Thu February 16, 2012
#Feb17: Excised From The Record
The plane landed at Benghazi airport, about an hour late, which seemed just about right to most people on board. Elderly women sported tattoos from their bottom lip to the tip of their chin; several men carefully removed plants that somehow survived being crushed in the overhead luggage bins.
Inside the airport, there were two desks with immigration officers sitting at them — one for Libyan passports, the other for everyone else. The entire plane queued up in front of the Libyan passport desk, while I approached the other desk, no one in front nor behind me. The immigration officer looked up, surprised to see someone coming off the plane who needed his attention.
The officer reached out and took my passport, thumbing through it as fast as gambler counts his latest winnings. About 20 pages into it, he found my Libyan visa. He then shook his head in disappointment and muttered a tsk-tsk.
It was probably only a second or two, but my entire visa application process flashed through my mind: Calling the consulate, being asked to call back later, calling again, downloading an application form that required my resume, bringing it to the consulate, checking in with them several times, being told to call back after lunch, checking in yet again with only 24 hours before my flight, being told I wouldn't receive it in time, complaining about it to Libyan friends on Facebook, one of them calling a friend of a spouse, getting told OK, no problem: my visa would indeed be ready for pickup. All of that bureaucracy – with a happy ending, no less - suddenly appearing to be all for naught.
The immigration officer sat down at his desk and grabbed a pen. Slowly and deliberately, he drew a line straight through the name at the top: Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, the official name of the country for more than 40 years under Gadhafi.
The offending name finally struck from the record, he slowly wrote a word in its place.
"Welcome, welcome," he said.
With Twitter and other social media, NPR's Andy Carvin monitored immediate, on-the-ground developments during the upheavals of the Arab Spring from Washington, D.C., through thousands of tweets and an army of followers that numbers in the tens of thousands. Now, he is in Libya, meeting face-to-face with some of those activists. He'll be sending us periodic updates on his journey.