2006.08.03: August 3, 2006: Headlines: COS - Togo: COS - Libya: Journalism: Solar Eclipse: Astronomy: PBS: Togo RPCV Marco Werman reports on a solar eclipse in Libya: a country seeking acceptance

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Libya: Peace Corps Libya : Peace Corps Libya: Newest Stories: 2006.08.03: August 3, 2006: Headlines: COS - Togo: COS - Libya: Journalism: Solar Eclipse: Astronomy: PBS: Togo RPCV Marco Werman reports on a solar eclipse in Libya: a country seeking acceptance

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Togo RPCV Marco Werman reports on a solar eclipse in Libya: a country seeking acceptance

Togo RPCV Marco Werman reports on a solar eclipse in Libya: a country seeking acceptance

Those 10,000 eclipse chasers who arrived in the country with Werman have already set up camp on the desert plateau, pitching their tents and assembling their astronomical gear. The scene puts you in mind of the annual Burning Man Festival in the Nevada desert or perhaps something altogether more biblical. Never mind that Werman was shunned by a Libyan society too nervous or nannied to talk -- the celestial stage was set for something far more mind-blowing. As the big moment approaches, a reverent hush falls over the crowd: "Oh, my God, it's total eclipse," swoons Werman, relaying the event to his radio show, The World, back in the United States. "The moon has just covered the sun -- you can look directly at it. Gossamer waves of light are shooting out from the sides, and all around me are sunsets."

Togo RPCV Marco Werman reports on a solar eclipse in Libya: a country seeking acceptance

Libya: Out of the Shadow

A solar eclipse in a country seeking acceptance

BY Marco Werman
August 03, 2006

Caption: Total Solar Eclipse - Wednesday 29 March 2006, Results from Bir al-Ghabi site in Libya, 30º56'N 24º 25'E Photo: Paul Coleman

Libya is not the first place that springs to mind as a hot-ticket destination. But much has changed in the country in recent years. In 2003, after decades of economic sanctions and living in the political wilderness, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi gave up his weapons of mass destruction and finally took responsibility for Pan-Am Flight 103, which was brought down by Libyan terrorists in 1988 over Lockerbie, Scotland. The world cracked the faintest smile in Libya's direction, and the former pariah began to emerge from its isolation. Nowadays Lonely Planet sells guidebooks to Libya, and such is the cult of personality of the country's longtime leader that the English National Opera is staging Gaddafi the opera in London next month.

All of which brings us to this week's Rough Cut, Libya: Out of the Shadow. Who better to explore the mysteries of present-day Libya than our roving world-music reporter Marco Werman? And what better way to get inside the country than to tag along with the 10,000 astronomy enthusiasts who descended on Libya earlier this year to watch the solar eclipse?

"I wanted to go to Libya," explains Werman, "but it was still hard to get press visas to cover anything -- music or politics. The eclipse was my way in."

After arriving in Libya, having been turned down for interviews with any Libyan officials, including Gaddafi, Werman spends three days in Tripoli trying to find out something -- anything -- about what Libyans think. Roaming through the bazaars, tea shops and Byzantine alleyways of the capital, with a government minder in tow, Werman gets to work. "Can I ask you a few questions for radio?" he asks, microphone in hand. "I'm from Americano radio in the United States. ... Hello. ... Do you speak English?" Werman implores as merchants duck inside their storefronts. "I am sorry, I don't speak English," comes the standard reply, delivered in impeccable English every time.

So how does a reporter report on the political and cultural changes under way in a country if none of its citizens will talk to him? Well, the answer is he doesn't. Instead, he retires to the nearest cafe to smoke some "hubbly bubbly." Cameraman and producer John MacGibbon (the editor who designed FRONTLINE/World's distinctive on-air look) captures Werman enjoying rather a lot of this activity to sooth his reporter nerves.

"It's actually calming me down quite a bit, considering it's just tobacco," says Werman, the embers of apple and mint glowing from a giant water pipe.

When Werman finally does come across someone at an outdoor cafe who is willing to talk about life in Libya, he seizes the moment. "You want to be like a human?" Werman asks, to make sure he heard the young man's complaint correctly. "And you don't think you're a human here in Libya?" "No one is hearing my voice," the man laments. And sure enough, seconds later, the minder shuts down the conversation.

Undeterred, our reporter heads to the annual international trade expo in town, surely an opportunity to get some pointers on Libya's newfound "openness." It's the first expo since 1979 at which a U.S. contingent is present, and it's a big deal for Libyans. Rows of children stand waving American flags, marching brass bands add to the pomp, and the logos of Coca Cola, Chevron and FedEx loom large -- the country appears open for business, at least. Werman waits patiently outside the cordoned-off American pavilion, where Libya's prime minister is supposed to show up. But he never does.

"Oh, well, there's always the eclipse," you can feel Werman telling himself after another evening passes without an interview. The next morning, leaving Tripoli behind, Werman takes a flight south from the Mediterranean coast. Passing over hundreds of miles of sand dunes and date plantations, he finally arrives in the town of Jalu in the Sahara Desert.

Those 10,000 eclipse chasers who arrived in the country with Werman have already set up camp on the desert plateau, pitching their tents and assembling their astronomical gear. The scene puts you in mind of the annual Burning Man Festival in the Nevada desert or perhaps something altogether more biblical. Never mind that Werman was shunned by a Libyan society too nervous or nannied to talk -- the celestial stage was set for something far more mind-blowing.

As the big moment approaches, a reverent hush falls over the crowd: "Oh, my God, it's total eclipse," swoons Werman, relaying the event to his radio show, The World, back in the United States. "The moon has just covered the sun -- you can look directly at it. Gossamer waves of light are shooting out from the sides, and all around me are sunsets."

"It's just incredible," says Werman, almost at a loss for words.

To see it for yourself, click on the video and enjoy the show!

Jackie Bennion
Senior Interactive Producer



Marco Werman is Senior Producer with Public Radio International's The World, covering world music for the program. A former Peace Corps volunteer, Werman got his start in radio while freelancing in Burkina Faso, West Africa, for the BBC World Service, where he later worked as a producer. Werman has produced a number of music stories for FRONTLINE/World. In his most recent story, "Soundtrack to a Riot," Werman reported from Paris following last year's violent unrest.





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This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Togo; COS - Libya; Journalism; Solar Eclipse; Astronomy

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