Fiddling with my cigarette box I waited in the airport; my current location was pre-revolution Tripoli, Libya. I was staring at the two military guards who stood with a dictatorship swagger as they held their automatic weapons with a nonchalance, yet also with a terrifying sense of authority. Behind them was a poster of a large portrait of Gadhafi staring down upon all of us. Wherever I went in the airport I felt as if I was being watched. Intimidation surrounded me and all I wanted was a gin and tonic as I’m not the most calm person in an airport in the first place. I don’t like flying and the added pressure of big brother did very little to help my stress level. Unfortunately gin and tonics are a rare sight in Libya.
I spotted a smoking area across the room. I opened my box of camels and counted how many cigarettes I had left. The room had no door separating the smoking from the non smoking area; it was packed and a steady stream of smoke was flowing out of the area where a door should be. As I walked in all the men in the room stared up at me. Not in a judgmental way, just in a slight curiosity of why a 19 year old kid was in Tripoli. One man scooted over and waved me over to sit. I squeezed into the space pulled out a cigarette and lit it up. The room was hot and smelled of body odor and sweet tobacco. I rubbed my eyes and looked over at my Italian compatriots taking photos with the soldiers. I thought they were crazy, posing and mimicking the Gadhafi poster with their aviators. I just wanted to be in Ghana; I did not want to be in this airport. I just wanted to be enjoying a star beer on the beach. I came out of my daydream and noticed a man staring at me from across the room. I pulled out another cigarette and lit it up trying not to make eye contact with the man.
I’ll be honest, I knew very little of Libya at the time. Being in this airport was nerve racking and not welcoming, I felt as if Gadhafi was one step behind me at all time. Nothing but suspicion and fear and there was nothing I could do but sit quietly and smoke my cigarette. I will never forget the feeling I had in that airport, it was not of security but a sense of hush intimidation. Libya is a country that I will visit one of these days. I will pass through those airport doors and explore the culture of the country. That experience put fear into me but with that fear came a flame of excitement and maybe next time I won’t have to destroy my lungs just to stay calm.