My Years as Gaddafi's Nurse

Article excerpt

Byline: Oksana Balinskaya

I checked the dictator's heart and lived in luxury. But when revolution came, I realized the cost.

I was just 21 when I went to work for Muammar Gaddafi. Like the other young women he hired as nurses, I had grown up in Ukraine. I didn't speak a word of Arabic, didn't even know the difference between Lebanon and Libya. But "Papik," as we nicknamed him--it means "little father" in Russian--was always more than generous to us. I had everything I could dream of: a furnished two-bedroom apartment, a driver who appeared whenever I called. But my apartment was bugged, and my personal life was watched closely.

For the first three months I wasn't allowed to go to the palace. I think Papik was afraid that his wife, Safia, would get jealous. But soon I began to attend to him regularly. The job of the nurses was to see that our employer stayed in great shape--in fact, he had the heart rate and blood pressure of a much younger man. We insisted that he wear gloves on visits to Chad and Mali to protect him against tropical diseases. We made sure that he took his daily walks around the paths of his residence, got his vaccinations, and had his blood pressure checked on time.

The Ukrainian press called us Gaddafi's harem. That's nonsense. None of us nurses was ever his lover; the only time we ever touched him was to take his blood pressure. The truth is that Papik was much more discreet than his friend, the womanizer Silvio Berlusconi. Gaddafi chose to hire only attractive Ukrainian women, most probably for our looks. He just liked to be surrounded by beautiful things and people. He had first picked me from a line of candidates after shaking my hand and looking me in the eye. Later I learned he made all his decisions about people at the first handshake. He is a great psychologist.

Papik had some odd habits. He liked to listen to Arab music on an old cassette player, and he would change his clothes several times a day. He was so obsessive about his outfits that he reminded me of a rock star from the 1980s. Sometimes when his guests were already waiting for him, he would go back to his room and change his clothes again, perhaps into his favorite white suit. …