When 58 year old Australian teacher Pylama Armet accepted a teaching position at a Libyan school she had visions of happy times with even happier students at ISM International School in Tripoli. Little did she realize that dictator Muammar Muhammad al-Gaddafi’s own grandchildren were taught there too, and what this could mean for her in a time of civil violence.
She had no idea either of all the trauma that would come her way when the previously firm power of a dictator began to fracture. Suddenly her world and Libya’s was turned upside down as fault lines appeared in law and order and chaos ruled the streets. When protesters neared the nation’s capital, rumors were rife that the Libyan school could bear the brunt of civil violence because the dictator’s grandchildren were being educated there. While she tried to sleep that night she could hear the sound of marching, shouting, screaming, rifles firing teargas, and people dying throughout the night. The next morning she and five colleagues crept silently into the abandoned school buildings to retrieve their passports from the safe and flee.
They made a frantic dash by car to the airport only to find the doors shut tightly and with endless queues outside. While soldiers lashed out at their male colleagues with batons, Pylama Armet and the two other female teachers were finally allowed in, only to find no tickets available and no foreign exchange facilities either.
As if in answer to a prayer they stumbled on a pilot with an empty plane and an offer to fly all six teachers all the way to Istanbul in Turkey. Their knight in shining armor argued and fought their way past several officials and through passport control onto the flight path where his aircraft stood waiting for them. Fifteen minutes after they took off, Tripoli Airport was closed - they were the last flight out.
Spare a thought for defenseless teachers across the world, who are trying to improve the lives of children in environments that suddenly turn hostile with civil violence. While Pylama Armet can count herself among the lucky ones who have escaped death at a Libyan school, other expatriates may have been less fortunate.