Traveling to Eastern Libya

Posted on: March 16th, 2011 | No Comments

It’s a long drive from Cairo but the road to the border is in good condition with only a few check points (beefed up after the recent troubles with tanks and squads of soldiers instead of policemen).  The border crossing itself is nothing but a series of buildings that feel like a train depot that has been overrun by refugees from sub-Saharan Africans who have fled the fighting but lack the means to continue on home quickly.  Thousands of people pack the reception halls or sleep outside under boxes and blankets.  The conditions are not good for sure but at least the people are safe and eventually are processed onward.     

The look and feel changes immediately on crossing into what is officially called the “Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Republic (Jamahiriya).”  There are no ornery customs officials but instead rebels who do nothing but shake our hands and thank us for coming.  Men (there are no women around) dress in beaten mismatch of civilian and military clothing.  They look like they’ve been fighting for months, if not years, but it’s only been a couple of weeks.  There are not many cars, virtually no billboards and few shops are open.  Gasoline is a remarkable $0.15 a liter but don’t get excited, most other things are in scarce supply.  All storefronts had to be painted the same color as the Libyan flag (of the current government); a solid green.  When I asked what would happen if you painted your store a different color, I was told “your store won’t open.”    

The city of Tobruk is about an hour’s drive from the border.  This was a name I’ve known since childhood.  It was in this area that the Allied and Axis dueled back and forth using all manner at their disposal. Later General Erwin Rommel laid siege to the town and built an underground command post (over which is now a parking lot) until he was later repulsed by a combined force that included Australians, British, French, Czechs and Polish troops.  Allied military cemeteries still dot the area.  This was a place highly romanticized in media by the “Deserts Rats” and the “English Patient.” After WWII, the town was rebuilt and its charm, if there ever was any, has been lost.   

A "People's Republic"? Maybe

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