CRITTERS

 

            A word or two about insects and animals, should you ever venture into the hinterlands of an underdeveloped country. There is no parallel to visiting Europe, where your observations and interactions with dogs on the streets of Paris or deer in the Black Forest do not require adjustment. If you are an experienced First-World travelers are tempted to extrapolate from the First World to the Third World, just one word. Don’t.

            Let’s start from the smallest to the largest critters in Libya.

            First, microscopic parasitic flatworm eggs. They thrive in freshwater. No, it’s not like Europe, where you drink water and get Montezuma’s Revenge and merely suffer from debilitating diarrhea for a few days. These eggs trigger a dread disease called schistosomiasis that kills 200,000 people a year. The eggs invade your urinary tract or your intestines. Symptoms include blood in the stool and urine and abdominal pain, and often enough, death by kidney failure.             Luckily, in their sometime wisdom, Clearfield management warned us to never drink fresh water from a stream, lake or cistern. Or if you had to, boil the hell out of it first. Otherwise stick to bottled water, beer, wine, fruit juice.

           

            This brings us up to sand flies. (Or maybe they were midges?) They’re not microscopic, but unlike skeeters, they’re well-nigh invisible to the human eye. And therein lies the problem. There ain’t no screen small enough to keep’em out! According to my diary, the sand flies/midges started in on me February 24, 1969. The problem is they bite, resulting in welts smaller than mosquito bites, but just as itchy. It was terribly hard not to scratch, which made things worse.

            And since they also outnumber mosquito bites, they inflict many more welts. After a bit the insides of both my forearms were literally coated with bites. It took years for all the scarring to go away. I suppose I could’ve used Off! or something, but maybe it wasn’t available or I just didn’t think of it. Plus, consider the nuisance of applying it daily.

 

            Ants. Never a problem for me. And for Bob Marshall, they were insectivore saviors. From his diary, “Ants are fantastic!  Patrolling my courtyard. I see trains of them leading to and from my kitchen. Now they

are lighting on winged greenies that fall to earth stunned by my lamp.”

            Giant fleas. Jay and Nancy Corrin lived above a camel market in Misurata. And not any old camel market, but the second largest camel market in Libya. (The largest is Kufra, deep in the Sahara.) Their bed was “frequently frequented by giant fleas from the camels. It was a chore to keep the sheets from getting bloody.” 

            Flies. (The Libyan ones are like our houseflies, but on steroids.) For Bob Marshall they were a scourge.  “Flies come in every time the door is opened, and my stomach prohibits extreme spraying while a room is occupied.” Bob bought two kinds of poison, Rapkill and Rotex “which turn a room full of flies into a buzzing morgue in a matter of mere minutes.” 

            From Dennis Carlson: “The big desert flies, the kind that stick to your body and even bite, circled me like furies as I made the walk back and forth from Genobee.”

            Ted Kelley referred to the fly as the National Bird of Libya. When motorcycling in the winter, he would periodically stop to warm his hands near the hot exhaust pipe, only to be assailed on his lips and in his eyes by flies. His

Libyan friends would say to him, “Flies are our friends.”

 

            Flies didn’t get into my house much, but outside they were everywhere.  I remember going to the sole Al Gala butcher shop down in the hot valley. No screens, no electricity to keep the meat cool. Not only was the air thick with buzzing flies inside, they literally covered entire slabs of meat hanging on hooks.  The butcher would ask which part of the meat I wanted. I would indicate the part. He’d have to swat away the flies from that part of the carcass, slice away with his knife, wrap it in paper and give it to me. Needless to say, I was at pains to cook such meat to a fare-thee-well.

 

            Cathy Kaiser asked her mother to send her flypaper. It came. She hung it up. In only a half-our, it was totally coated with flies.  Flies also carry a dread disease: trachoma. The flies alight on Libyans’ faces, randomly crawling around. When they touch the surface of an eye (Jim Putnam reports the flies are attracted to the moisture) the trachoma takes root, at first as a small grey dot in the eye, then gradually expanding over time until the entire surface of the eye is a milky gray and the victim is blind. Yugoslavian doctors examined the teachers and students in Al Gala and found that most of the pupils and the teachers had trachoma of one stage or another. In a 1968 survey of 2,800 patients at a Tripoli hospital, 100% of them were found to have trachoma. Victor Gramigna rode a bus to Tripoli twice a week to give English lessons at the Institute of the Blind. Many of them had gone blind due to trachoma. (Unbeknownst to Victor at the time, Tom Furth regularly motored to Tripoli to teach English to blind elementary school students.)

 

           

             While sitting around with Libyans and watching in horror as they allowed flies to migrate all over their face, into their noses, mouths, and eyes, Jim Putnam remembers seeing up to four flies at once in a student’s eyes. He remembers that every day in Aljmail after singing the national anthem, the children in the school would all line up, close their eyes and teachers would spray some kind of medication on their faces.  John Forasté reported seeing flies walking on babies’ eyelids. “Their mothers didn’t swat them away. They seemed oblivious to the flies. I couldn’t comprehend how that was possible and never learned to accept it.”.

 

            In Al Gala, I swatted flies away like a son of a bitch.  I asked my friends why they didn’t do likewise. They said, “Allah meant for the flies to be on our faces. If we were to swat them away, we would be disobeying Allah.”  I countered “Well, if Allah is all powerful and does not want me to swat away the flies, He would have stopped me.” This argument did not gain any traction. They couldn’t see beyond the grip of fatalism they were embedded in.       

            I had been casting about for what my second-year project would be. I soon zeroed in on eradicating trachoma from my village. It turns out the treatment involves the application of a Chapstick-like tube of tetracycline to the eyelids, with a repeat application six weeks later I was inspired by two heroic Western doctors of recent renown, Dr. Albert Schweitzer and Dr. Tom Dooley. (Schweitzer was a German theologian, musician, philosopher and physician who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952 for his dedicated work in Gabon. Dooley built many clinics and hospitals in Laos.) I felt that this would be a much more satisfying contribution to humankind than just teaching.

 

            Spiders. On May 20, 1969 I killed a super-weird-looking spider in my apartment.

            Black beetles. One night, Bob Marshall noticed a thin strand of sand spilling down from the ceiling. He wondered where it was coming from. After several nights he discovered it was hideous black beetles, scraping sand out sand from the junction of a ceiling beam and a wall.  “The black beetles are ugly enough to look at, and their after-lights-out scraping gives me the creeps, but it is the killing them that turns my intestines the most.”

            Dung beetles. A dung beetle made Neil McCabe a half-hour late to school. He was walking to school one morning and spied a dung beetle approaching a large roll of donkey dung that was much larger than the beetle.

For a half-hour Neil watched fascinated as the beetle managed to roll the dung down the street.

            Cockroaches. Alan Frank coped with gigantic cockroaches that “lived in my Libya-style toilet.”  In Brak, Marty Sampson declared there were two seasons: Cockroaches and No Cockroaches. When he first arrived in his dorm, he heard

what sounded like a hailstorm inside a wooden cabinet. It was a ton of cockroaches. They were so tough, he’d smash them hard and still they’d walk away. Dave Dittman’s bed was on the floor. Three-inch-long cockroaches would crawl over him at night. One night he threw a board at a cockroach. The cockroach was so big it moved the board.

            When Mark and Maggie Brossoit arrived at their Tripoli apartment, they were appalled to see literally thousands of cockroaches clinging to the walls. They washed the place down from stem to stern. That was not enough to deter all their visitors. They dreaded turning on the light in the kitchen every morning. They would find four-inch-long cockroaches in the sink. In Derna, Cathy, Mary and Trudy called it, “The Battle of the Cockroaches.” As they had no furniture, they took advantage of free furniture available at the Ministry of Education’s warehouse. So, they brought back a kitchen cupboard. They opened it. Out burst hundreds of cockroaches! The women grabbed brooms and starting slamming the bugs as hard and as fast as they could.

            In Sabratha, the Forastés were initially living in some empty British troop barracks that had running water. The water in the bathroom attracted giant cockroaches. John wrote, “So, when duty called, we would accompany each other and take a deep—very deep—breath and enter the bathroom with a flashlight to not very successfully shoo away as many of the swarming—yes, swarming— giant insects as we could. It was a God-awful experience.”

            Worms. One of the cooking challenges for Diane Forasté was worms in the flour. Even with a large sifter recommended by Libyan friends, “to my dismay, it only sifted out the one-inch or larger worms. We learned to accept the tiny worms, but were sure to thoroughly cook them from then on.”  However, she could not abide these creatures in fresh oranges, “…which, when cut in half, were swarming with tiny worms inside.”

            Scorpions? Their stings are debilitating and can be lethal.  Since scorpions like to nestle in shoes overnight, the Peace Corps counseled us to shake out our shoes vigorously each morning. I did so religiously for the rest of my Libyan stay,  and, by force of habit, for years later back in the States. In the village of Edri, deep in the Sahara, Chip Chandler reports that two toddlers didn’t shake out their shoes and died after being stung. After a huge dust storm that drifted sand on Chip Chandler’s patio like snow, a five-inch-long scorpion crawled out. Chip threw lamp oil on it and tossed a match to it.

            Teaching school the summer of 1969, Frank Reese stepped on something that made a huge noise that scared the crap out of him. Turned out it was a chameleon.  He ended up keeping it on a tree branch on the wall, as a kind of pet. He then found scorpions, cut off their stingers and fed them to the chameleon.

            Another piece of Peace Corps advice remembered by Rufus Cadigan was to place our beds in the middle of the room, as scorpions skittered around at the tops of walls and might fall on us in bed and attack.

            At Clearfield they’d also warned us about scorpions under rocks. Angus Todd, in Ganfuda, used to enjoy purposely lifting up rocks and making note of how many black versus yellow (the most poisonous) scorpions there were beneath.

            One day, Paul Rhodes, in Al Beida in Tripolitania, was stretching a laundry line across the courtyard of his house and needed a rock to anchor it. He gingerly lifted a rock, and sure enough, there were three scorpions twitching about there. Paul started to take slow steps backward. Something grazed his calf and he leapt up in fright. He looked down to see what it was. A blade of grass.

            John Becker was posted deep in the Fezzan in the village of Gira. At night, it got cold. One night, having put on a sweatshirt, he felt something crawling up his sleeve. Whoops! He immediately worried that this could be a scorpion. He ever so slowly slipped the sweatshirt off, then shook it thoroughly, and out came…a praying mantis.

            Just before the 1969 summer vacation, Victor Gramigna’s students gave him some watermelons, more than he could eat. He left them in the house. Upon his return, the melons were disintegrated and the house was infested with literally hundreds of scorpions. Victor pounded as many as he could to death, but couldn’t handle them all. The school custodians

came to the rescue by spraying the rest and removing their carcasses.

            Back in Libya I in Brak, Marty Sampson was sitting outside his house with friends, drinking tea. He spied a scorpion and luckily remembered the name for it in Arabic and shouted agreb! One of his friends smashed

the scorpion to smithereens with his sandal. The summer previous to his arrival, ten people had died in Brak from scorpion bites.

            Frogs. One evening a frog came bounding into Richard Massey’s bedroom.  This is the only instance I’ve heard of about these amphibians in Libya.

            Mouse in the house. (Mice in the hice? Why isn’t the plural of “house” “hice”?) My battle with mice was ongoing. My first encounter was in November 1968 when I threw one out of my house. In January, I bought a mousetrap and  duly placed some cheese on it. The mice never went for it. The cheese went stale. I just killed a mouse with a broomstick in February and again in March. In the month of May, 1969, Richard Massey caught 20 mice in his house. Bob Marshall, by contrast, trapped a mouse just five minutes after setting a trap. Initially he was trapping a score of mice each night!

            The other problem with mice is sound—it’s hard to sleep when even just one of them is scratching around all night.  So in April I cemented up every possible hole and crack in the place to stop the mice. Around that time, my flimsy aluminum bed had collapsed, so I was sleeping very close to the floor. Just behind my head was a low-lying table I’d built for eating on while sitting cross-legged on the floor. Very late one night, I felt something skittering up my foot, my calf, my thigh, my back, then right across my face. It was a goddamn mouse.  I began to wonder why the mouse wanted to walk all over me, then it occurred to me that he was using me as an on-ramp to get some bread I had left on the table.

            Canaries. Well, one canary. Don and Lani Leydig bought one. Having brought it home during a roaring ghibli, the canary was traumatized and didn’t sing or peep. A month later, Lani turned on her hair dryer. Over the sound of it

she heard something. As soon as she turned it off, the sound stopped. After several iterations of this, she realized that their canary was singing along with the hair dryer.

            Chameleons. In Jado in July of 1969, while teaching English for his summer project, Dan Peters acquired one as a pet. As he described it, "It’s an ugly chameleon about 10 inches long. Enlarged, it  would make a good horror movie monster. Its tongue is as long as its body. And each night you can see the  ridiculous spectacle of five or six Peace Corps men gathered around this animal watching it eat. We ‘ooh’ and  ‘aah’ each time it snatches a bug from an ever-greater        distance. The other night we gave him a scorpion and had an  even bigger thrill. Our friend’s name is Baloney."

            Bittern (a kind of heron). Someone brought a small bittern to one of Bob Marshall’s schools. Worried it would be ill-treated, like a faithful birder, he took it home. A Libyan friend told him to feed it soup, meat, cold water, but not Pepsi. (I’m sure that’s how it reads in Peterson’s Field Guide to Birds.)  In Bob’s diary,  “I figured on leaving it the spare room during the day, then letting it fly off when night came.” But it turned out it didn’t seem to know how to fly or want to. It paced about then hid behind some palm fronds.  “I’d have been very content to have him as a pet, if he drank my water and ate beetles from the courtyard.”  He did neither. So after three days of this, Bob decided to chase him away after supper. But he was already gone.

 

Non-Pepsi-drinking bittern

            Hens. One day, Dan and I rode our motorcycles 22 miles to Alasaba where PCVs Ed Collier and Gary Dallman lived. They had a dog named Atlanta (that Dan used as a pillow that night) and had purchased two hens, which they had dubbed “Minneapolis” and “St. Paul.”  Jack Seifert set up a chicken hutch—three hens and a rooster. At one point the rooster started eating the eggs. So Jack ate the rooster.

            Speaking of Jack and roosters, one night in Ghat a rooster started to crow. Not at dawn, when he was supposed to. Like at 3 AM. This triggered barking from every feral dog within earshot. That, in turn, triggered all the other roosters to crow. That in turn triggered every donkey in town to bray at full force. An unholy racket.

            Right after arriving in Sabratha, Diane Forasté relates, “One morning, some grazing chickens started to chase me. I screamed and ran, much to the amusement of those watching.”

            Snakes. They’re all over Libya. One PCV knew some French teachers who captured and beheaded snakes, then embedded their heads in plastic as paperweights. One day, during English class, an asp invaded Kevin Hunt’s classroom. Everyone evacuated. A Libyan teacher came to the rescue and beat the snake to death.

            Cats. Jim and Joyce Swanson asked their landlord’s daughter for a cat. She brought them a cute little kitten that they promptly dubbed “Ralph.”  Later they belatedly discovered that Ralph was a girl cat, thereby certainly causing

gender identification problems for the pet. Stoney Bird somehow took in a kitten. At one point it was bitten

by a scorpion. Hoping against hope, Stoney raced her on his Moto Guzzi the 24 miles to Taiwanese doctors in Sebha. They declared they were not vets and didn’t know what to do. Stoney insisted they do something. They said, “OK, we’ll give it a medication that works on humans, but it might not work.”  It didn’t.

            Rabbits. John Peterson was invited to be the guest of honor to rabbit shoot with fellow teachers. He got to carry the only gun they had, a single-shot shotgun. John had rabbit-hunted where he grew up in Western Pennsylvania.  They would deploy beagles to flush the rabbits out into the open. Needless to say, without beagles, so the Libyan teachers resorted to running about wildly waving their arms. Finally, they scared up a rabbit. John took his best shot—and missed.  The Libyans decided to take the gun away from him.  

            Partridges. While I never saw a partridge, Richard Massey, way over in Farzougha did. He went partridge hunting with his headmaster, Younis.  Richard didn’t do any shooting himself, he just rode shotgun (so to speak) while Younis zoomed around the countryside in his VW with one hand on the wheel and another holding a gun. When he saw partridges, he’d stop the car. But instead of getting out to shoot, he would just shoot through the window. At

one point he killed two of them and gave them both to Richard as a gift.

            Dogs. For Libyans, and Arabs in general, they’re rarely pets. They’re feral. They run wild. The reason for this lies in the Koran. Dogs’ fur and saliva are considered unclean and impure.  If you touch a dog, you must ritually wash your hands seven times. When visiting Peter Hawkes, I saw local villagers throwing rocks at a dog. (Years later, in Saudi Arabia, I was walking our dog Poppins. Some kids started throwing rocks at her. One hit her and she looked up at me with the most plaintive, pitiable, forlorn look, as if to say “How could anyone possibly do this to me?")         

            One night I was down in the village after supper with friends.  It was pitch black, of course. I mounted my Moto Guzzi and started up the hill. Out of nowhere, a feral dog was upon me, snarling and barking. It scared the bejesus out of me. It’s not like I could hear him coming from a hundred yards away, he was suddenly just there. While trying to maintain control of the bike, I kicked away at the dog who was snapping away at me. I finally sped up enough to get away.    In Zawia, Charlie Cross reports lots of wild dogs. They would lurk in the hedges, then suddenly attack. In self-defense he always carried rocks in his pockets to throw at the mongrels.

            Up in Azzizia, someone gave Tom Furth a beagle.  He called it “Meshuganeh.”  He didn’t dare tell anyone it was a Yiddish word, but since the Yiddish word means “crazy person,”, and the Arabic word for crazy is mejnoon, he just told people it meant a “crazy dog.” 

            Jack Seifert was given a female whippet puppy. He named her “Mickey.” Mickey loved to run around super-fast and would get in trouble from time to time. When Jack left for his summer project (teaching Libyan teachers TEFL in Jado), he had the caretaker watch Mickey while he was gone. One day, she got loose and a local policeman shot her to death.

            One time, Richard Massey found a dead dog in the well he used for drinking water.

            African Wolves. Occasionally these coyote-like creatures would chase after John Farranto on his Moto Guzzi.

            Goats. Although very useful as garbage disposals—goats took care of all my garbage—they were a large factor in the erosion of valuable Libyan topsoil into the Mediterranean Sea. This was the fertile topsoil that was the basis of Libya’s having been the granary of the Roman Empire. Goats have no top front teeth, so when they graze, they don’t chomp off the grass, but rather yank it out by the roots. It is the roots that retain the topsoil.  Sheep, on the other hand, have upper front teeth and when they eat grass, they chop it off neatly, leaving the roots intact. The Libyans never put two and two together.


            Sheep. How could a sheep be life-threatening?  Read on. Peter Hawkes was riding his Moto Guzzi to the house of a Libyan friend. As he approached, he noticed a large sheep in the yard, tethered to a tall stake in the ground via a rope laying squiggly on the ground.  Spooked by the sound of the motorcycle, the sheep bolted, thereby snapping the rope up taut to the level of Peter’s neck. Peter squeezed on his cycle brakes, but everything happened too quickly. The rope hit Peter right in the neck. The motorcycle was still running and the sheep was running, panicked, in circles, thus wrapping the rope around Peter’s neck. Now Peter was panicked, too, not knowing whether he should cut off the engine first, or use his hands to somehow loosen the choking rope. In desperation, he dropped off the Moto Guzzi and started to charge at the sheep, which started running in the opposite direction, still tethered. By so running, the sheep was unraveling the rope from Peter’s neck. He escaped murder by sheep but did suffer severe rope burns.       

   

            Donkeys. A major form of transportation and beast of burden. Amiable, friendly, docile. Also, a source of vociferous nighttime braying, especially while echoing about the canyons of Al Gala. You can see where they get their volume if you just watch. When they inhale, their whole body bloats up with air and as they bray, it all collapses back. 

Gusbi taught us that if anything strange happens in class, instead of being thrown off, make it a teaching moment. One day, in Al Gala, a donkey stuck its head through the window of my classroom. The class froze, hoping I’d freak out. Remembering Gusbi’s advice I calmly walked over to the donkey, said, “What is this?” and self-replied, “This is a donkey.” The class repeated, “This is a donkey!” I patted it on the snout and we repeated this exchange a couple of times. The students were mightily disappointed that I had handled it in stride. But they had learned a relevant new English word.

 

                     Al Gala: My students laugh at me onboard a donkey

            One day, while passing a Libyan leading a donkey, Bob Gausman had the misfortune of having his handle bar hook into the donkey’s saddlebag. The donkey lurched one way, Bob lurched the other and was flipped into the air and

flopped on the ground. Luckily, he was unhurt.

            Gazelles. I never saw a gazelle but they were common in other parts of Libya. The Libyans loved to hunt them. Because gazelles are so fleet of foot, humans need some speed to get within range. Jim Seroogy accompanied Libyan friends in a Land Rover who chased gazelles until they were exhausted. His friends would then slit the gazelle’s throats, cut them up and cook them on the spot.  In one case related by Paul Rhodes, his Libyan friends couldn’t catch up to the gazelles, but seeing some about a mile away fruitlessly shot off their shotguns in that direction.  All they were able to bag that day was an unfortunate porcupine, which they proceeded to flay and eat. Who knows if they used its own quills as skewers?

            Cows.  I never saw one, but beef was often available in various parts of Libya. Dave Goff was scared out of his wits one night, drawing water from a well when a big dark shape came up behind him. He turned around and shouted. Richard Massey relates, “I didn’t know who was more startled—Dave or the cow.”  Richard had a clothesline outside his house. One time a cow came up and ate his underwear right off the line while he watched. 

            Horses. Ed Collier bought one. I imagine this required quite a bit of upkeep.

            Camels. A delicacy for them? Cactus pears. Their lips and tongues are so thick the spines don’t bother them one whit.  They are quite independent (as mentioned in the plowing incident). I experienced another example 10 years

later in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. I attended a camel race on the day that King Khalid was hosting Prince Philip of the UK, clearly aiming to impress. The track is much longer than for typical horse racing, and racing camels have smaller

heads, all the better to reduce wind resistance. The race started well enough, as 18 camels thundered off counter-clockwise on the oval. About a third of the way through the race, one camel decided that he didn’t really want to run in that direction, and despite pulling and yanking by his jockey, he pulled a 180 and charged off clockwise. Needless to say, the immediately amped-up roar from the stands was in anticipation of what would happen when the maverick camel inevitably crashed into the herd. The King must have been mortified. I laughed at the lunacy of it all. Sure enough, the errant camel smashed head-on into about four other camels, riders spilling about, a total disaster.

            Present-day camels have become inadvertent victims of World War II. It appears that a disproportionate number of dropped Italian Air Force bombs were duds. Many were covered up by shifting sands over the years. In addition, there were literally hundreds of thousands of land mines left over from the war. To this day, from time to time, a camel will step on one of these bombs or mines and it will blow the camel to shreds.  Of course, this is dangerous for the riders as well.

            In April of 1969 my friend Tahir and I went to Yifran Hospital to see a friend of his. The friend had stopped in the desert, made a fire in the sand above a WWII bomb and it blew up on him. Peter Crall in Ghemines recalls, “Many land mines remained from the war and we would hear periodic reports that a camel or donkey had been suddenly reduced to dinner-size pieces.”  In fact, there were literally hundreds of thousands of land mines scattered about Libya

by the end of the war. Angus Todd had a 5th grade student who was missing an arm and an eye. When he eventually asked the boy about it, it turns out he’d picked up a grenade from WWII that was still live that blew up on him. To illustrate this problem a bit more dramatically, Wheelus photographer James Voris was Land Rovering about the desert when his shotgun-toting friend Rejeb bragged that he knew about the location of mines in the area. Voris challenged him.  Rejeb then shot three times once to a spot 40 yards, away, then a spot 35 yards away, then to a spot 20 yards away. Boom! Boom! Boom!

            In April 1969, Dan Peters and I hitchhiked to Garian. We had to sit in the back in the back of a pickup truck with a spittling camel. When the truck went around curves, the half-ton beast would slide towards me. My only defense was to repeatedly brace both my feet against his side to fend him off. He didn’t like that much and tried to crane his neck around to bite me.

 

 

            Of course, camels could be glorious as well. On one beautiful sunny day, I saw a sight from my house that took my breath away. A half-mile-long camel caravan was moving with stately grace on the main road a hundred yards away. The snarfling camels were colorfully caparisoned, men walking along with them, with decked-out horses and tinkling of bells.  I watched in wonder for it all to pass, feeling a first-hand taste of history.  Jack Seifert not only witnessed two

caravans while in Ghat, he engaged with the traders, buying a handful of peanuts, a couple of kilos of unidentified dried meat (he had to pound it with a hammer to get it to cook) and a beautiful decorated goatskin traveling bag. Ghat is the oldest of the Libyan caravan routes. In the day, the largest caravans boasted up to 12,000 camels. Camels as beasts of burden in Libya go back to around 500 CE. Before that it was donkey caravans that ruled the routes. 

            In Tarhuna one night, Jim and Joyce Swanson were awakened by horrible roaring outside their house. A sound they had never heard before. They were scared to death. The next day they asked around the village and learned it had been a female camel in heat.  In a similar vein, John and Peggy Ziolkowski were startled out of their bed early on the first Friday of their stay in Sebha by groaning, grunting, roaring, blubbering camels. (The sound of a camel is very close to the sound of Chewbacca the Wookie.) Their house was right next to the Friday camel market. At the market they periodically saw some hapless Libyan walk behind a camel, only to receive a vicious kick that would send him sprawling and rolling in the sand. One time, John saw a camel kick a Libyan right off the back of a pickup truck.

            Given that a typical Libyan farmer would have a couple of camels, a donkey or two, some sheep, some goats, he had to have a method to give commands to one set of animals without having all the animals follow the same direction (Camels can understand dozens of commands).  So, Libyan farmers have developed different basic commands for “Go away/back off, come here, and stop” for each of the types of animals. Zah!, for example, was the word for “go away” for camels. For sheep and goats, it was khkh! And for donkeys, it was knife I witnessed one farmer with his menagerie out in a field shout “Zah!” to the group. Only the camels moved.

 

            Who needs aspirin when you could can whip out a razor blade? I was soon to find out.