By Mike Lee
“I was twenty-six years old when I decided to run away from home,” says writer and actress Bernadette Nason. “A lot of things had gone wrong in my life and I just decided I needed to go somewhere.”
That desire to leave her native England for a fresh start led Nason to take the first overseas job that came her way, which turned out to be a secretarial position with an oil company located in Libya. “British secretaries – at least in Libya – were considered to be the best in the world, Nason says, a little bewildered by the idea. “And I say that with my tongue firmly in my cheek, because we were no better or worse than anyone else.”
This was in 1984, a time before the internet made it easier to find information about foreign lands. “I didn’t know very much about Libya… there wasn’t much available for me to read about the place,” she says.
“So I had one piece of information that I’d got from the recruitment agency, which was called ‘Libya: Guide to Living Conditions.’ On the flight, I read it in detail and realized that I’d probably let myself in for more than I could cope with.”
What she had no way of anticipating was the 1984 Libyan hostage incident, which began when a British police officer was murdered during a protest outside the Libyan embassy in London.
“As a result… England broke off diplomatic relations with Libya and the British embassy closed in Libya,” Nason says. “And things slowly started to get more troublesome for expatriates.”
Her experiences there are chronicled in her new memoir Tea in Tripoli, a book that for many years she resisted writing.
“My sister actually said to me, ‘Be very careful what you write — you don’t want to put your life in danger,'” Nason remembers. “[But] it’s not that kind of book. Most of the time it’s quite lighthearted. Or I broach things with that typical British sense of humor… we make light of things that aren’t necessarily light.”
For many years, Nason didn’t talk much about her time in Libya, but a few years ago she started performing a one-woman show about that period. That show, also called Tea in Tripoli, formed the basis of her new memoir.
“I kept a journal since I was a small child, and I kept a journal right through my time in Libya, which probably was a mistake looking back on it, but there you are,” she says. “And I kept all the letters that my mother wrote me and she kept all the letters that I wrote her, and as a result we have a history, a written history of the exciting and I guess dangerous time I was there.”
Nason will perform her one-woman show Tea in Tripoli and sign copies of the book on Sunday, August 20 at Austin Playhouse. The book Tea in Tripoli is available through her website and, starting August 21, on amazon.com.
Mike Lee is a features producer at KUT, where he’s been working since his days as an English major at the University of Texas. He produces Arts Eclectic, Get Involved, and the Sonic ID project, and also produces videos and cartoons for kut.org. When pressed to do so, he’ll write short paragraphs about himself in the third person, but usually prefers not to. Several years ago, he featured a young dancer on his Arts Eclectic program, and she was so impressed by his interviewing skills that she up and married him. Now they enjoy traveling, following their creative whims, and spending time with their dogs.