March 12, 2010
Not mine, you understand. No, today around 1.8 million people here in Tripoli are trotting down to their local mosque to do their thing.
I worship at the altar of freedom but my god appears to have buggered off on holiday.
The wailing had reached new highs outside my bedroom window, and then the imam jumped in, and is presently giving his sermon not just to the pious inside, but he has left the 1 million watt sub-woofers switched on, so we are all benefitting from his wisdom. I am half-listening, (I don't have a choice), but I am only understanding one word in a hundred. That word would be Allah.
It has been an interesting week, but my trip here is almost over. I have the day off today, and half of tomorrow. I will jump onto the big silver bird on Sunday to head home. It will no doubt involve hiccups at the airport, it always does. Take last time: I got to the airport early, checked in, dumped my luggage, went through passport control and sat in the business lounge. Smoked like a free being and availed myself of the free coffee and cake. There are great steaming tureens of couscous but it isn't my thing. Eventually, we get called for boarding. I am about sixth in the queue so I figure I will be on the plane in a few minutes. Chappy checking passports looks puzzled when he sees mine, and shouts for Tariq. Tariq shuffles over, a short staccato conversation follows. Although I don't understand it all, I am fairly sure it is something like "Take this heathen away, his passport is fucked up". Tariq drags me out of the queue and shouts for Mohammed. Mohammed gets the story from Tariq, and drags me another five yards, then he shouts for Mahmoud. Mahmoud gets filled in, then drags me towards the staircase leading back to passport control. Gripping my arm, he shouts for Ahmed. Ahmed gets briefed, nods, grabs my arm, and we head downstairs, away from the plane. We find the Immigration Man, who is sat having a smoke with his friends. Ahmed tells him that something is amiss with the heathens passport. Immigration Man looks at my passport, looks at me, then sneers. "Why you not put stamp?", he asks me. "I don't have any stamps", I say. "Where is stamp?", he asks again. "Look", says Ranty, "I'm not sure how to tell you this, but" (I slow down my speech at this point) "you have all the stamps". He looks at me like I'm an imbecile, digs out a stamp from his pocket and stamps my passport, then waves dismissively. Obviously the whole cock-up was my fault. I am returned to the gate, I board the plane, and now have to hunt for a space for my carry-on bag. Deep joy.
I have been arrested a couple of times at Tripoli airport. Stamps are very important to these people and if one is missing from your passport life gets messy. When you arrive here you are supposed to get your passport stamped at the local police station. If you don't, then they "arrest" you at the airport and some intense negotiation takes place. The stamp at the local nick costs 15 dinars. The same stamp at the airport costs 50 dinars. (About £25). I am now convinced it is a scam operated between the hotel people and their cousins/brothers/uncles who work at the airport. I obsess about this "entry stamp" as soon as I get off the plane. I am only happy when I see that little green triangle parked alongside my Visa. I am safe. I just have to watch for the lazy bastard on the way out now. I will watch him like a hawk on Sunday to make sure he stamps my passport on the way through.
We are moving home on Monday. Mrs Ranty has been utterly delighted that I have been abroad in the days leading up to the move. Which means that blogging will be light next week as well. No doubt the usual chaos will ensue regarding phone lines and broadband connections. I'll get back to the keyboard as often as I can.
Have a bodacious weekend.