Monday 20 November 2017

Diary of a schoolteacher: My beef with Gaddafi goes way back to the 1980s

E Grade

It might come as a surprise to my colleagues, but a few years back a certain Colonel Muammar Muhammad al-Gaddafi was a real thorn in my side.

In 1986, when desperate for work in recession-weary Ireland (it had lasted since the Famine and there's still no sign of it picking up) I took a job in an industrial TEFL college that specialised in taking huge groups of students and business people from all over the world, each of them hungry to learn the English language.

Generally the Libyan students were young male engineers or university students and they had a pretty high level of English. We taught them in classes of 10 and they made it clear from the start that they were there to learn.

Warned that there were plenty of no-go areas in terms of conversation topics such as religion, alcohol and the Gaddafi regime, I found them to be good natured and friendly.

During the holy month of Ramadan it was understandable if the hunger made them a bit tetchy and you'd give them enough slack.

Well, you had to, as their government was paying a fortune for their course and it was made clear to us that they had to be kept happy at all costs. In every group there was a recognised leader and if you had any problems you'd consult with him.

Characters ranged from a red-haired guy called Ibrahim who complained with a big grin about being taught by my colleague Cathy because she was a 'bitch woman'.

Teachers' pay came in at £5 an hour before tax and usually you'd have to work all summer and sign on the rest of the year without even a holiday.

I got £9 a week on social welfare! It was wonderful if you could get the hours up and one day in February this was what was being dangled in front of me by the Director of Studies in this TEFL factory. As relations between the oil-rich nation and the UK and the US had worsened, Libya looked to dodgy little Ireland with its well established terrorist organisations and English-language schools.

We already had around 20 young men from there and now they were promising to send over another 200. First thing I did was borrow some money from my parents and buy an inter-rail ticket.

No question of flying in those days -- a few months' work didn't mean I was going to become a millionaire!

So, off I went and apart from other unexpected things I ended up playing for a university handball team in Austria.

It was there in Innsbruck that I heard that the US Air Force had bombed Tripoli in response to the Berlin disco bombing and the Americans were insisting that Ireland stopped taking in Libyan students.

Fair enough, Gaddafi had it coming to him, and I know I shouldn't say it, but because of him I now owed my parents £200 that I couldn't pay back till the following summer.

Irish Independent

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