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Dear Libya

by Tyler

When I was a kid, I loved adventure games. Growing up, I spent untold hours in front of my Dad's computer playing (and replaying and replaying again) LucasArts classics like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Grim Fandango, The Secret of Monkey Island and more. Whether I was searching for the holy grail, a ticket out of the underworld or on an epic quest to become a pirate, I vividly remember feeling like I had the world at my fingertips. The freedom I felt, exploring what at the time seemed like vast universes full of secrets to uncover, has stayed with me my entire life.

There have been several times on this trip when I've exclaimed that I felt like we were playing a video game. I find it simultaneously funny and sad that my only reference point for being on the adventure of a lifetime is a computer game. Maybe I didn't get out enough! In any case, today may as well have been one.

A common event in just about every adventure game ever made is meeting a character somewhere who asks you to find something for them. This usually sets in motion a series of puzzles and meta puzzles whereupon you must seek out numerous well-hidden items, returning them to their (sometimes) rightful owners in exchange for valuable pieces of information which further the plot. Depending on the quality of the game, these tasks range from exciting and engaging to repetitive and boring (sometimes they are so tedious you quit entirely).

Thankfully, our spirits were high and today's tasks fell into the entertaining category. Our goal was find the Libyan Embassy and begin the process of securing our tourist visas; something we've mentally prepared to spend a lot of time on. Yesterday we began our quest by hunting down a map of Tunis at a local bookstore. Then we found the address to the Embassy online and spent the rest of the day absorbing far too much information about all the possible scenarios resulting in our visa being denied.

In the morning we tried to call the embassy to get a better handle on what the current requirements were (they can change daily) but surprise, the number didn't work. Then we took the train into Tunis and began navigating through the bustling city towards the embassy.

Stray Cat On Car Train to Tunis

Brilliantly white buildings, space age sky scrapers, dilapidated apartments, and ornately decorated banks all covered in posters of Tunisia's president Ben Ali made for interesting scenery on our trek across town. After nearly an hour of walking, we arrived at what appeared to be embassy row. Passing the Moroccan and Belgian embassies first, we made it to our destination: 78 bis Rue 1er Juin.

Ben Ali Ben Ali Ben Ali Tunisian Bank Ben Ali Ben Ali Ben Ali

When we arrived we found a jovial man standing in front of a small door, ostensibly protecting nothing, though he informed us he was a guard by saying, "GUARD". As we inquired about obtaining a visa it quickly became clear he didn't understand us. While attempting to communicate the man made several gestures that, to an inexperienced charades player, would have looked like eating. Being seasoned at not understanding anything anyone is saying, we quickly realized he was trying to state the obvious: he didn't eat speak our languages (French or English). After much ado we managed to get directions to the Libyan Embassy's new location.

Walking back the way we came, we stopped at the Moroccan embassy to confirm the directions with their GUARD. He concurred with our new address and we continued on. When we arrived at a rather plain looking building with no automatic-weapon-wielding-men posted outside, I was skeptical. Was this it? We rang the doorbell. After a pause just long enough to make us think we were about to start our search over, the door buzzed open.

We entered a tiny hall separating three rooms, each walled off by clear glass. On the left were two small, almost empty offices. One of them was commanded by a staunch-looking man with a heavy 5'oclock shadow. On the right was a small waiting room with several wooden chairs occupied by quiet patrons with blank stares.

As the door snapped shut behind us, a woman scurried in through a metal detector in front of us to bring the man in the office some coffee, disappearing as quickly as she arrived. We dutifully entered the queue to our right and after a few minutes, the scruffy guy from across the hall started pointing in our direction. It is important to note that we still had no idea if we were actually in an embassy at all, much less Libya's!

We joined the man in his barren office and did our best to explain the reason for our visit. In mid-sentence he held his hand up to Tara's face, dialed a phone number, and handed her the receiver. One part nervous, one part entertained by the absurdity of our situation, Tara took the phone. To our mutual relief, an English speaking man was on the other end. Even better, we were at the Libyan embassy!

After explaining that we wanted to apply for visas, Tara handed the phone back for translation and the confusion promptly began anew. The man in the office took our passports and proceeded to… show them to us. This generalized waving of our identification went on for a good 30 seconds before he finally laid one of them on his desk in a gesture that clearly represented photocopying. Ah! We understood each other!

Sort of.

All three of us stood there, staring at one another, waiting. Tara and I, waiting for him to make a copy and the man, waiting for us to go do it ourselves. After a few awkward seconds he ushered us out into the hall and pointed down the street to a blue sign entitled, helpfully, "TaxiPhone". When we arrived, there was a small paper note dangling from the door entitled simply, fermé. Oh how well we know that French word!

Thankfully the shop opened a short five minutes later and we were able to get our copies from a old woman with an ancient, rickety copy machine. Thrilled to have completed yet another task in securing our visas, we carried our copies proudly back to the embassy to present them to our man. Upon receiving them he finally warmed up to us, letting slip the smallest of smiles as he ushered us into the adjacent office.

The room was completely empty save for a desk and one chair (which we wound up sitting in together). On the desk was a newspaper and a few sheets of blank printer paper. The man said something in Arabic, which we interpreted as "wait here," and so we did. After a good ten minutes of patiently waiting, the man returned and looked at us expectantly. Oh boy. This time it only took a few seconds of confused staring before his disapproving look turned into a broad smile. He left quickly and returned with a ball point pen. Presenting it proudly, he turned and left us… to write something?

Even more confused, we went to his office hoping to get some kind of clarification. A few hand gestures later and we were able to speak on the phone to the man who spoke English again. Our task: "You must write what you want. Write to the Libya consul in Tunis for what you want." Amazing. Still fairly in the dark about our mission, we began to snicker quietly in our office. How do you write something like this? Who do you address it to? We felt like we were passing notes. Dear Libya, I like you, do you like me? Circle yes or no.

Dear Libya

Dear Libya, Dear Consul of Libya in Tunis, Dear Sir, To whom it may concern,

Finally after much deliberation, and some miraculous clarification by office guy, we wrote as neatly as possible our names, passport information (even though they have the copies), our hope to visit Libya, the date, and our signatures. It felt like we were handing in a school assignment when we turned our papers over.

Before we could go our office guy counted on his fingers aloud: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Come back in 1 ,2, 3, 4, 5. Then he carefully scrawled the embassy's telephone number on a torn scrap of paper and handed it to us. In five days we'll know if we can visit Libya!

As technology marches ever on, the internet connects us to almost every corner of the globe and practically every interest no matter how obscure has been documented in some form, we felt like we were truly on a unique quest as we left this afternoon. On a small scrap of paper, we hold the correct phone number to the Libyan Embassy in Tunis, found perhaps no where else in the world, and certainly not online. What an adventure.