TRIPOLI, August 28 — My roommate left our hotel and hopefully Libya last night for his village near Arlit, Niger thanks to the assistance of one of Tripoli’s Christian Churches. I shall miss him a lot.
It was a recently formed human rights group from the Coptic Orthodox (Egyptian) Church in Tripoli, working to protect blacks from the still lawless Tripoli streets, that enabled my roommate to depart this hotel. The Coptic Church, according to their Prelate here, has the largest Christian communion in Libya, with normally 60,000 parishioners, and has roots in Libya going back hundreds of years before the Arabs spread westward from Egypt.
Mohammad departed none too soon since “security personnel” arrived at the Corinthia Hotel close to one p.m. this afternoon with gunmen and two “Generals” in fine new uniforms complete with epaulets. Their surprise visit was to check the hotel rooms for Gaddafi supporters. They claimed they had received “reports.”
The Copts did a good job in getting Mohammad to safety. Most observers here agree that for the immediate future there will be a whirlwind of wild speculation, accusations, and even some serious examination of Moammar Gaddafi’s leadership of Libya these past four decades. One fact, however, is incontrovertible to this observer, and it is that under Gaddafi, Christians, whether Roman Catholic, Anglican Catholic, Russian Orthodox, Serbian Orthodox, or Greek Orthodox, the main Christian sects here, have been well treated and allowed virtually complete freedom to practice their beliefs and to celebrate their traditions, with some restrictions placed on campaigns to proselytize Muslims, which there haven’t been since the Mormons and the “Way of the Cross” evangelicals left some years back.
Most of the churches here currently have volunteers working to help their Muslim sisters and brothers during this cataclysmic period. My friend Mohammad is one whose life they may have saved.
Mohammad and I have been secretly sharing my room for more than a week since I accidently discovered him hiding and trembling in the hotel’s garden bushes shortly after the rebel entrance into Tripoli. It was easy to calm Mohammad down, and I brought him a shirt from my room, as his was filthy.
Mohammad is a black African, devout Muslim, and one fine man. When I saw him looking up at me and trembling, my thoughts instantly turned to 21-year-old black Mississippian, James Chaney, and the date could have been June 21, 1964. That was when Neshoba County’s law enforcement and the Ku Klux Klan hunted blacks to kill and did kill James and his white companions Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner.
The reason Mohammad was hiding outside the Corinthia Hotel is that he feared for his life as so many, if not most, black Africans and black Libyans (roughly one third of Libya’s population) do these days. Bands of young rebel “freedom fighters” are still roaming some of Tripoli’s streets, itching, it seems, to kill some “African mercenaries”, meaning, it appears, any black man they can find. Although the apparently politically contrived rumors of African mercenaries raping Libyan women that helped NATO get the UN Security Council to green light its bombing and regime-change campaign have been debunked as fake by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and a UN fact-finding group, some of the macho young rebels in Libya still insist the smear campaign is true.
Mohammad explained to me that he was never a fighter for anyone in Libya, but rather that his employment background, like his father, uncles and brothers, was in Niger’s uranium mines, which only the past few years have begun to recover from the late 1980’s collapse. Mohammad’s brother Said was killed in the Tuareg Rebellion of the 1990’s, and his father sent Mohammad to Libya to work in construction.
I agreed with Mohammad that he could stay secretly with me until we could get him into safe hands. The hotel has never been the wiser to my knowledge, although my friend Ismail, who works behind the front desk when he is not doing a dozen other jobs during his frequent 16 hour shifts, probably suspected something was going on because he would give me knowing glances as I disappeared toward the elevator with a table cloth covering a big plate of food and contrary to hotel rules of no hotel kitchen food in the rooms. Luckily, Ismail is a black Libyan, and, if he knew, he did not rat us out.
With no security at our hotel until the day before yesterday and now packed with journalists, Mohammad took extra precautions and never left room #1185, except for one night when someone from the Coptic Church came to meet with him in another room and I gave his floor spot to a French activist from Beirut whose boat to Alexandria was delayed again.
Housekeeping no longer exists at this hotel, and so no one has entered my room for almost two weeks since the staff fled. In any case, Mohammad and I had a good cover story ready in case events demanded one. Mohammad, we would explain if caught, was a driver for the Italian Embassy before the Italians temporarily pulled up stakes back in March.
I got pretty good at fixing plates of food for Mohammad from the nightly “Iftar buffet.” Because we are both fasting for Ramadan, smuggling Mohammad food only once a day was easy enough, especially as some of the new hotel guests, being journalists from the Rixos Hotel or rushing here to cover the “Fall of Tripoli” from around Libya, are now in the habit of fixing their dinner plates and sitting around the abandoned hotel restaurants. This way they have more space and privacy from the cramped conditions in the rapidly deteriorating “dining room” or their working area.
Personally, this Ramadan, the Iftar feast no longer has appeal for me because we have the very same food every Iftar, which now comes almost entirely from cans. At noon today, the Hotel Front Desk posted the most recent Dear Guest Notice. It reads: “Dear Guests: Please be advised that there will be no lunch today due to absence of water supply in the Hotel. We hope for a water delivery this afternoon and hope to serve dinner tonight at 18:30. Thank you. The Corinthia Hotel Management.” No water arrived, and when I and an American lady who works for the Sunday Times returned from driving throug Tripoli’s center, at 7:50 p.m. just in time for Iftar, mine consisted of walking through the dining area picking leftover food bits from plates where diners had eaten and left.
Before Mohammad left, he helped me with my infected leg and told me about a nearby doctor, which made me happy since no others have been available this past week [Editor’s note: Mr. Lamb was shot in the leg in Tripoli on August 21, 2011]. But as dear reader may come to understand, I soon became reluctant to seek treatment from the doctor whom Mohammad recommended, although by very great coincidence I have known her wonderful granddaughter, an Arabic-English language interpreter named Aya, for several weeks.
My most recent best bet for immediate medical assistance was my new friend Dr. XX, “Consultant Urological Surgeon” from the British Medical Center here in Tripoli (formerly the Swiss Medical Center until Hannibal Gaddafi had that unfortunate problem with Swiss authorities last winter and his Dad wanted to abolish Switzerland and all things Swiss), hence the fast name change on the Clinic building. Dr. XX is from New Delhi, but studied in England and now normally resides in Sheffield, England. He spent the past year working here in Libya, loves the people and the country, and was most willing to help me. The problem was that he had to rush to catch the boat out of here for Malta yesterday. Anyhow, he said I had a couple of days left before I would possibly have major leg problems, and he gave me the phone numbers of two of his colleagues, one an Indian dentist. So far, the phones still don’t work well in Tripoli.
Just a word of background about Dr. Fatima, recommended by Mohammad now that I am resigned to get treatment late today, come what may, following my brief meeting with the good doctor this morning.
Dr. Fatima is very thin, quite tall, has an unusually large head and a red scarf covers part of her face that is stained blue. Aya explained that while Dr. Fatima is by background Muslim, her Saharan tribe retains some pre-Islamic rites and customs and is genealogically connected with the Delvar Nar. Yet Aya also told me that Fatma’s tribe claims that they are linked with the Angels mentioned in Luke 24:4, where Christ’s apostle describes the scene at Jesus’s tomb when two angels appeared to Mary. Anyhow….
Aya says Dr. Fatima is capable of teleportation, telekinesis, and ESP, and while I don’t need any of that stuff just now, but could later, Dr. Fatima fortunately is also expert in Saharan medicine, including leg infections. So the good news is that I am very soon to be in experienced medical hands. I have no doubt about that, and I shall always be grateful to my friend Mohammad for the referral.
The down side may be what Aya told me about what her grandmother must do to make me well. This may be the tough part for someone who nearly collapses if some nurse even hints that she wants to stick a needle in me. Aspirin is about the only medicine I have ever taken because my half German sainted Mother did not believe in her large brood getting sick and we all minded her over the years.
Dr. Fatima’s “clinic” is in the Medina not far from my hotel, and the area is coming back to life as some citizens are beginning to peak out and emerge from their homes. Hundreds of shops and outdoor tables with all kinds of new and used goods have been closed for more than a week. Even the lovely Chadian hospitality ladies who I have good reason to believe rent themselves from dirt floor rooms off the ancient streets of the medina for ten Libyan dinars an hour (about $8) or 16 dinar ($ 12.80) for two hostesses, (three additional dinars per hour for air conditioning in the room –highly recommended!) have vanished. This sad fact alone, according to one of the guys from the UN delegation that ten days ago got permission from NATO to fly from Tripoli airport to Tunis for R&R and to assess their “findings,” is reason enough for the UNSC to immediately end NATO’s carnage in Libya.
I admit to being a little apprehensive because Aya told me one of the Chadian ladies, who recently returned and works as a nurse for Dr. Fatima, must first slice my wound in narrow lines and then rub and wash it thoroughly with Saharan sand and some nasty looking green paste of Sarahan vegetation and insect fluids.
While I sat thinking how that is going to feel, Aya seems to have read my expression and assures me that everything will be okay because her granny also makes a strong alcoholic drink out of Saharan cactus and I will drink some and feel fine.
“Well, why don’t we just use that drink rather than sand to cleanse the wound?” I asked.
Aya gave me one of her, “You stupid American!” glances that communicated, “Please don’t bother to question. We who know what’s best for you!”
Aya also promises me that after my “treatment”, the now returning Chadian ladies will take care of me for the expected three day recovery period. I immediately feel better.
If fate rules that these next few days in fact comprise my last chapter, and never having had much interest in being with virgins, the company of these angels will certainly be as close to Heaven as this hayseed from rural Oregon will likely get.