Leaving the air-conditioned airplane after landing in the capital of Tripoli, I was embraced by the heat. Looking around I saw the scattered graveyard of skeletal aircrafts from past wars in nearby empty fields. Following the line of passengers, they led me to and through the sterile airport; it’s plain white walls and clean hard floors similar to those of hospitals. That night I flew into Benghazi and went to my grandmother’s apartment. The first night was filled with a small rush of relatives. By that time I’d been awake more than 24 hours; I was exhausted. After mispronouncing a few names and incoherently answering when they asked if I was hungry, I turned in. The journey had been long. Brimming with curiosity and excitement I’d left my home, the rainy and often cold state of Washington, on a solo embarkment. At the tender age of sixteen I was driven by a strong case of wanderlust.
I stayed in Libya for two and a half months. A naturally shy person, I easily fell into the role of observer. Libyans are culturally outgoing, likely to befriend strangers on the street. Their inquisitive nature and distinguished quirks make them mischievous teasers. One night my uncle told me that the apartment was haunted, right before leaving me to watch a scary movie. A few of my twenty-some cousins worked towards convincing me that worms are a rare delicacy in Libya. The same ones invented some crazy dances on tables. They embellished that they were doing a traditional Libyan dance and that if I wanted, they would teach me too. I declined the offer telling them I’d rather learn Arabic.
Relatives would eagerly teach me Arabic when I asked them, but many weren’t good teachers. They’d overwhelm me with words. Relatives would teach me amusing but useless sentences such as “You have a fly on your head.” They encouraged me to say that at any time to anyone. Whether there was a fly on anyone’s head or not was irrelevant. Overall I found it easier to pick up words by listening to conversations. In the mean time my inability to speak Arabic was a great amusement for my relatives. Of course I had an American accent and I’m pretty sure that throughout my visit I referred to everyone using the feminine verb form.
Beaches in Libya are perfectly preserved. One particular beach I went to stretched on in both directions endlessly. Turning my back to the beach, sand dimpling hills and the distant enormity of the green mountains were visible. A goat herdsman was the only other person I saw there. I’ve never felt softer sand, or swam in calmer water. Honestly, it’s the saltiest natural water I’ve had the pleasure of choking on. Floating on the salty water, I watched fish swim, and saw crabs race on shore.
I worry that all the beautiful natural places in the world are gone, destroyed by tourists and rapid development. That there are still places in the world untouched by mankind’s exploitive tendency is a great relief. Potentially the strongest reason for why these beaches are still intact is that in Libya women must be covered when in public. A head scarf, long sleeves, and pants are worn. No tight clothes. Women aren’t supposed to look out windows scarf-less. Feminists and equality activists may point the finger, and decry this cultural aspect. Covered women rarely swim, same with their families. That same cultural aspect preserves the beaches. Nature is conserved, instead of being squeezed dry. The consequences of culture are tremendous.
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