76 Hours in Tripoli



Near the Tajourian seaside

For all my aggressively pro-Benghazi sentiment, there’s a special place in my heart for Libya’s capital city. Large, loud, bustling, with excellent coffee that almost makes up for the traffic congestion, the indifferent enormity and beauty of Tripoli is like a haughty love interest. I enjoy glimpsing a shadow of Benghazi in the Italian facades of downtown Tripoli, or the pedestrians walking down the seaside. But the accent of the passersby shatters that illusion; hearing ‘halba‘ instead of ‘wajed‘, or seeing the black shenna atop the heads of old men on street corners, instead of the distinct crimson of the East, reminds me of where I actually am.

No Libyan will admit this, in our long-standing tradition of stubbornness, but we love visiting other regions and cities. It’s that feeling of being not-quite-away from home, but far enough that you notice the small differences, which I think we find endearing. My Libya travels have been contained to the East, which makes the rare trips to the capital all the more exciting. West Libya is an entirely foreign place to me, while the South is still more of a mystery. (I’ve still unsuccessfully been able to visit Fezzan, but it hasn’t stopped me from continuing to try)

This trip was marred by the Libyan conflict, as everything is nowadays. “Are you sure it’s safe to go?” “I heard they kidnap Shergawis.” “Tripoli is not what it used to be, don’t be surprised when you arrive.”

The airport was bigger than I expected, and knowing that there wasn’t a three-hour car ride ahead of me (a la Labrag) was enough to keep me in high spirits. Driving around the city, I picked up on the familiar patches of the skyline, re-learning the architecture. There were more bullet holes in Tripoli then when I last arrived over two years ago, and the people a bit more forlorn. But there was also a lot of life, a persistent need to keep going, an unwillingness to succumb to the situation. The ugly rumors online about how terrifying Tripoli had become are as unfounded as the reports of Benghazi’s complete destruction. But people persist in these rumors, because we have developed a hideous sense of victory when we hear of a rival city’s demise, as though this failure justifies our petty political beliefs.

“There’s Bou Sita, if you look hard you can see the boat that Sarraj sailed in on.” It’s a new joke, but there’s nothing funny about the very serious armoured cars guarding the naval base. Around the city, you can spot stenciled graffiti in support of the GNA, but it’s not convincing. Real graffiti is not that meticulous, not that earnest in its message. These suspicions were confirmed by people I spoke with. “We had hope in them at first, but not anymore. What have they achieved?”

It was hard to get used to hearing from people in Tripoli that some of the militias are keeping the peace. Militias are all bad, aren’t they? We uncompromisingly rejected them in Benghazi,  a decision whose consequences we’re still facing. But it’s all for the ultimate greater good. Isn’t it? But Tripoli isn’t Benghazi, and their situation is not our situation. In Benghazi we don’t have tens of thousands of IDPs from other cities all seeking refuge, we don’t have the debilitating political expectations from unseen outside forces. When situations go to their extreme, we lean on one another. But in Tripoli, it’s every man for himself. Which is why I have to accept that, whatever my feelings are, my opinions are irrelevant to this city. اهل مكة ادرى بشعابها, as they say.

Another thing about Tripoli that is both endearing and embarrassing is that I’ve never spent a dinar there. I go from friend to friend, being hosted in that famed Libyan hospitality, and fights over the bill always end up with me losing to the argument of “You’re our guest!” Even when buying fruit at a kiosk, the vendor dismissed me with a wave of his hand as I try to pay, saying “Next time,  المرة الجاية.” I unconvincingly tell friends, “I’ll be hosting you when you visit me in Benghazi soon,” both of us knowing that they won’t be visiting Benghazi soon, that I don’t even want them to see Benghazi when it’s like this, with its rubble and its anger.

You don’t have to go far to find Benghazi anger though. Tripoli hosts thousands of Benghazi families who have fled the East, some unable to return because their neighbourhood still isn’t under LNA control, and some because it is. For the latter, it’s a self-imposed exile, a decision that hasn’t been taken without some measure of bitterness. I’m acutely aware that being able to travel freely between cities and regions in Libya has become something of a luxury.

In the morning of my departure, I bought an early-morning cup of coffee from a nearby kiosk. In Benghazi, as a woman, I could never stand in a line with a group of sleepy-eyed Libyan men at a coffee kiosk. But my visitor status to the city affords me this brazen opportunity. I walk around for a bit taking in the morning air, forgetting for a brief moment the war, the hatred, the divided country, and enjoyed being a regular citizen visiting the capital city of her country.

Tripoli is also where I first met Tawfik Bensaoud, during that last trip two years ago, ironic considering that we’re both from Benghazi. We had our first real conversation waiting at the airport gate for our flight back. I don’t remember what we talked about, probably politics or civil society, but I remember being content. Tawfik is gone, and the airport is gone, but Tripoli is still here, Benghazi is still here. We can only go forward now.



Post-Ramadan Life

The 30 days many were dreading have once again ended. Ramadan is done and Eid has rushed past (due to some poorly timed decisions and books, I managed to sleep through most of the festivities).

For the first time in a while, I woke up at 9 am. Voluntarily. It’s not like I haven’t seen the sun or anything lately. But with exams and projects at the beginning of Ramadan, and utter boredom by the end, my sleep cycle has taken a severe beating.

But post-Ramadan life doesn’t just smoothly transition back to pre-Ramadan life. There’s the confusion of timing, when things no longer take place at night. The momentary shock of accidentally eating something during the day, until you realize you aren’t actually fasting. And, somehow, an empty feeling.

If you’re like my family, you’ll probably be fasting the ‘six white days’ (ستة ايام البيض). They’re not mandatory, but you get some extra good points on your record with God. It also helps the transition, if you’re the kind of person who pines for Ramadan when it’s over.

I’m not sure if this happens to many people, but during the transition, I’m hungry all the time. It’s not a rumbling-stomach kind of hungry, but this unconscious need to put food in my mouth. It’s irritating because if I’m not constantly vigilant, I’ll just blissfully gain weight as I eat everything in sight.

It’s been a depressing Ramadan in Benghazi, and an even more depressing Eid. A young journalist was assassinated on the second day of Eid. His assassination is similar to that of political activist Abdulsalam Al-Mismari, being shot after Friday prayers.

I flew off the handle yesterday on Twitter, so I’m all ranted out. There’s nothing really left to say. There’s this all-consuming veil of sadness and misery cast over the country, and even the few optimists left admit that there’s not much left to do.

But there’s still the chance of a revival of spirit. The school year will start in September and there’s a few social activities being planned. For me, it means going back to the social vacuum that is architecture school.

Three semesters left! And I got an A+ on my airport design last semester. They usually say the pain of all the work is gone when you see the fruit of your labour, but no. I still remember the sleepless nights staring at my laptop for hours on end, the stress of trying to make the design work and the sheer size of the project itself. If I could go back, I’d definitely try managing my time better (but I say this every semester).

I think, for the first time ever, I’m sick of politics. Just fed up. I can’t even approach an issue now without being overwhelmed with the apprehension of how many ignorant comments there will be, how many baseless claims will be made, the pointless arguing and pseudo-debates where you call a person an asshole in a more eloquent manner.

There was a time when I truly enjoyed it. But lately it just seems like all the mainstream news is contrived and dumbed down, looking to stir emotions and create schisms rather than any real objective reporting. And people, like the lemmings they are, take the bait and jump into arguments they’ll never win. The topics have become too insignificant, bland, boring. Does it mean anything if Richard Dawkins likes mocking Muslims on Twitter? Is it imperative that they boycott the Sochi Olympics? Does the plight of women who want to breastfeed in public without a blanket, the resignation of an Australian politician who believes Islam is a country, or the views of Tawakul Karman on Egypt, merit conversation?

Maybe it’s just me, and I’ve found the tedious repetition of what is essentially the same argument pointless. Isn’t there a quote about how arguing with a fool makes you also a fool, or something of that nature? Either I’m wising up or going senile at the ripe old age of 22.