An American engineer's experience in Libya during Kahdafi's regime and making a new friend
|Joe’s Story Libya 2009
The sun was beating down mercilessly and it had to be over one hundred and ten degrees and it was only ten o’clock in the morning. The African air was so dry and right now there wasn’t even a hint of a breeze, just that hellish heat.
He watched his men laying the pipe in the trenches that they had dug for weeks, and now they were progressing very well. The trenches went on for miles in a very straight line. This was done so that the government that he had contracted this for would be able to easily find a problem if any came up. But, it wouldn’t. He used the best materials and he had an excellent reputation as an engineer, all over the world.
This operation was extremely large and he felt it was more than he could handle by himself so he decided this time to take on an assistant. He needed someone who could assist him in ordering and managing the laborers that he had hired. His choice, Peter, was hired due to his reputation and recommendations of other contractors. Joe had checked him out thoroughly and the recommendations had been high. He felt that he could trust him. There was no hint that he belonged to any terrorist group and yet, he observed his work carefully. There were so many details that needed to be taken care of and this guy was reputed to be someone who really put his shoulder to the grindstone.
They had reached a point on the job that the project management could be handled by one person. Joe could go to the next project and start ordering the supplies and equipment. He decided meet with the government officials to confirm everything and to also see if he could find accommodations for the crew that he already had working for him. They were really good men and worked hard and he would reward them at the end of this project. They would be done three weeks ahead of schedule and they deserved bonuses.
Peter would continue the project for Joe outside Ajdabiya, Libya. Joe told him that he would be calling him daily for updates on the project. The next project near Tripoli was about 250 miles away from this one and Joe wanted to take the same workers with him that were working on this job. He was determined to find proper accommodations for them.
Joe had developed a reputation beyond his years and the government officials trusted him to do the job according to agreement. He was trusted and he assured them if there was any problem or doubt that they should contact him immediately and only him. This was his company and he took great pride in the work that he did. He was responsible to them and to his company and everyone else that depended on him.
When Joe left, it was less than a month before the project would be complete. Peter reported that everything was on schedule and looking good. There had been some unrest in one of the cities about one hundred miles to the south but that was not going to affect the completion. Joe kept a watchful eye on the areas where Kadhafi’s men would be but periodically, he would see them in the distance in their jeeps and they appeared to be getting closer at times. In fact, the workers were working longer hours should the unrest turn into something more sinister. Joe advised Peter to coordinate with Ali, his top engineer to start reviewing all paperwork and reports. He wanted the workers to be paid quickly so they could spend a few days with their families before the next job. He also knew the fears of the men when the unrest began and wanted to make sure that they realized he wanted them safe. He also, asked Peter to hire the trucks to bring any excess materials to the next job. Peter told him that there would be no problem.
Every evening, he checked with Peter and he was told that things were going smoothly and not to worry. Yet, there was something nagging at Joe and he couldn’t quite put his finger on it. He decided to call his head project engineer, Amir. He hadn’t talked to him in a week or so. There was no answer. He decided to try later. He just needed the assurance from Amir that his part of the project was going well. He had worked with Amir on several projects and trusted him implicitly. A few hours later, the phone rang, it was Amir. Joe was so happy to hear from him. “How are you? I haven’t heard from you for a week. I haven’t been able to reach you.”
Amir was very reserved and Joe sensed that something was wrong. He asked him what it was. Amir said, “Joe, Peter fired me and most of the crew and has only a skeleton crew finishing up the job.” “What do you mean he fired you? No one can do that but me and I sure didn’t approve your termination, Amir. You are the most dependable person I have.” Joe was getting angry but knew he had to maintain. “Amir, what happened? Tell me and be completely honest with me,” said Joe.
Amir took a deep breath at the other end of the line. “Joe, we really need to talk in person. It’s important and I know you need to know this. I have been trying to get in touch with you for days now, but my phone wasn’t working or the connection was bad. Since you’ve left things have deteriorated. Several of our best men were fired by Peter and then I was. We were shorted on our pay and there’s more, Joe. I need to show you.” Joe said, “I’ll be there in the morning.”
Amir told him that he was already in the city and that he would meet him for breakfast and that they could both go back. He did not want Joe to go back to the project without backup and he knew that Joe would be going back. Amir respected Joe and his work ethic. Joe had always been fair and shown him and his crew respect. They worked hard for him and liked him.
Joe met Amir at a small breakfast restaurant just off the main street. They shook hands and the waitress was there immediately with their coffee. They ordered the morning special and began to talk.Amir looked at Joe with anger in his eyes, not for Joe, but for Peter. “Joe, Peter is doing everything he can to sabotage the end of this project. He has the least experienced laborers finishing up the job, he is shorting everyone on their pay and even worse, he is bringing in inferior materials.” Joe looked at Amir with a steady gaze, “I wonder if any of that material is going to be rolling into the project site here this morning?”
Amir was not positive but the only way that they could find out was to check it out. They finished their breakfast and left the restaurant. Joe’s jeep was just around the corner, so they quickly drove the twenty miles out to the proposed site where equipment was being set up. There was a truck driving in front of them that looked like it had some of the material on it. When they got to the site, Joe jumped out of the jeep and walked quickly to the truck that had brought the excess materials. There was not a lot and there should have been much more. He asked the driver if there was another load coming, but he shook his head. Joe checked the material. It was the material that he had ordered. Then he saw several pieces of the material that connected and sealed the huge concrete systems. He looked at them carefully and then at Amir. Amir nodded his head. “Connecting those concrete systems with this inferior product will cause the system to rupture when the full water pressure goes through them. Then, Joe jumped down from the trailer of the truck. He signed the bill of lading for the arrival of the load and told the truck driver to leave the trailer temporarily and he call the company and arrange to keep it for a few days. The driver had no problem with it.
Joe had the connector in his hand and put it in the back of the truck. He took a picture of the truck showing the amount of product that had been shipped. He also took a picture of the connector as well. He was angry, he was very angry. He looked at Amir and said, “Come on, Amir, we are going to go and see what is going on, right now.” It was noon and he would be gone a couple of days.
He called the school where his son was and requested they keep him for two and possibly three nights. He had to return to his former job site. His son then got on the line. “Hi Daddy,” Mike said. His little voice coming over the phone, dreading the news that daddy was going to give him. “Hi and how’s my big boy, today? I’m so glad I got to take you to school today and got a big hug. Mike, I am going to have to be away for a few days and you are going to be staying at the dorm at the school.” He was trying to sound cheerful, but Mike’s voice was shaking, “OK, Daddy, please be safe and come home soon. I miss you already.” “I miss you, too, son. Hey, you can get to know some of your new classmates this way. That will be fun.” Mike said, “Yes, Daddy. I’ll talk to you soon. Please, call me every night?” “Of course, I will,” Joe said. “Then, we will spend some special time together next weekend, ok? “OK, Daddy, bye bye.” The teacher got on the line and assured him that he would be just fine and that he had the suitcase that the parents left at the school every quarter for times like these. They said their goodbye’s and told her he would check on Mike every evening. “No problem,,” she said.
Mike was only seven and he’d traveled the world with him. His mother had died in childbirth and there was no way that Mike wasn’t going to be with him all the time. They were very close and thank god, he was so flexible. Joe tried to make everything look like a new adventure. Mike was very well behaved and the light of his Dad’s eye. Joe smiled for a moment, thinking of Mike. There was a lot of love between the two. Fortunately, there were enough projects being run by American companies in the countries he was working for that they had school compounds especially for their children and run by American teachers. Security for their children was of prime concern. Al-Queda and the Taliban were a serious threat although they had stayed away from the American compounds. Joe had this one contract left and this job would be the last here in Africa. Their safety was more important than anything and if anything happened to Mike, he didn’t know what he would do.
Then, he looked over at Amir, who was looking intently straight ahead. “Amir? What are you thinking?” asked Joe. Amir looked at Joe and then he smiled. “I want to see the look on Peter’s face when you show up on the job.” Joe was known for his fairness, intelligence and ethics. Peter was destroying everything that Joe had built up with this government. Peter would pay and pay dearly.
They drove all afternoon and into the darkness until they got to the job site. It was after ten o’clock and the light in the job trailer was on and there was laughing and singing coming from it and loud talking. Joe quietly walked up to the trailer with Amir behind him. They listened. They heard Peter’s voice and then voices of men that were unknown to either of them. The men in the trailer were drinking and playing cards and laughing. They sounded like they were having a drunken good time. Joe looked at Amir and nodded towards his jeep. They quickly made their way back to the vehicle and got in. “I don’t think that it would be a smart move for us to get into it tonight, considering that we don’t know how many men are in their or if they are armed.” Amir had to agree and Joe started the jeep and left the lights off until they were on the other side of the next sand dune. He pulled over and the two men ate the sandwiches that they had brought and the coffee. Joe asked Amir if he could tell what they were talking about. Amir told him that he could only make out bits and pieces of the conversations, the music was too loud. “But, Joe, I think they are big trouble. We need a lot of backup.” While they ate, both Joe and Amir made phone calls. A lot of them. They called the army base that was just 50 miles west and their suspicions to them asking for help. They military would to be there first thing in the morning. They would sleep in the jeep tonight and go back to the site at daybreak when the special forces arrived. They also called all the men that had been fired by Peter. They were happy to hear that Joe was back and most of them agreed to be on the site about noon.
Joe didn’t want anyone to get hurt. He didn’t know what their firepower was or how many men were in the large construction trailer and indicated that to the Ranger captain, as well. The captain that assured him that he would have a unit there to assess the situation and surprise Peter and his associates. Joe wasn’t taking any chances and he felt more confident if U.S. forces were involved than local authorities.
It was a long night and they didn’t sleep well. It upset him that someone like Peter could deceive him like this. The men, he had previously hired, were men like Amir, who was a hard worker and an honest one. He wondered if the other contractors that had recommended Peter knew anything about the ethics of this man. Had their jobs been tampered with, as well? He was certainly glad that he had connected with Amir and discovered the sabotage of the end of the project. Now, he and his men would have to go back and determine where the defects were and repair them. But, with Amir and his full crew, they should be able to finish the project on time. The job had been inspected and approved every mile of the project until this last mile and a half.
Joe told Amir of his plan to bring this crew to the next job and asked him if he thought the men would be receptive to the idea. Joe told him it would be the last project that he was doing in Africa. Amir was disappointed that Joe would be leaving so soon, but he understood and told him that he was positive that all the men would be willing to go to the next job with him. The next job was much smaller but the men would be well paid and their accommodations and meals would be paid for. Amir smiled, “Joe, it would be an honor to work this last project with you and I know that the other men will feel the same way. We will miss having you here, but you will always be welcomed back as our friend.” Joe grinned and shook Amir’s hand. “Amir, you will always be my friend. I have the utmost respect for you as a man and an engineer. If you need any references, please, let me know. I will be happy to leave letters of recommendation for the men as well.” Amir smiled and nodded, “That will please the men very much.”
At about 5:30 A.M., Joe saw several Humvees making their way towards them. They were U.S. soldiers and Joe smiled. Help was here. The vehicles pulled up close to Joe’s jeep. Several soldiers came to meet Joe. They were ready to fight and anxious to begin accessing the situation. The captain in charge told Joe and Amir that they had heard that there was a terrorist cell in this area and this could be it.
They asked that Joe and Amir stay put, they were far enough away from the construction trailer to be safe. Soldiers had already gone ahead to determine their approach and to surround the trailer catching the terrorist off guard. A few minutes later, the soldiers radioed the coordinates to the captain and within minutes, they had surrounded the trailer. They watched and communicated between each other and soon, the door to the trailer opened and several men came out with automatic rifles under their arms. They had a cup of coffee and were talking among themselves. They had no idea for the moment that they were surrounded by U.S. Armed Forces. Suddenly, a smoke grenade and a flash grenade were shot into the trailer and another smoke grenade outside the trailer. The men outside the trailer dropped to their stomachs and began firing. They couldn’t see anything but they were starting to fire despite that. Several other men were coming out of the trailer coughing and suddenly, behind the trailer, there was the sound of a tank being fired up. Before the vehicle was able to move, there was an explosion and the tank was blown up and so were the men in it.
The men in front of the trailer were still firing and our snipers were taking care of them one at a time. The last two men threw their weapons in front of them and put their hands up. They were ordered to walk forward and the soldiers took them into custody. The tank was checked out to make sure that there were no survivors and there were none. The tank had been camouflaged behind the trailer. When the soldiers had gotten into their positions they immediately knew that these were the terrorists that they had been looking for. They would be taking in the two remaining men, one of which was Peter. He had been shot in the shoulder and the leg. He was in pain but more angry than anything. As he walked past Joe and Amir, he spat in their directions uttering obscenities at them in a language that Joe couldn’t understand. He shook his head and turned away from this man he thought he could trust. He was an educated man who was obsessed with being part of the terrorist movement that would eventually destroy his country. The soldiers had inspected the trailer as well giving the all clear when they came back.
The Captain said that they would be in the area scoping out the rest of the area to make sure that there were no more terrorist in the area and that they could start working again. He smiled, we will be in the area for a day or two to make sure unless one of the captives started talking which he said he seriously doubted. They never do. Joe and Amir thanked them and got into their Jeep and headed for the trailer. The whole operation had taken less than thirty minutes. Joe was so glad that he had contacted them for assistance. He was grateful that Amir’s suspicions of the bits and pieces of conversation that they’d overheard proved to have probably saved their lives. No, it had saved their lives. Those terrorist would either have killed them or taken them captive. Amir truly was a friend and one to be respected and trusted.
They had arrived at the trailer and went in. It was a mess but mainly from a bunch of drunken thugs. The computers seemed to be intact and the blueprints for the project were still there. Joe took a piece of wood that was under the trailer and boarded up the window that the grenades had been launched through and he turned on the air conditioner. He turned and looked at his friend, Amir and asked him if he was ready for a good strong cup of coffee. “Yes, my friend, I certainly am” smiled Amir. They both sat down and relaxed for a few minutes waiting for the coffee to brew before looking at the plans of their completed work. They would look at that shortly. It was time to be thankful that they were safe and have that cup of coffee that they so richly deserved.