BWW Review: TEA IN TRIPOLI by Bernadette Nason
Award winning Austin actress and master storyteller Bernadette Nason, has written a memoir of her time working as a secretary for an Italian oil company in Libya under the repressive rule of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. TEA IN TRIPOLI is an utterly delightful, intimate tale of this extraordinary woman and her adventures halfway across the globe.
Nason weaves her spell on the reader with her witty prose, conversational style and peerless storytelling in TEA IN TRIPOLI. I've had the opportunity of seeing her on stage in her delightful one woman show, STEALING BABY JESUS, I read her memoir with the same rapt attention that I felt watching her performance. As a young woman in Winchester, England, she was determined to quench her thirst for travel and when her job in London became intolerable, she virtually jumped at the chance to work as a secretary for an Italian oil company in Tripoli, Libya. The culture shock going from Great Britain to North Africa alone would be enough for most people to recoil in terror. The year was 1984 and dictator Muammar Gaddafi's anti-western regime complicates Nason's experience in foreign climes making it much more difficult, and dangerous. Blessed with an indomitable spirit and a mother who sent sheets of toilet paper in her letters, she does her utmost to make her own oasis in the Sahara. While Bernadette's memory is remarkable, copies of letters written home supplement her narrative where necessary, but it's her emotional connection to events 33 years ago that's incredible. She makes what I would consider living in Hades, into a charming, though sometimes frightening, story that is beautiful in its intimacy. The lack of what modern people consider the bare necessities of life forced Ms. Nason to become inventive and find comrades in the oddest places. The title itself refers to the impossibility of getting a decent cup of English tea in her new home. Since Libya is an alcohol free society, the brewing of secret stashes of rice wine became a top priority and an almost frenetic social life became a way of coping with isolation from familiar climes. The danger of living in a country that has Morality Police is real and hovers over every event like a dark, menacing storm. Several of stories are laugh out loud hilarious, especially her account of buying a live chicken to cook for supper. Anyone who lives in the world of prepackaged poultry parts will feel the horror of having to actually process a formerly live bird into something remotely edible. Despite setbacks and defeats ultimately Bernadette Nason becomes the heroine of her own story and it comes across on every single page. This is a woman to admire, to laugh with and shed tears with.
TEA IN TRIPOLI is an utterly fascinating personal account of an adventurous woman in an exotic and dangerous land, both amusing and frightening, it may just be your cup of tea, it certainly was mine.
TEA IN TRIPOLI
by Bernadette Nason
2017, Brave Bear & Company