My experience of living in Misurata and Zawia couldn’t be more different; while I found a home in Misurata I simply could never adapt culturally to Zawia. Libya is a complex country to live in at the best of times but during the time we were there, between the revolution of 2011 and the upraisings of 2014, expat life was far from easy, which is why this page is somewhat longer than those on my other expat travels.
This page contains a record of my impressions at different stages of our life in Libya as we settled down but also as Libya started to change and events evolved rapidly to a rather dangerous level. This page retraces this evolution and how we gradually adapted (or not) to Libya, what became part of our life and what remained difficult. I added content regularly, always making notes of striking impressions and turning points in our expat lives.
On this page you’ll find info about our expat life in Misurata and Zawia, some general after-thoughts on life in Libya as well as links to the most popular posts on the blog. You can read it all or use the following links to:
- Map of Libya with main cities
- Before moving to Libya
- Expat life in Misurata
- Expat life in Zawia
- Expat in Libya – the Best and the Worst
- Related Posts
- Picture Gallery
Libya was by far the hardest place for me to adapt to. There were simply too many aspects of life there, especially in Zawia, that I could never understand, let alone make mine. It’s very hard to explain, it’s nothing you see, it’s more a matter of a Zawian (Not sure that adjective exists) mindset that is not just different but completely at the opposite of mine. At one point at the end of our time in Libya, we realised that the only way to keep living in Libya would be for us to drastically change the way we think, the way we live and also get rid of many of our principles. Of course we couldn’t do it! While we usually adapt to new countries and culture, we could NOT give up on our values and principles.
Expat in Libya – A few weeks to go
I’m very excited by this new move. We are now waiting for our visas to arrive and I’m already packing and planning in my head in anticipation. Everything I know about Libya I got from Google and other online sources. I know perfectly well that English language websites are very limited so I know that I know close to nothing. I know a few people who have been there, but that was before the revolution of 2011 and their conclusion is always the same: “don’t know what it’s like now after the war/revolution”.
- All in all, I don’t know what to expect but in my head Libya means (in no particular order): sun/heat, palm trees, desert, camels, Arabic language, Qur’an schools for the children, a place where the concept of time is not like mine, a whole new “alien” culture…
- Anything I’m worried about? not really. I know some people are concerned about security (including official UK government websites) but the way I see it at the moment, from the comfort of my Birmingham house, is that there are troubles of one kind or another everywhere in the world. Maybe my view will change once I’m there, maybe not.
- What I’m looking forward to the most? living in a Muslim country, living in a hot country, learning Arabic in immersion.
Expat in Misurata, Libya – 1st day
That’s it, we’ve arrived and before I forget, here is what immediately hit me:
The colour of the sea: as we approached land in the plane, I looked down to see the most amazing turquoise colour of the sea. I had never seen anything so beautiful. I had switched off my phone and didn’t take any picture but next time inshallah (God willing) I’ll find a way, simply amazing!
The heat: our pilot on the plane informed us the temperature outside was 28 degrees, quite a difference from the 2 or 3 degrees back in England (that was early March 2013).
The sand: somehow in my head I imagined Misurata to be like Tunisia, but I was thinking more like the north of Tunisia (Hammamet, Tunis) when in fact it is located further south and closer to the desert. Therefore this is more like Tozeur or Douze in South Tunisia, a lot of sand everywhere, even as we landed in Misurata airport, there was sand all over the strip.
The war: yes the war/revolution is over, but the damages are still very visible everywhere you go in the city. The people here are working hard to re-build but you can still see the bullet holes in buildings, some streets are totally destroyed. Makes me sad but the attitude of the people seems very positive.
Expat in Misurata, Libya – 1st month
We have now been in Libya for more than a month. Quite a few surprises, good and bad, here goes:
Good surprises first then:
People: We have found that people here in Misurata (seems to be the most common spelling here) are amazingly friendly and helpful. We can always count on their help for transport, direction, paperwork, shopping….
Security: while I wasn’t really worried about that, I know my family and some friends were. Well, everything is OK, we have no fear, we have not seen or heard anything worrying at all. True, firearms can sometimes be heard, but this is not fighting, this is more like “celebrating” during weddings especially. Nothing to worry about, even though it takes some time getting used to it.
Money – Bills: in Libya, there are NO BILLS once you’ve paid your rent. No water bill, no electricity bill, no gas bill (you do need to buy gas cylinders though).
Petrol is also amazingly cheap and you can fill up your tank for about 5 Dinars (that’s 2.5 GB pounds). Water and bread cost close to nothing as well.
Shopping: We had been told there was no supermarkets in Libya. Well there are plenty in Misurata and they have everything you need. I was surprised to find all the products I used to find in the UK. Most of the things you find here are imported (mainly from Italy and Turkey) so you’ll be able to get your usual brand of cereals, shampoo…. as well as local products.
Water: although it is not advised to drink tap water in Libya, I was happy to find tap water wasn’t as bad as in Tunisia. Doesn’t have any strong smell or “taste” to it.
Not so good surprises:
Money – cost of life: shopping in Misurata is just as expensive as in the UK. We have now been here for some time and have realised that weekly food/essentials shopping cost the same here as in the UK (apart from bread and water). Household goods are the same price as well or more expensive and furnishing our house is costing more than we thought.
Freedom of movement: we had in mind that once we’d get our Iqama (permanent resident status) we’d be able to travel at will. In fact, we’ll need to apply for visa and get permission from our employers to do so. Shouldn’t be too hard to get but not as easily or freely as we’d imagined. Also we have now learnt that travelling out of Libya is limited to 30 days only for working expats: any extra days are taken out of your salary.
Transport: you simply cannot do without a car in Misurata. There are no public transport and no taxi service either. Only option is to thumb a lift everytime you need to move around. Walking is not really an option: first of all, it is totally uncommon for people to walk, you rarely see people walking on the side of the road, second of all, most of the year, it is simply too hot. Since cars are about 3 times more expensive than in the UK, we can either buy a very expensive good car or end up with a shabby little car.
We were advised not to bring a car from the UK as there are some legal problems until you get your Iqama, but we know now that there are many ways around it and really a car is vital here.
Administration: well not really a surprise as we knew things were very hard in Libya, we just didn’t know how BAD. Paperwork is a killer, so many people are “working” yet there is no established system or structure, no one really knows what to do BUT they all want a say in things so everyone with an office must put their stamp and signature on papers. It takes weeks to get a form and if you don’t chase things up, it won’t get done. PATIENCE is a necessary virtue here.
Expat in Misurata, Libya – 5th month
We have spent a total of 5 months in Misurata and have now moved to another city called Zawia. Before I close the Misurata chapter then just a few thoughts:
Home Sweet Home: I absolutely loved the city even though I can’t really put my finger on what exactly made me feel right at home there, could be the people who are so warm hearted. It’s a great place for shopping with many big retail outlets for everything, especially baby stuff. From modern brands to traditional markets you’ll find them all in Misurata.
Libyans LOVE children: there are many various occasions when you realise just how much Libyans (men and women alike) love children. I have never seen so many supermarkets dedicated to children, there are everywhere. You find shops selling toys 2 or 3 at a time in any street it’s crazy. When I would play outside with my boys, neighbours would often pop inside their houses and come back loaded with cakes, sweets or other little delicacies for them. I have seen a few times cars slow traffic down to a stop to let me cross the road with my children: sounds easy but in a country where driving slowly is almost an offense, this is actually pretty amazing!
Safety: In all my time there, I never felt threatened. I moved around freely by myself, I drove there, worked there without any worries at any time. Only scares are on the road, there were quite a few near misses and accidents did happen right in front of us on the road, we’ve had some bruises and scratches on the car but alhamdulillah (Praise to God) nothing serious. I felt very secure including when I was with my children outside, people are very considerate of little ones and I always felt it was safe for them.
It’s clean: the city is very VERY clean, there are people who are paid to clean the street and collect rubbish every day. People in Misurata say that their city is unusually clean compared to the rest of Libya. I haven’t yet seen too many cities but I’d tend to agree with them so far.
Beaches: The most beautiful beaches and sea views I’ve ever seen. I’ll never forget the perfect turquoise and gradually changing shades of blue… all in one spot. The 10 minutes drive along the cost in Al Jazeera (about 20 minutes away from town) is simply unforgettable. Beaches are rather clean and it’s clearly the weekly meeting spot of many families and individuals. We were lucky enough to find a little spot not far from the port that was never too crowded and often empty: it was clean and there was a shallow “pool” where the children could play safely. Just perfect!
Admin: our views on the dreadful administration in Libya hasn’t changed. After 5 months and many many many trips to offices and countless hours spent following up paperwork, I confirm: Admin is a killer. It’s a full time job to follow up any matter with them, really. You have to call throughout the day (because they keep bouncing you from one person to the next, from one office to the next) and physically show up at their office at 9am and then take it into your own hands to make whatever form travel from one office to another, from one section to another, from one building to another. No kidding, you’ll need time off work if you need a paper urgently.
Expat in Misurata, Libya – Last Impressions
I will totally miss Misurata and I would like to make it clear to all potential visitors and expats that we left Misurata only because another university offered us better freedom of movement. Otherwise, we would have made Misurata our long term home in Libya. It’s a great city with amazingly welcoming people and I would recommend it to anyone who’d care to ask me. I’m really sad to go…
EXPAT IN ZAWIA, LIBYA
Expat in Zawia, Libya – 1st week
We moved to Zawia one week before we got our exit visas (for the summer holidays) so we didn’t stay long. These 1st impressions are based on that one week we lived there and our previous trips before we left Misurata.
In one word: Not as nice a Misurata: at first sight we don’t think Zawia is as beautiful as Misurata. Difficult to say exactly why but the streets are narrower, building are higher and the whole city feels ‘closed’.
Cleanliness: arriving in Zawia you realise how very clean Misurata was. On our second visit there I saw a huge rat running out of a shop!
Weather: Zawia is also by the sea so the weather seems to be similar to Misurata.
Money: it could be a little cheaper here but it’ll take some time to be sure.
Shopping: I think Zawia, like Misurata, has got everything we need, all types of shops and supermarkets. However, we haven’t found any big supermarkets yet.
On the road: even crazier than in Misurata, it could be because the streets and roads here are not very wide and when everyone gets jammed in a tight space, you end up in deadlock and it takes forever to get out. We have rented a place outside the city for the time being and I’m pretty sure it takes as much time driving to work (20min) from where we are that if we had to drive through city centre with its neverending traffic jams.
Expat in Zawia, Libya – 2nd month
Az-zawiyah, Zawiya, Zawia… it seems everything is acceptable and the few signs in the city using European alphabet actually spell the name in different ways. I like Zawia, well the name at least as i’m still not sure about the city. I do miss Misurata and if I compare the 2 cities, there is no doubt in my mind that I prefer Misurata.
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what it is that I don’t like here, I guess it’s the attitude of people here. Zawia is more rural than Misurata, you can see that in the layout of the city and so on. There is of course nothing wrong with a rural town, but I don’t think it suits me very well. Rural also describes a certain view of life and certain principles, priorities are given to some things over others. Again I don’t think that’s a match with me.
Security: in Zawia, guns and heavy weapons are everywhere! I mean really everywhere and there is a feel of insecurity that I certainly didn’t experience in Misurata. Tales of armed robbery, killings, kidnappings, highway gangs are common around here. I’ve heard first hand from a close family member about gangs ruling the streets of entire neighbourhoods, forcing shop and factory owners to pay them regular amount of money to ensure their safety and that of their employees. There are some show of force by the police and the army at key locations in and around the city, but since there is no organised governmental authoritative body for the protection of civilians, incidents and criminal acts are not rare.
More personally, I have been advised on campus to be careful at all times, to avoid staying behind when everybody goes, I’ve heard of teachers being kidnapped in their homes, or receiving threats from students around exam times. Guns are all over campus and no one hides the fact that security cannot be guaranteed on campus, despite a large number of security guards, because the latter are not armed.
Money: Shopping is no problem as we can find everything we need, although I don’t think they have big retail outlets/supermarkets here (haven’t found any yet). Prices are possibly slightly cheaper than in Misurata but we can see they are on the rise, especially rents. People are starting to understand the concept of a build-to-let market and target companies and “rich” expats so prices are going up.
On the road: driving is as crazy as anywhere else in the country but you get used to it pretty fast once you accept the fact that ANYTHING can happen at any given moment. Here again however, you can feel a more rural take on the matter, more pick up trucks, more forceful drivers… very macho attitude I’d say, although not exactly in the western sense of the word! It lacks manners and “finesse”, it’s all very rough!
People: As for people in general, they are very welcoming, always ready and happy to help if you’re in need and they take great pride in being honest. They value people more than money here and we had many occasions to see this point exemplified by Libyans where people (businessmen) have refused to take money that was due to them in order to avoid offending us or risking breaking a new friendship.
Once we had been roughly handled by our landlord (a Libyan man) and when the estate agent (Libyan as well) heard about it, he went mad and offered all kind of compensations even though he himself wasn’t at fault. He offered to act as protector and swore he would make sure we would not be treated like that again.
Clans: This leads to my last idea that in Zawia the clan/tribe system is very important. People stick to their clans, family clans and otherwise, and this ensures the safety of people on the one hand and terrible acts of “revenge” on the other. I haven’t seen enough yet to get a full or clear picture so I’m not sure whether this is a good or a bad thing. It did make an impression on me though.
Expat in Zawia, Libya – 1 year
1 year in Libya… and so many things have changed. When I read my earlier impressions I barely recognise the country I described then. So many things have happened in the last few weeks/months (February/March 2014) that my views and feelings about Zawia and Libya in general have totally changed.
It is difficult to explain in details what happened to us (to be clear it is too dangerous to put things in writing at this time) but as a result we are now reconsidering our future in Libya. We originally wanted to settle here for 5 or even more years. Now, after seeing the danger first hand, realising that our jobs have been compromised by the attitude of some people with no morals or principles, we don’t know how much longer we can live like that.
The problem is not the war, this is truly over and there is no danger from that perspective. The general level of danger in Libya for the average person is quite low, although the presence of guns and some political tensions could give rise to some incidents but those would be isolated incidents, such as could happen anywhere in the world.
The biggest problem is the ATTITUDE of too many people here in Zawia who refuse to accept any kind of rule or order, especially the ones that would be good for them. Lawlessness is everywhere and THIS is dangerous. You can actually get into real life threatening trouble for a word that wasn’t taken the right way, for doing something that people don’t like, for sticking to some principles that they don’t uphold.
This is CRAZY and very scary. I’m not a coward but I’m not ready to risk my life for some trivial (stupid?) matter. So what then? Well, I don’t know… nothing has been decided yet, we don’t have any other plans but let me tell you that I’m thinking hard.
Sometimes I think “we should have known”, but we didn’t. We had a really good experience in Misurata (see above). When we moved to Zawia, we were told that it was “quiet”. Another misleading factor is that there seems to be a “taboo” on security talks. Noone seems ready to say that Zawia IS dangerous. I remember asking some straight questions about that but all we got was some vague answers designed to make you change the subject. Now I understand… now I’ve seen it for myself. I don’t know what the future holds for us but when I know you’ll know…
Expat in Zawia, Libya – Last impressions
At the time of writing these last impressions I have left Libya not to return. This is a brief summary of what happened in our last month as expats in Libya.
By the time exams started at work at the University of Zawia, we realised that the situation was totally out of control and truly dangerous… on campus. It may sound crazy but I’m not exaggerating when I say that teaching English in Libya can be a life threatening job! It came to a point where I had to give up a group of students to remain safe. Of course, the crazier it got the more we wanted out and we started looking for jobs out of Libya, focusing on Saudi Arabia and Oman.
At the end of the academic year, we left Libya without officially quiting our jobs as we didn’t yet have contracts for other jobs so we thought we would leave the door open to return to Libya after the summer break… just in case. However, the overall safety situation changed drastically by the time we were booking our tickets out of Libya. In fact we had to fly to the UK from Tunisia as the main Airport in Tripoli has just been bombed and totally destroyed.
By the time we reached Tunisia by road things in Libya got out of control and it became so dangerous that the Tunisian border wouldn’t allow non-Libyans to cross back into Libya. Obviously for us it meant we were not coming back and we had to concentrate our efforts on securing a job in another country.
So what about being en expat in Libya then? Would I ever return? In fact, yes I would return to Libya but probably not Zawia. I loved my time in Misurata and life in Libya in general, as you can see from my many posts on the topic. However, I have never managed to feel at ease in Zawia and later events just confirmed my first impressions, so I wouldn’t willingly go back to Zawia.
As for Libya, when things calm down again why not?
Expat in Libya – the best and the worst
Now that I’ve left the country, it’s time to look back at the most striking aspect of my expat life in Libya. Despite some really hard time in Zawia, I actually have some very good memories of Libya.
The Best of Libya in no particular order:
- The weather
- The colour of the sea
- A society that value people
- Really nice salaries for ESL university teachers
- my children’s schools
The Worst of Libya in no particular order:
- Zawia university
- Gun fire/shots day and night
- the admin chaos (although it had its good sides too)
- the stress of living in a country on the verge of implosion
Even in the current situation and despite the very real danger I know that many expats are still looking to live and work in Libya.
Libya Key Facts: straight and easy, a few basics about Libya
Safety in Libya: What exactly do they mean by “dangerous”
Money Facts: what is the money in Libya, how do people pay for things
Western Union in Libya: some info about sending money from Libya using WU
Expat in Libya – The end: find out why and how we left Libya
Day out in Tripoli: loads of pictures of the capital city Tripoli
What to wear in Libya: what does the weather require and what the country’s islamic tradition allow
Based on the many emails and comments on the blog, I know how badly people want to find pictures of Libya that depict things other than the war so here goes:
If you’d like more details about Expat Life in Libya you can contact me anytime or leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you.