Jameela in Zawia: "Libya is about taking a risk but it is totally worth it"

Expat interviews
  • Jameela in Zawia
Published on 2014-03-20 at 00:00 by Expat.com team
Born in France, Jameela has lived in the UK for ten years before moving to Libya. She now lives with her husband and two children in Zawia, where she works as an English teacher in university.

Why did you decide to move to Libya?

It all started with this project to build a house in Tunisia, we looked at options to find work in another country (we were living in the UK) and Libya appealed to us the most, it was easier to get jobs and it is geographically close to Tunisia.

How was the moving process?

It all went very fast. In December 2012 we settled on Libya, in February 2013 my husband went to Libya to apply for jobs for us and on the 9th March 2013 we were flying to Misurata (where we first worked before Zawia). We had decided to leave everything behind, so we sold and gave away all our stuff and packed the essentials in a few suitcases. Hardest part of the moving process was fitting a whole life into 100kg of luggage allowance.

Which formalities did you have to go through in order to be able to live in Libya?

We needed entry visas to be allowed in the country but the university (our future employer) took care of that. That was the easy part, being approved for the job was difficult and long and got us hanging by the phone for weeks. There are many many steps that must be followed one by one in order for our job applications to be officially accepted and work visas to be issued.

How did you find a job in Zawia?

Finding a job was not difficult for us because the demand for ESL teachers in universities was extremely high at the time (still is). Besides we had help from some Libyan contacts who guided us through the maze of the Libyan administrative system and gave us the most important tip: to be there in person. Libyans like to deal with people face to face so my husband went and met heads of department in several universities in Libya and came back home a few weeks later with several job offers.

Did you face some difficulties to adapt to your host country (language, culture, do's and don'ts)?

As my husband speaks Arabic, language was not a major problem for us, the hardest thing to get used to however is Libya's total lack of organisation in the work place and in the administration. It's a real mess, it takes weeks, months to get anything sorted. Apart from that we felt at home pretty much straight away, Libyans are very welcoming, helpful and friendly so it is quite easy to settle here.

How did your kids managed to adapt to their new environment?

My children are 4 and 2 years old and they have been used to travelling since birth really. We had of course explained to them beforehand that we were about to move and got them excited about all the new things they were about to discover. When we arrived we found an amazing school in Misurata and they settled into a routine quite easily. Now they are at home in Libya, my oldest is learning Arabic faster that i could ever imagine and the little one is following in his footsteps.

What surprised you the most in Zawia?

The chaos on the road. First time we came to the city we got stuck in traffic for a really long time and we were observing the behaviour of other drivers. At the time we thought "how on earth do these people drive?" There were cars everywhere, going in all directions, driving on the pavement all the while bipping their horns continuously. It was crazy. Now we drive like them...

Is it easy to meet new people in Zawia? Any advice to share with the other members?

Well language is a problem for me as my Arabic is very basic but again Libyan people are very friendly. I have met my neighbours and some people at my children's school but it will take time to have a nice little group of friends. As for advice, be careful how you speak about the city you are in, Libyan people are very sensitive about this and they take it as an offence if you say anything that can be even remotely taken as negative.

Could you please share with us something you like about Zawia (or Libya) and something you don't like?

The best thing for me is the slower pace of life in Libya. Some would say Libya is "backward" but for me it is all nice and well. I was getting really tired of the consumer society, the rat race and all. I feel it is more natural, simple way of living and I'm happy I can give that to my children. There is nothing that I don't like but I wish internet was working better here!

A common belief about Libya which wasn't right:

Safety. When I looked for information about Libya before we moved I got a totally wrong picture from the English web. We were moving to Misurata and everywhere I looked online was telling me I shouldn't go there, that it was totally dangerous and everything. What we found when we arrived was the contrary, I felt much safer in Misurata that I had in England. It is true that there are some problems and pretty serious incidents happening in Libya but there are isolated, the war is over, it is safe for people to come and live here.

What do you miss the most from France, your home country?

I haven't lived in France for years as I had been in the UK for 10 years before I moved to Libya but I still miss cheese. Proper, decent and yes smelly cheese...hmmm

What are the most popular activities in Libya?

The beach of course, the sea in Libya is simply amazing: turquoise colour, warm and 100% clean. So clean it is transparent even when you're half immersed in water.

What's your favorite typical food of Libya?

I don't really have any, at home we cook a mix of food from all different countries. I do enjoy the fruits here though, they are fresh and ripe and so juicy and tasty.

What does your typical day as an expat in Libya look like?

I'm a full time English teacher, so obviously that takes a lot of my time. It's not just the teaching hours but ESL teaching in Libya is quite a challenge in itself and requires an open mind, some creativity and a lot of patience and The rest of the time I'm also a full time mum, raising two little boys and watching them become world citizens (they speak 3 languages and have lived in different countries in the few years of their life). I've started a blog last year and in my free time I like writing for other expats, either on my own blog or on expat forums, websites, communities...
I'm learning to adapt to life in Libya, observing and trying to understand practices that are completely alien to me lol
Other than that my husband and i are starting to set the foundations of our next move to Tunisia in a few years.

Why did you create your blog, Diary of an expat?

I started writing my blog in December 2012, right about the time we decided to move to Libya and were starting the process of looking for work. While my husband was busy establishing contacts in Libya i was working the internet to find everything i could about the country (I had never been there before). And what i found was a total lack of real information about life in Libya. I did find a few generalities but they sounded more like stereotypes than true facts and many of them were outdated (from before the revolution of 2011). Some websites still used the pre-revolution name and flag and i thought I'm just gonna have to take a leap of faith because i don't know where I'm going... and taking my children.
I had read some truly inspiring blogs about other countries and i thought this is what i have to do. I thought I'd start a blog and once in Libya find out about real life and write about all those questions I never found answers to. My objective is to make it easier for the next batch of expats to Libya.

Which advice would you give to people wishing to live in Libya?

Libya is about taking a risk but it is totally worth it. If you are considering moving over here, talk to people on the ground to get a real picture of the situation here (don't listen only to English speaking media). I would also advice people to be patient, in Libya things move slowly, very slowly. For the rest it's like everywhere else, be open minded and take the time to get the feel of the country and its people. Welcome to Libya!

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