we headed out of Libya about a month ago. It’s nothing like in the movies of an epic, perilous, dramatic journey to escape a war torn country, I have to stop your imagination there. But for an ordinary person like me, who about a month before that was eating street food in a lower-middle class Filipino neighborhood, it was I admit a bit dangerous and nerve wrecking of an experience.

The even sadder part about that was the day before we left was when JG finally returned from being away for ten days, assisting in the repatriation of other Filipinos who wanted to leave. My joy of finally being able to see my husband again was immediately replaced by a sudden realization that I was going to be apart from him again, after only a day of seeing him, and this time it wasn’t going to be just for ten days.

And there was no time to waste catching up, we had to prepare our bags and think about the stuff that we could and want to take with us. We were leaving via what was supposed to be a four hour drive to the Libyan-Tunisian border as it was impossible to get flights in the chaos then going on at the Tripoli airport. And if you didn’t follow the news, it was widely known that any electronic device spotted in your possession by the Libyan border control was either confiscated or purposely wrecked as damage control to keep any video you might have taken in the country from leaking out. So careful packing had to be done to make sure our laptops, phones, digi-cams were not found in case our bags were asked to be opened.

The next day we woke bright and early, and at the last minute decided that we leave more items behind because it seems we might have over packed. The problem there was that JG says we might have to make a bit of a walk from the Libyan side of the border into the middle that is no man’s land, towards the Tunisian side; and that would be quite a challenge if we were bringing three huge luggage each.

It was by that time three weeks until the unrest began, many days later since the crisis of the exodus happening at the Libyan-Tunisian border. So I thought that our group would mostly consist of us and the other embassy staff and their families, I had thought that most of the Filipinos who wanted to leave have been evacuated by then, but to my surprise there were still a number coming along. Among them was a family of four with a nine-year old girl and her two-month old sister. The dad explained that they wanted to leave as soon as things started but the little baby was sick so they had to wait until she was okay to travel. I consider those encounters God’s way of telling me that I shouldn’t complain or ask why this had to happen to me, meeting them I seemed to have it easy.

We did not have a car; thankfully we had Mr. T, a Libyan driver/friend who has been driving us in Tripoli when we need to get somewhere. He is sort of like the embassy’s go to guy when we need to get around, our favorite special taxi/chauffer/tour guide/friend whom you asked to give you a lift. In the Philippines we call him “suki”, our regular, sort of like having your regular or more preferred butcher. That day, Mr. T was our convoy leader out the now heavily guarded roads of Libya.

And I have to say, that if I ever get to see him again in a happier circumstance, I would thank him deeply, buy him a great big present, for helping us all. And not just for that day, but for the many times he gave me a ride, over the past year and a half, he wasn’t just some random taxi driver any more, he is, someone I will always consider my friend.

So Mr.T’s job wasn’t easy, I think we were a convoy of eight cars? If I remember right, and since we were non-vehicle owners, JG (who was only taking us as far as the border), my MIL, and I rode in Mr. T’s car. The challenge you see, is aside from the checkpoints from both the government and rebel side, also that even though most of the drivers driving that day had driven to Djerba several times, some the roads they usually took and know by heart are no longer accessible.

Like I said Mr.T’s job wasn’t easy, because not only was he responsible for leading the way he also needed to make sure that everyone keeps up with the group. So he had to stop several times to wait for those behind the pack so they did not get lost in case we make a sudden turn. It got to a point that he was so preoccupied with making sure every car was accounted for we got lost several times. And when he did find a road he recognized we also had to turn back a number of times, because some of the roads were either closed off or blocked so we had to find an alternate route. I sat quietly at the backseat, usually I would fall asleep during long drives, but this one time I was awake like I never was before in a road trip. During those times that we got lost, a number of locals, good Samaritans (in this case Libyans) driving along would literally and figuratively go out of their way to show us the road out, until we get to one that Mr. T recognizes, which was something very brave I thought since anybody would’ve preferred to get to where they were going as quickly as possible considering the current situation.

At one point we also passed by a rebel held town, I forgot the name. To my observation was eerie quiet, at first with the rebel flags flying in some houses, a big one painted on a wall of one building. But as we drove in, pass the rebel checkpoints that only use used furniture as their blockades, life went on. Shops were open, people going about their business as if there is nothing new.

And then of course there was the fear of getting caught in the line of fire. On the way out, you would have to pass by the town of Zawiya, where heavy clashes were taking place. And sure enough after a number of road blocks and checkpoints, we had to turn back again at one point because an apparent gunfight was happening down the road. We did not actually see or hear the clashes, from far off we could see cars ahead of us, hurriedly bolting back, and flashing their lights to the coming cars; some of the ones who’d pass us, did a pulling a trigger gesture with their free hand, confirming our fears. So we wisely took a hint, made a u-turn, and did not wait to see all the live action ourselves.

That was the climax of that whole ordeal for me; we got to the border thankfully intact and safe. Since like I said this was already three weeks since most of the people started fleeing, days after countries have sent their ships and planes to help the thousands stranded in the border, so the chaos I saw on the news, was no longer present at the border. However remnants of the refugee camps remain, for some small groups crossing the border. Our bags were spared from any search and we did not have to walk through no man’s land, and was generously offered some space by one of JG’s colleagues in the embassy (If you are reading this you know who you are and I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart, also to say that I will always appreciate what you did for us that day. You did not have to do that, but you did, and I’m sorry I was not able to show my appreciation as much as I should).

I did however see for myself, some of the men whose things were really opened and thoroughly, thoroughly (for emphasis), searched. I also spotted remnants of mobile phone parts on the road, whom I imagined belonged to some guy who now has to worry about how to tell his family from wherever he is from that he is alive and well.

We left Tripoli at around 10 am, arrived at the border at around 4 in the afternoon, and said my goodbye to JG. At the risk of giving TMI, JG gave me a nice kiss on the lips that day, which he rarely, rarely (for emphasis) does in public. Those kinds of gestures between couples you kind of take for granted even if it seldom happens when you’re married to someone like JG, but including our wedding day, that was one of the ones I will probably always remember.

It’s kind of sad thinking that I had to leave Libya that way, in that state that the country is in. And I am still concerned as to what will happen to it.  Not just because my husband is still there, but because it was my first home away from home as a Diplowife; and because it is my first it holds a special place in my heart. I still wish to come back, maybe not soon but someday, as they always say there Insha Allah.

The views written on this post and this blog are mine alone and are not shared or represented by my husband or the Philippine Embassy in any way.

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. sammies says:

    You got me there on the goodbye kiss. Yeeha!

  2. Gosh I got teary-eyed reading your post. And goosebumps. It is unthinkable that you went through this on your first post. How different our worlds are and how much you have experienced in such a short amount of time. The world feels for Libya and all the other countries experiencing unrest and calamity but it seems so far away in the news than when you personally know someone who has went through it. You, JG, all the other pinoys and the good Libyans who helped you are so brave.

  3. globetrottingrien says:

    DB,

    Thanks for sharing this post with us. I understand what you went through as I had experienced similar situation back in mid 80’s. But I was only a child back then and the situation wasn’t as bad as now!

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