Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Libyan blogging scene: Reflections on 2008 and The Highlander Award for Excellence

First of all Happy New Hijri (Islamic) Year 1430!

I have not been blogging as much as I had planned too. Also it's been the year where many of the Libyan bloggers contracted the Libyan Disappearing Syndrome ™ Chris in Manitoba :P

In fact back in October I wanted to write a longer post about this phenomenon but only managed this brief mention.

Many bloggers have not updated for months and others for over a year. We can see this in Khalid's very convenient aggregator called All Libyan Blogs.

There are also some blogs who have become 'open to invited readers only', so only a few enjoy the bloggers wit, which is as good as being closed anyway. Some bloggers have deleted their blog. Others have requested not to be linked to anymore.

I know and understand that it is the blogger's personal choice, this is their space and that sometimes life interacts with the best plans. Yet I still feel saddened when one part of the mosaic is missing.It means to me that one conversation that could enrichthe rest of the world about us Libyans is missing. It also means we are not able to keep in touch. And yes I do miss each blogger. One more thing is that we have all linked to each other and when the blog is unavailable the link and hence a good story is irrevocably gone.

I liked A. Akak's gesture, he has gracefully bowed out of the scene last month without burning bridges and has left his blog for us to peruse and check fond memories. Miss you.

Still all in all, Libyan bloggers have had many adventures and new experiences, some have gotten married, engaged, graduated, had children, moved abroad to study, moved our emotions for a cause, others have gone through heartbreak, lost loved ones or have fallen ill. They have all kept us riveted to their story.

I have lived to see a rise in blogging physicians and interns from Libya. They are keeping the tradition alive along with the older iconic generation.

I'm especially proud of the Libyan bloggers who are making the effort to write in English which is not their mother tongue and which they they only studied at the public school in Libya (I have yet to see a foreigner of non Asian origin blogging in Arabic :P ).

The end of 2008 and specifically the Internet cut ten days ago, has witnessed a resurgence of Libyan posts. As if we needed to feel the web slipping to be jolted back from our lethargy. Some of us made a spectacular comeback after being MIA for a over a year. A big welcome back to Romana and Lost Libyan, superb posts both of you.

To compensate for not doing the monthly roundups that I used to enjoy mulling over the last couple of years, I started my Libyan blogs competition last year calling it the Highlander Award for Excellence ( how corny is that eh ?). You can check last year's results here.

So the top Libyan bloggers for 2008 according to Highlander are:

(1) Anglo Libyan, he has been blogging non-stop, thru thick and thin even when the global economic crisis affected him on a personal basis and he was made redundant. He has kept his humour and civility and entertained us all. Good luck job hunting Anglo.

(2) Enlightened Spirit, who is now blogging from the US while she is doing postgraduate studies in medicine. I loved her spirited posts ( pun intended) and how she presents herself honestly and with no affectation.

(3) The Dregias, who warmly share their home and life with us and who have magnificently navigated through a 2008 which was full of blessings and pain.

(4) Khalidjorni, who is a genius at bringing out controversial stories on Libya

(5) PH, who is a genius at bringing out Western political controversial stories, and then follows with a joke in the next post to lighten the mood.

(6) Lebeeya, whom we sadly cannot read for the moment but who guarantees a good laugh each time she posts. Lebeeya expert at multitasking, handling a successful career, top notch postgraduate studies, a life full of fun and activities and still managing to share all her passion with us. She was last officially seen at the hairdresser and we miss her very much.

The top adopted Libyan for this year remains Ibeebarbie. ... While Khadijateri is runner up for the cute cameos about her life in Libya, but also the innovative approach to show us the negative aspects about Libyans.

From the non Libyan blogosphere my favourites are: (1) the Angry Arab, especially now that his comment section is closed and we can actually enjoy his posts without the rubbish that some commenters were posting. (2) Kabobfest and (3)Global Voices.

The Top Highlander fan for 2008 was Mitchell who has unfortunately deleted his blog.

On the personal side I have managed to meet some more bloggers this year, Libyan, Arab and foreign and the experience was refreshing. If I have not met you yet, then be patient it will come slowly but surely. I have been guilty of commenting very little; I don't really have an excuse, but I do hope to be forgiven because I have read all your posts :)
On the other hand I think I need to read more blogs in Arabic, the talent is palpable and I have no excuse at all.

I don't promise to be going back to the roaring blogging days of 2006 [that is over] but I promise to keep blogging.

Many emailed to ask where are my political blogs, didn't I care about Palestine or Iraq? Where are my opinions about the West etc.. I still have them, it's just that many others are expressing them better than me ... I'm also a bit war weary and need to recharge the batteries.I will get back to more of these type of posts as soon as I'm done with the Libya related ones lined up to be published.

Happy New Year 2009



Friday, December 26, 2008

A very cold spell

"Britain is in the grip of a flu outbreak greater than anything seen in the last eight years, with soaring numbers of people falling ill, new figures show." As soon as my eyes fell on the above sentence I could not help thinking that Britain's case is not an isolated one. The flu outbreak in Libya which started I believe sometime in mid-November is one of the worst I have ever witnessed.

I have no figures from the Secretariat of Health and I have not tried to find any to be honest, also I don't really think it is an epidemic. However, what I know for sure are what are my own eyes are telling me.

(1) At each public or private clinic/hospital I visit, there are rows upon rows of people coughing and sneezing waiting for their turn.
(2) People that have contracted the virus do not recover promptly and it either drags on or they have another cycle of flu with all the associated symptoms.
(3) in most people it no longer stops at the sniffles but it goes on to upper respiratory tract infection ( that's the mildest) if not bronchitis, pneumonia all sorts of breathing difficulties and the famous typical Libyan bujanb (maybe another Libyan blogger could volunteer to explain this term to non-Libyans :P )
(4) The bug it is not discriminating between age groups but school children, the elderly and the immuno-impaired are its earliest victims.
(5) People have been hospitalized and this is unusual as Libyans usually are too 'proud' so accepting to be admitted on the ward means it is serious.
(6) I am one of its victims and have been suffering for over a month now and I know it's bad because I've been privileged not to have caught the flu since 2005.
(7) I have so far bought for our household; prescription and non prescription cough remedies amounting to over 80 Libyan Dinars in addition to 6 types of antibiotics, 3 types of Panadol, Vitamin C effervescent galore.
(8) It had a big impact on schools and businesses
(9) I'm contemplating taking a flu shot next season even though I'm not convinced they are effective.
(10) Egypt recently had one more bird flu related death so could we be having a mix of both? or have I become paranoid ?

(11) oh and my GP is sick too!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Web, Customer Service and the Importance of Communication

Pretentious title eh? Seriously though, I won't be the first in stating that we don't realise how essential the internet has become until we lose it. Yes internet is a means of communication and Communication in all its forms is vital to convey any message or a specific message....

This weekend (on Friday in this part of the world), I tried to have a little bit of chit-chat with my friends but was surprised that my home network provided a nil result in connectivity. Having installed a fax line on the same morning, I immediately assumed that I must have messed up some of the internal cables.

So I texted my best friend and he phoned me back to say that this was a country wide problem and that I shouldn't worry. It is hoped that things would be back in order in less than a week. Trusting his advice completely I let it go at that; there was no need to become frantic. Que sera sera….

But it got me pondering about all the emails, work, reading and stuff that we do online and how much being in touch with the outside world has had an enormous impact on our lives. A similar technical problem occurred in the region at the beginning of this year anyway and turned out to be related to some 'force majeure' type of infrastructure accident; then things got back to normal.

I was optimistic that internet being so important for business and since Libya was increasingly business oriented then the people at LTT would find a quick way to reroute the connection even if temporarily. I was not expecting a prompt resolution as it was Friday and they probably were working with a skeleton staff on weekends.

At around midnight both Libyana and Madar customers received a text message in which the "General Authority for Telecom was informing us that there are problems in international communication and the WWW due to a number of severed submarine cables in the Mediterranean basin and that the workers in the telecom sector were doing their best to provide alternative solutions to restore communication". I was actually impressed when I received this message. To me it meant that the people at the Libyan PTT and LTT were really trying to find a solution. This also scored an additional point for customer service delivery; even though I did wish they had sent that country-wide cellphone message in English as well for the non- Arab community in Libya. I'm sure it would have prevented wild speculations among foreigners and jumping to conclusion that "life in the third world sucks sometimes" as Khadijateri puts it.

LTT do have a message to customers in English on their website (not sure when did they put it up ) though and their website was one of the few still accessible on Friday.

"Libya Telecom and Technology would like to inform its customers that the problems in the internet connection are a result of main communication cable problems, which has affected the entire Mediterranean region. Our Employees are giving their best efforts to return service through alternative networks."

It came as no surprise that internet connectivity was restored yesterday morning (i.e. in less than 24hrs) even though it was considerably slower. Today the connection is faster than dial-up but slower than our usual ADSL - which is to be expected due to congestion in traffic. I mean "major damage to the internet backbone can cause major problems despite redundancy which allows some re-routing. The loss of so much bandwidth is likely to have an impact".

Kudos to the Libya team for delivering on their promise (whatever way they managed to do it, via satellite or even if it meant making the necessary phone calls at least we are back online).

Tarek Siala has noted the same thing " ولكن الذي أعجبني وأثار إهتمامي هو قدرة شركة ليبيا للإتصالات والتقنية على إعادة الإنترنت في ثاني يوم (السبت) مباشرة، فبينما لازالت بقية الدول" تعاني من إنقطاع الإنترنت، كانت الإنترنت متوفرة في ليبيا،

This BBC article shed some additional light on the issue."We've lost three out of four lines. If the fourth cable breaks, we're looking at a total blackout in the Middle East". Then later in the day many specialised websites brought it up. Basically 4 lines are damaged; damage is usually due to ships' anchors and seismic activity. There are 3 lines damaged near Alexandria and one off Sicily. There was also suspected seismic activity around Malta.

Three out of four is a major problem, and as Libya is also linked through this cable that comes from Italy we have been affected. Moreover, newswebsites are not obliged to list ALL the countries that are affected, they mostly mention the ones that are more prominent on the business/political map. Case in point for example:"The UAE telecom operator said the damage to three cables resulted in high levels of network congestion and degradation of international voice service and data traffic, affecting all customers in the UAE, Levant, Egypt and parts of Africa." [Gulf News]. But the whole article is worth a read.

From the comment section of the BBC again I can see that this latest of cable cuts has affected the net in various countries as far away as Australia and the US and as near as Malta and the UK. I did not hear the Australians comparing themselves to a third world country.

The following article references a number of such cuts that occurred in several places worldwide. It also shows maps of the fiber optic submarine cable locations and which can potentially affect a country or group of countries or regions. Not one single sentence mentions a third world experience!

It is often said that communication is a powerful tool. I agree 100%, don't you ;)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Ten years of LOVE

Holding her to my bosom today, I am surprised to feel each rib sticking out painfully. The vertebral column seems ready to snap. Poor thing, it took 10 years of patiently feeding only to have her loose it all in less than 3 months. Holding her now is breaking my heart but I don’t know what else I can do but hold her to show my love. Every trick has failed, treatments have also failed ....she seems to have decided to fade gracefully and without much fuss.

When I hold her in my arms now, she is lighter than the puppy she was when we first brought her home yet scarily enough she is the same size. It is so sad to see her necklace dangling loose like something that should not be there. But when she looks at me with those soulful eyes I know deep inside she is still the same just very weary and terribly sick.
She comes and snuggles next to me everynight and I have to be careful lest I squash her by mistake.

Why do we always need to loose those we love most? Her life has not been scrape free and she gave me lots of white hairs since the last time here. But I’ve found that cats are very proud animals and like going away with dignity, somehow I've resigned myself to this and at the same time feel guilty about it.

At this rate the end is soon, but a tiny corner of my heart is still hoping that this is but a bad dream as miracles have been known to happen. A pet is also a member of the family... so pray with me.

Thursday, December 04, 2008