A Donegal man who has been teaching in Libya since last September and left the country just prior to the present crisis spoke out yesterday about his experience in Tripoli where he taught PE in one of the most elite schools in the country.
Twenty-four year old Liam Grant from Newtowncunningham was teaching at the elite International School of Martyrs in Tripoli, where the Irish school curriculum is taught.
Speaking to the Donegal Democrat yesterday Liam said: “It was private fee-paying school which was founded back in 1958 and its pupils included grand-children of Col. Gaddafi, a grand-nephew of Saddam Hussein and children of diplomats, ambassadors and ministers but in fairness to them all they just behaved as normal kids.
“They never played up the fact that they were members of the ruling family or the elite, they were all excellent pupils and well behaved.
“Life in Libya before the current unrest could be described as normal if you could describe anything in these countries as ‘normal’ from a Western perspective.
“It was a very male dominated society where there was not much room for socialising. There were no pubs, night clubs, cinemas - it was a more a coffee society where people could sit around drinking coffee.
“In retrospect I feel that you could always feel a sense of fear - it was not a normal fear, there was nobody shaking in their shoes but they just kept their heads down and said nothing. People were afraid to speak out.
“Gaddafi had everyone in his pocket - he was the country’s main employer. He had the army, the police, the civil service, the teachers and life was very restricted.
“We all lived in compounds and managed to have our own social scene with other ex-pats and even managed to have a few jars. I suppose one of the advantages of living and working out there was that there was very little to spend your money on so we all managed to save a few euro.”
Did Liam notice any signs of a pending uprising in the weeks leading up to it?
“Not really but people were talking about organising marches and small protests but deep down they were afraid.
“What many people do not realise that the spark that lit the whole inferno in North Africa revolved around one student.
“This man had opened a small food stall on one of the main streets of the capital and was closed down by the police. In protest he publicly set himself alight and this set the whole chain of events in motion.
“About a week before I left we were told that the school was being taken over by a former military general - we did not see anything unusual about this at the time. All we were concerned about was our contracts and our jobs and we were assured that life and our jobs would continue as normal.
“We had a week off so nine of us had headed to Malta for a friend’s birthday, but when we saw what was happening on the television during the protests, most of us decided not to go back.
“A few did return not realising the gravity of the situation and obviously have since regretted their decision. Thankfully everybody is now home and safe and that is the main thing.
“I am a traveller by nature and love to experience new cultures and places and if I am to be honest will have to admit that I enjoyed my time in the country - I never felt like I was being watched or spied upon - I suppose I just took things on face value.
“There is no future for me in Libya. If Tripoli falls, I’m sure the school would no longer exist, as it has such links to the old regime,
“My main concern now would be for the people I have left behind - my friends and especially the students - they are just like any other students here in Donegal and I just hope they are all just safe and sound.”