A couple weeks ago I wrote a rather damning post on the lamentable state of Libyan culture. I mocked the hapless Libyans who clung on to the fragments of the ancient culture, I tore down the cultural scene in Libya as being practically non-existent.
But I wrote that post in a bout of cynicism, depression and probably sleep deprivation. I did not give credit where credit was due. Like some kind of reverse confirmation bias, after writing it, I started seeing cultural indicators everywhere.
Let’s start with World Architecture Day 2013 – Benghazi. After the first two painful meetings I described, several more followed. After much argument, we finally agreed to produce a short video detailing the history of Libyan architecture. Since it could only be aired after sundown, we had to fill in the first two hours of the event, so we settled on live sketching and a display/selling table of postcards and t-shirts.
If you’re chuckling to yourself over the fact that a dozen+ grown adults can’t even plan a full day’s event that’s related to their specialty, you’d be echoing our sentiment at the time. Except instead of chuckling we were panicking at the idea that the event would be a major flunk. We all knew that the activities planned were woefully inadequate, but no one had the fortitude to say it out loud.
So we arrived on the fateful day with our hearts in our mouths, setting things up in relative silence. And then people began to arrive.
And it was a huge success. One of the best qualities in Libyans is their patience and ability to chat standing up for long periods of time. And so the guests did, as they watched the live sketching or perused our scanty selling table (which included, by a stroke of luck at the last minute, a large quantity of free books on the restoration of old cities and brochures on the event). The movie was the perfect finale, projected on top of the etched wall with style. I don’t want to fawn about it too much here, but you can read about the event and Libyan architecture in general in my article here.
Now, one successful event does not a culture make. But in the past weeks we’ve seen a photo gallery by the local photographers’ club and a ‘cell-phone movie’ festival. Next week there will be an arts and crafts festival. A new street art gang began spray-painting positive messages around the city. A parkour team holds displays of their talents from time to time. I finally started up my MEPI project, The Young Writers of Benghazi, which was met with remarkably positive feedback from the students it’s aimed at (more than I ever expected).
This just reaffirms my belief that the cultural stagnation is not caused by a vacuum of resources but rather by a lack of trying. There’s a tweet I read which summed it up rather well, “Power is now in the hands of the people, but they don’t know what to do with it.”
The city still witnesses constant bombings and assassinations, despite the repeated (false) promises by our ineffective government to do something about the security problems.
But we’re trying. It may be hopeless, pointless, aimless, and waste of time, but we haven’t yet resorted to locking ourselves indoors and collectively curling up into a fetal position. If I didn’t keep myself occupied with school and these civic activities, I would have probably lost my sanity a long time ago.
What does this have to do with culture again? Yes, the point I was making is that, as often is the case with online info, the truth is almost often partially concealed. I can’t give you an accurate depiction of this city and its culture unless you come down here and take a stroll through the city, talk to the people, maybe get a bite of sfinz with honey. Our culture is not thriving, but it’s not yet dead. Find out for yourself (AFTER we get the security problem fixed).