For A Libya In Flux: A Theme Song

Dec 24, 2011



NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro has spent much of this year covering the uprising and civil war in Libya. As she and her Libyan colleagues drove through the streets of Tripoli this week, they often found themselves listening to a legendary American country music song. The lyrics about changing fortunes seemed to ring true for Libya, as she tells us in this reporter's notebook.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: If every conflict has a theme song, then Libya's for me is as unlikely as it is fitting.


KENNY ROGERS: (Singing) On a train bound for nowhere...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I don't think I need to tell you but that's Kenny Rogers singing "The Gambler." My driver Mahmoud is a big Kenny Rogers fan. And how many times have we listened to "The Gambler," do you think, stuck in traffic now?

MAHMOUD: Fifty times.


ROGERS: (Singing) You've got to know when to hold them, know when to fold them, know when to walk away, know when to run...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Libya is in a weird place. Everyone is kind of holding their breath. The terrible bloodshed for now is over, but the next part - the elections and the new government and the payoff for all that sacrifice and bitter fighting - well, that's not here yet. Libya is in between things.


ROGERS: (Singing) Every gambler knows that the secret to surviving is knowing what to throw away and knowing what to keep, 'cause every hand's a winner and every hand's a loser and the best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep.

SAMY: It's an open ending. You know, nothing is clear, nothing is clear for now.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Samy, my translator. He's a doctor normally. He's helping me out while on his vacation. He says Libya is in a state of flux. But Samy says when he listens to "The Gambler," he thinks about how your fate in really in your hands. It's all about making the right choices.

SAMY: Actually, I am hopeful. I thought it would be much, much worse than this. And a lot of people are making up their own minds. And a lot of people are practicing freedom of speech. A lot of people are saying what they want to say, not like before. I know it will take a lot of time but keep my fingers crossed.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Mahmoud, on the other hand, has a different takeaway from the song. For him, "The Gambler" is cautionary tale about how your fortunes can change in a minute. What's your feeling on the revolution right now? I mean, are you disappointed?

MAHMOUD: Yeah, sure. Actually, I can say when Gadhafi is alive, it's better from now.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What are you worried about?

MAHMOUD: I'm worried about my children's life, I think, because all the guns are everywhere.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Mahmoud fears the militias in Libya will ruin its democratic transition. He also has little faith in the new leadership. The Transitional National Council, he says, is ineffective and weak. And he's worried Islamist parties will take over if there are elections.


ROGERS: (Singing) And when he finished speaking, he turned back toward the window, crushed out his cigarette and faded off to sleep. And somewhere in the darkness, the gambler, he broke even...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And that's where the similarities end. Both men agree that unlike the untimely end of the gambler in the song, Libya's story is far from finished.

SAMY: Kenny Rogers, I think, he sung about the life.

MAHMOUD: Everyone can relate to the song in his own way and I think the gambler is a wise man, even though he's a gambler.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Lourdes Garcia-Navarro NPR News, Tripoli. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.