Do you want to know how backwards Libya is?

Do you recognize the object in the picture on the left?

Well, let me tell you what it is, just in case you don't know. It is a miraculous invention called the mechanical pencil sharpener. It's used to sharpen pencils! Have you ever used one before? Most of my Libyan students, and by most I would say approximately 96% of them (and they are between 12 and 40 years old), are totally mystified when they see a mechanical pencil sharpener in my classroom. They have no idea how to operate one and I have to spend time in every course showing new students how to use it. And they are so amazed at how well it sharpens their pencils! Some students get so excited that they have to sharpen their pencils repeatedly throughout the class (which I find very annoying!).

The sad thing is that the mechanical pencil sharpener was invented in 1884...... 128 years ago! Lord help the poor backwards people of Libya... they have more than just a war to get over and elections to get through.... sigh...


  1. they do not know how to use it because most of them use mechanical pencil instead of wooden pencil. The same thing happened to me when I first came to USA, I did not know how to use the Pop-up toaster because I used to use the sandwich toaster.

    1. I agree with your opinion,

  2. That was a very compelling headline and illustration of your point. I bet the modernization will go fast without someone standing in the way mumbling jibberish!

  3. When I as a child my teacher had the electric model. We went to use it and dazed at the speed it would sharpen a pencil, this sharpening normally evolved to a complete shredding party.
    I don't see it as a question of backwardness, if you ask them if they can operate a cell phone, an MP3 player, a personal computer. I'm sure that they can do it much better than me. My daughter is 12 and to her, the pencil sharpener or my old 1.5 kg walkman are as familiar as a chipped stone knife.
    I blame it on the zeitgeist.

  4. it is sometimes strange to find people struggle with things that we take for granted, i get mind boggled when someone asks me if i bike is good or not. but i suppose the libyan people will no how to use thing you may not know how to use :)

  5. so much catching up to do.... 42 years of isolation... sigh..

  6. this kind of sharpeners almost does not exist in Libya, most students use the small type, especially the type that has mirror on the back we used to play with it as we reflect the sunlight on the teachers eyes LOL, these sharpeners are not good as the big ones but they are easier to use so that is way your students find it quite amusing

  7. this kind of sharpeners almost does not exist in Libya, most students use the small type, especially the type that has mirror on the back we used to play with it as we reflect the sunlight on the teachers eyes LOL, these sharpeners are not good as the big ones but they are easier to use so that is way your students find it quite amusing

  8. the small sharpeners (especially the type that has a mirror on the back) is the most commonly used type there, the bigger ones as the one in the photo can be barely found in a couple of stores..that is why they find it quite amusing LOL...

  9. Well Khadija you said it: Libyans ages from 12 and 40 years old were born under the isolation era of a tyrant so what do you expect?
    As Paulo stated "I don't see it as a question of backwardness"

  10. Hi Khadija, I read your blog post and have to mention that I strongly disagree with it. I substantiate my disagreement with personal experiences of both Libya and the USA.

    How in the world can you effectively use knowledge of pencil sharpeners as an indicator for the mentality (or direction of mentality) of the Libyan population? I say this because I can easily reverse it all back and hurl it at the US population. I think a very large proportion of the US population have no knowledge of the manual small-sized pencil sharpeners that are commonly used in Libya and that everyone in Libya is very knowledgeable of. What does that tell us? That the US is even more backwards, considering they do not know the more simplistic manual version of the pencil sharpener tool?

    I do not see it as the correct message to communicate or if there is any real message of relevance to communicate here through such an example.

    Sure Khadija, there is no denying THE FACT that many many people DO indeed hold a backwards mentality in Libya and DO stand in the way of everything that is good for Libya but I would not encompass the great many WHO DO hold the opposite along with that bunch through a phrase like "the poor backwards people of Libya."

    They may be a rarity, but they do exist... and personally, I would like to consider myself one of them but do not want a pencil sharpener to be the criterion.

    Thank you.

    1. Anonymous,,,

      By the post I am pointing out the HUGE gap created by 42 years of being under the thumb of someone who controlled even the knowledge of simple things. Libyans were pretty much cut off from the real world. They are indeed catching up, for example, the use of mobile phones, social networks, satelite TV to name a few. But there are still many gaps.

      I'm an English teacher and if you look at the coursebooks you will find that many topics are addressed throughout each book. Many times my students are unable to relate. For example, if you have the topic 'eating out at restaurants' you'll find speaking questions such as: 'What's your favourite restaurant?' or 'Talk about the last time you ate out.' This becomes difficult when you find out that most of your students have NEVER eaten in a restaurant, they probably have had fastfood, but not a restaurant with a waiter and a menu. On average the first time a Libyan eats in a restaurant is when they are in their 20s. When I came to Libya in 1989 I could count the restaurants on the fingers of one hand. There are many more now, but on a Libyan's meager salary there are very few who could afford the luxury of eating out.

      In order to teach English I often have to spend time explaining what the topics are. For example, if the reading is about greenhouse gasses, I first have to explain what they are - they usually think it is some kind of chemical that is put on vegetables that are grown in a greenhouse. Recycling is pretty much a mystery, as are genetically modified foods.

      Maybe you'll ask 'But what does it matter?' - It matters a whole lot if the student is planning to study abroad. They won't be in a special classroom for third world students - they'll be right in there with native speakers and people who learnt all these things long before they even got to high school.

      I blame the education system in Libya, or the lack of education. 42 years of teaching nonsense. It will take quite a while for Libya to catch up with the rest of the world. I'm doing my best to help, but it's frustrating sometimes.

    2. Khadija, ur headline for ur initial post is a total disappointment. I say this as a proud libyan woman whose upset by such silly characterization of libya and its people based on some mechanical sharpner. Yeah its true have a lot to catch up on but come on! I hope to see some respect for the country of your husband, children and the country of your residence if not anything else!!!

    3. Thank you 'anonymous'! So nice to see a proud libyan speak up for libya and its people. I am with you buddy!

  11. Khadija, you are still insisting on looking at the glass half empty rather than full...

    Within the darkness is light. There are prodigies and prominent talent that comes out of that nasty mess of an educational system that is in place in Libya. They end up as highly recognized doctors, engineers and so on in the world's most developed countries and no thanks to the quality of the experience; I assure you.

    How do they do it?

    Self-commitment, passion, vision, hope, reliance on Allah and not all that is inferior. These are the things that do not let gaps stand in the way of success; no matter how miserable the status quo may be... These are the things that allow one to soar above the notion of a pencil sharpener being a measure of intellect. If one is to bind himself to the inferiorities and complexities of the social typhoon, one ends up nowhere and a nobody - this is why you must rise high above it all.

    It is frustrating sometimes... I know... all the more so when you look at the glass half empty :)

    1. Is it a bad thing to want a full glass? I don't think Libyans should settle for half a glass. And how sad that the majority of these successful Libyans don't return to share their knowledge and commit themselves to making Libya a better place... what's keeping them from coming back?

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    3. YES. Finally, someone who states the truth and is honest. What a good piece of advice to all who imigrated for that matter. If you are highly educated please go back and teach your people.

  12. Its not a bad thing at all? And no, Libyans should not settle for half a glass. But you will be surprised at just how many successful Libyans do share their knowledge and commit themselves to making Libya a better place in the most dire of circumstances and against the strongest of currents. You will be even more surprised at just how many were doing it all along and did not need February 17 to discover their moral compass. The funny thing with the "successful" is that what they do is not out of seeking to impress an audience, that is why we never hear of them.

    There are so many who came back and who have BEEN back; there are others who contribute from a distance in the best way they can. Like I said, we do not hear of them and I might add: do not expect to ever hear much of them because as the saying goes "True merit, like a river, the deeper it is, the less noise it makes."

  13. LOL@the poor backwards people of Libya..... as if you are any better..... just cus you know what a stupid sharpner is makes you what...? sadek ily gal (etakey shar man ahsanet elhey)

  14. I have got my fist one in early 80s (i live in Tripoli),, so it is not that strange invention. just cause the kids are playing with it so we dont buy it for our kids

  15. this is disgusting. it is unbelievable bs :-) you do... and other stories are probably the same sort of lies and demagoguery. how is your iq? 90? 85?

  16. The headline shows that you are a stupid idiot, who has no respect...!

  17. Libyans in general can't stand criticism as the comments here show once again.

  18. Here's a small story...I worked as an estate agent in London and I got a call from 5 girls (from New York City - one of them was a daughter of a famous writer)I just helped move into an apartment, which they were renting for a semester/term. They called me just after I left and asked me:"What's that thing in the kitchen with a cable sticking out?" They described it as roundish and has a handle and a red button. So I told the it's a kettle and "What's a kettle?" they asked. So I told them how to use it and when I visited a few days later, they were using a milk pot for boiling their water. When I asked why they didn't use it they said they never saw it before so where afraid to use it, Nice. Now tell me in the 21st century America, is that considered stupidity, ignorance, just plain backwardness or what?

  19. I never used a kettle until I came to Libya. Who in America would use a kettle? That would be something from my grandmother's younger days. We would use an automatic coffee maker. Most Americans don't drink tea or instant coffee.

    My husband went to the UK when he finished high school and stayed with a host family while he studied English. He thought it was very strange that the British family saved their tea bags and reused them... lolol

  20. I am from england and if i showed this sharpener to the kids here they would top react fall in love with it ,tell you the truth i would too even though iv seen and used it.I know libyans had its down era but kids finding a sharpener fascinating does not define them as backwards.But i do see your side were all entitled to our own opinion i guess .

  21. Being dressed like a Wahabi bedouine in a baseball stadium is not really
    forward looking, is it? You might be able to operate mechanical gadgets
    invented in the 19th century but your mind is still trapped in the 5th century!

    1. They didn't have baseball in the 5th century.

      Go Rays!

  22. Fortunately for Libyans, the post I just typed somehow didn't go through, and shucks my fingers hurt so I will not type the entire thing again. So the shortened version - is there anything worse than a cocky Arab? Yes, an ignorant, backwards one. And of course Libyans are going to jump the gun and perhaps even call me a "racist redneck" but I should and will save you your breath - my parents are Libyans and came here to the US in their 20s. I was born and raised here. And please, noone wants to read your comments about how you think im Libyan. I'm not. I wasn't born or raised there, so therefore I'm not. You can speak about blood and heritage, blah blah blah, but I'm not posting about science. I'm posting for the sole purpose of helping Libyans realize that they aren't the best in the world, and matter of fact they are one of the worst. I've been there, and have experienced it first hand and to continue to experience it with Libyans in America. And yes, unfortunately even from my own family. If you read through the comments you will find that not only are Libyans arrogant, they can't take criticism very well either, even for their own good. So wake up Libyans of the world and realize that other people don't really like you. Why? Well what is there to like? The fact that everyone shows up late for everything? The fact that your ignorance is beyond imagination. When I was there for my sister's wedding (poor woman) this August I mentioned something to my cousin about weight loss. Her reply was something close to "wow I didn't know that Exercise can make you lose weight". Duh? Perhaps they should start, or else obesity will become even more widespread. Politics. Well I'm not even going to begin with politics. Then I would have to write a full term paper. So lets skip to some unimportant experiences of mine -the boasting about how great their food is. uh, no one wants to eat your cusscussy and rishta everyday. Libya isnt known for its cuisine, talk about same spices in each dish. Boring. And not to mention unhealthy (red meat everyday anyone?) Oh and being forced to get my hair and makeup done for my sister's wedding because Libyan women are soooo good at doing makeup; well they are. Clown makeup. Oh the circus! A great idea for you business men, you know, if you ever wanted to get off of your tush one day and actually do some work. Btw that leads me to another point - the only disagreement that I have with your post, Ms. Khadija, is that the Libyan paycheck is far from being meager and they are far from being poor. Libyans have cash. And to us in America, that equates as being rich. And we are talking 6 digits not 6 dollars or dinars for that matter. Now, any American can back my statement that we would never be able to wake up one day and purchase a brand new home, full, in cash. But libyans do. You have been fooled by their acts of "oh help me you rich American, im a poor Libyan". Oh, and take the time one day to explain how high our bills are in America. They will be more than shocked. My cousin's jaw dropped when I explained to her how we even pay water bills. They dont have many bills, and even if they dont show up for work (which happens a lot) they still get a paycheck. They are one word, opportunists that will be your friend only if you can do something for them, and if you can't, your not their friend. Anyhoot, no need to continue, my fingers hurt. Libyans please take this as constructive criticism, sit back and actually use your brain, and realize that perhaps the reason you feel so offended is because it's true. Libyans must change their hearts and then the Lord will change their situation.

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