Amidst the recent flood of reports of revolution from alien datelines across North Africa, news of gunfighting at the airstrip in Brega wrenched powerful memories out of me. Expatriates such as myself -- from Houston, Dublin, Sydney, the world over -- relied upon that piddling lick of tarmac as a lifeline to home. That airstrip is where we put our faith in the ancient, propeller-driven Fokker F-27s of Libyan Arab Airlines to ferry us 500 miles to Tripoli for long-haul flights. That airstrip is where my sister broke her leg twirling around an iron bar. And that airstrip is where my brothers, bound for boarding school, hugged my crying mother goodbye.
Brega was a terribly challenging place to raise a family but a wonderful place to be a child. My parents were very young, very far from their verdant homeland, and very much hounded by their pack of four children under the age of eight. One general store, one clinic, no church, no television, and no disposable nappies. Libya is home to the world's highest recorded temperature (136 degrees in Al Aziziyah in 1922) and is a true desert. When I first came to America many years later, a friend of mine showed me what she called the Arizona desert: majestic saguaro, abundant juniper, and teeming wildflowers. Zoom out from this map of our house in Brega (1169 Cyrene Street) to see the Libyan desert: no vegetation, just rock, salt, and sand.
View Brega, Libya in a larger map
In fact, powder was the textural motif of my youth. Our milk was powdered Klim (the exact opposite, in so many ways, of real milk); orange juice was powdered Tang; and despite inch-thick metal sandstorm blinds to protect our house from ghiblis, our home was always coated with a fine layer of silt.
Kids, of course, loved it. We were almost completely unchaperoned. What could happen to a small child? Crime in a small village where everyone knew each other was non-existent, and any wayward youngster inclined to wander into the Sahara could easily be tracked down. We played all hours amidst the massive pyramids of gas pipes and swam and sailed in the Mediterranean just beyond the picturesque sand dunes. True, the beach was often spotted with tar that washed ashore from a pumping buoy that filled the regular queue of oil tankers. But petrol is very handy at removing sticky tar from skin, and we had lots of petrol. Teenagers learned to drive on the nearby salt flats, where no amount of indiscretion could convert a twenty-year-old Fiat into something dangerous.
Our parents could take their exercise by either scorching themselves on the pair of infernal tennis courts or duffering their way around the nine-hole golf course composed entirely of sand. (Local rules permitted all shots to be played off a portable piece of astro-turf, and the "greens" were rendered puttable with oil sprayed and rolled into a firm crust.) We were, in effect, blissfully isolated in a 1950s beach resort.
TrackBack URL for this entry:
Links to weblogs that reference Libya: Oil & Powder: