Crossing Into Libya
Crossing Into Libya – Jason Pack Survives Border Bureaucracy And Sustainable Development Consultants
I figured getting to Tripoli for another quick research trip would be significantly easier than the time I went to visit the Iraqi archives in late 2003. This time around, I thought it would be very unlikely that I would encounter what the Iraqis used to call an ‘Ali Baba border guard’. One such petty bureaucrat playfully attempted to enforce the HIV test that had been mandatory for foreign visitors under Saddam, thereby compelling me to cough up a hundred bucks to prevent him from sticking a dirty syringe in my vein. I had also heard that the Libyan road network from the Tunisian border to the capital was entirely secure, unlike the Amman-Bagdad route in 2003 which passed through the ‘Sunni Triangle’ near Fallujah where frequent IEDs necessitated lengthy detours onto local roads. On both accounts I was flat out wrong.
As soon as I was off the propeller plane at the Djerba airport, I spotted two hipsters at the baggage carousel positively oozing a metrosexual vibe. They turned out to be Arabic-speaking Georgetown grads, who over the course of the next 36 hours would alternatively style themselves as sustainable development consultants, green entrepreneurs, and experts in import-export. In their more candid and giddy moments they made such statements as “Libya feels like the Wild West. I am sure it is where I will make my first million.” Or even more revealing of the condescending and predatory nature of many ambitious Westerners in the development field, “When I was in Benghazi in April, it struck me that the people were in such dire need of skills and capacity building, you could rake in the cash simply by setting up a falafel restaurant if you could import decent ingredients and bring quality control to its operations. Imagine what you could do in the fields of desalinisation or genetically-engineered seeds modelled on Israeli agronomy methodology but produced in Jordan!” Although I did not share their motivations for coming to Libya, I knew that sticking with them would keep me safe and cut my costs in getting to Tripoli.