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By The Pool with Libyan ‘Terrorists’

Palace In Solo

Image by susan catherine via Flickr Mangunegaran Palace, Surakarta, Indonesia

It was April, 26, 1986 and the kids were practicing their dives in the hotel pool with their dad.  Our family was enjoying a vacation in Surakarta, Indonesia when four, young , Middle Eastern appearing men sat down next to our cabana, watching me intently as I sat in my lounge chair. My first thought was to be grateful because I was fully covered in my sarong, and not apt to offend them.

But my radar went up. This was an era of terror, and I was a mom discerning peril. You see, they were the first Middle Eastern people I had ever seen. I only knew the Middle East by reputation; to be honest, by prejudice.

To see young, Middle Eastern men without families in this sleepy little city where we spent our “down” time was surreal. That they were sitting next to me watching my children and husband swim was frightening to me. I had just read the following article in the English Newspaper that morning.

U.S. warplanes from Britain bomb Libya‘s Muammar al-Qaddafi‘s headquarters at Tripoli April 15 in an 11-minute strike that hits a few other sites and leaves 15 civilians dead, including some of Qadaffi’s children. President Reagan has ordered the attack in retaliation for the terrorist bombing of a West Berlin discothèque that killed a U.S. soldier and a Turkish woman and wounded 230. April 5, An American F-111 with two airmen is lost in the attack on Libya, and three hostages are killed in Lebanon in reprisal for the U.S. action.

Never in my life had I felt more danger than at this moment. I had very little knowledge of what was happening in the world. We were isolated in South East Asia where World News was scarce, American News non existent.

I was not naive nor unaware of the hatred that some Muslims had for Americans. In fact, when we arrived in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world, my first thought on exiting the plane was that I would be shot in the head as I carried my baby Catherine down the steps.

Discerning and fearful yes, but timid, no. I decided to face my fears and initiate a conversation with these fellows…thinking at least by engaging them, I would become more than what I possibly appeared to them; a stranger, a foreigner, an American, an enemy.

But, how was I a Western woman, considered “loose” (I presumed from all I had heard) to bridge the enormous gap between our worlds?

Me:  “Hello.”

Guys: Nodding

Me: “Where are you from?”

Guys: “Libya.”

M: gulp, oh.

Libyan Guys: “You?”

M: “America.”

L Guys: Nodding,  “Yeh, yeh, yeh!” (as in, yeh, we thought so, had heard Americans were here, we want to kidnap you???)

M: “I’m so sorry about our country bombing your country, and killing Qadaffi’s little daughter.”(Thinking, gulp, did I just commit treason?)

L Guys: Instant softening, leaning toward me, “Oh, No, No, No, it’s not your fault, don’t worry,” “It’s not the American people we’re against, it’s just your Government.” “Governments are the problem, not the people.” “Same in our country.”

M: Whew!

(All of them immediately came over to our cabana as if we were old friends, I was soooo thankful I had my sarong!

The Libyan guys began telling me about their families… We exchanged names, I offered to pay for their lemonades, they thanked me profusely, but didn’t accept. Then the conversation turned to President Reagan’s current trip to Bali, Indonesia of which I was unaware.

The “boys” (possible Libyan terrorists) were excitedly telling me about the hotel President Reagan was to be staying in. They also told me all about the most recent security details of the roof of this hotel. I had become their friend and confidant.

My family came out of the pool, I introduced them to the boys by name, we shook hands all around and returned to our room. But, I was shaking and for the rest of the day kept my kids away from the windows of our room and didn’t let them answer our door.

We never saw the “boys” again during our vacation, but two days later, we heard that railroad tracks near the peaceful city of Surakarta had been blown up. Again, in this part of the world, at this time, a bombing was unheard of. Was this the work of my “boys”? Were they a terror cell, saboteurs, or even worse, suicide bombers…a word I think I had never heard before.

In subsequent years, a friend from the State Department told me that I should have reported this encounter…to someone. My thought at the time was entirely for my family. I was confident that President Reagan would be protected.

Now, I know what to do if I am ever again privy to the secret plans of a possible terrorist cell. Were they terrorists? I’ll never know, but I do know that these boys met an American family who treated them kindly while they were visiting Surakarta, Indonesia a long, long time ago.



One Response

  1. Gasp!

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