My Tripoli Dreams
So many things I want to write….but so very few sheets of paper on which to write.
For so many years now.. I befriended silence…and so, silence became my plight.
So many things I want to say…so many stories I want to tell.. if they just listen..
Many said they will, some day…others said some day, they might..
No one knew …who I was… or, what I have become…all in their daily fight
All in a restless hurry, to catch an early flight…oh…what a sight.
As the time pass you by, as old as you may become, the places you’ve traveled, the years you spent in pursuit of education, new experiences, and then, the challenges of the daily life, often times you want to stop..take a deep breath of fresh air, that is,” if any still left,” and to look back…how it all began, retrace your steps. The people you’ve encountered on your journey… what have become of them.. Where did they all go.. ? Don’t you ever wander…?
I often did. From my perspective, it is very therapeutic, very uplifting to simply kick back, and allow my soul to take a journey back to the past…to places I’ve been to, and things I’ve done, to my childhood friends.. to my home..
It’s a long…long journey, and I know, I can’t capture it all in just one day.
For me …April 1 is going to be that day, after all, .it is my birth day, and I elected to spend the entire day in the company of no one but me, and the memories of my childhood, the memories of some sixty years gone by.. Deer God, how fast time flies.. or, so it seemed .
My favorite hideaway in all these ten acres in this small town west of Indianapolis, this place on this earth, that I call home, there is that gently rolling slope between the pond and the trees creating a natural buffer zone, very shady, yet, I can see the sky.. as blue as Tripoli blue sky. Our closest neighbor is on the other side of the road, and our house is some two hundred feet from the road, no one can build on either side, nor in back of us because the “ravines” creating natural boundary. Lush green grass covers the front part, and I, and my Sons and Daughters use that field for some good Soccer games, we invite some of the School kids to learn this new phenomenon that has hit this land of late.
Every now and then, early in the mornings I, take a quick walks in the woods in back of our home, to greet the early morning land owners, the Deer, the Grey Fox and the Awls, oh yes, we have Coyote and Wood peckers and the ever enchanting the “Mockingbird”
To some people, looking back seems to be very painful, so, why look back, why evoke the memory of some turbulent times, or, perhaps, they may have led a sheltered lives without much excitements, or childhood trials and tribulations. I, on the other hand, find my childhood to be rich in every sense of the word, I have experienced the good, the bad, and the ugly, and between then, and now, my journey in this life, was so very full of eventful happenings, and of endless strive, to cultivate as many a friendships as I could, and more.
I should like to beg forgiveness from my now deceased Mother and Father, for I was known to the family as “ Hamid the Terrible”, the things I’ve done, I am now certain have contributed to all the extra grey on my late parents heads. So let’s just leave it at that. Restless, inquisitive, and, always in pursuit of a new challenge. Countless times I asked “Eblees” to come down, and if he didn’t, I will get him down…”Mother.”
What a flight that was, on that April day, I rested my back flat on the lush green Grass, my eye gazing up word at the tall trees surrounding me from all side as if they have formed a protective barrier between me and the rest of the world, the April sky began to whisk me away Ten folds faster than the speed of light, over the vast American Midwest on East, and across the big Pond and in my mind’s eyes I began to see the big rock and the Atlas range, I can even see the shores of Jerba, and farther up, the capillaries and the Island of Malta…and, south I could see and smell the crisp cool desert wind spinning between the tall eucalyptus trees racing to meet up with the ocean’s gentle wind over my beloved Tripoli, forming an invisible umbrella as a shield from the heat of the sun is yet to come…oh.. How much I long for the place I love the most.
It was a lovely day in my city, spring day, blue Tripoli sky; it was the same crisp sky, just as I always remember it.
Walking the long stretch from home to caffe Sahuki on the corner of “Jadat Omar Al Muktar,” only a few steps away from the old Al Muetamar Party building, I wasn’t alone.. , my two faithful companions are tucked close and deer to my heart, my pack of “Assafeer” Cigarettes, and my book. I remember buying it from Sharf Eddeen Bookstore at the end of Shuugh Atturuk. Yes, Majeed was at the Bookstore that day, he was always very kind to me, afterward, I took a walk across the “ Arbah Arshsaat,” the four Pillars then up to the highest point in the City of Tripoli, “ Bab AlBahr” I often found peace and solace, just standing a top, inhaling the fresh breeze, and marveling at the majestic Mediterranean Sea so faithfully caressing the Tripoli shores.
My book, was a new copy of the latest work by “Al Akkad “The” Diaries” I enjoy reading his works, although, I find him to be very “Muakkad”, however, he remains my very favorite, because of his un-relenting drive from his early years for freedom of choice freedom of expression, and for his call for the Arab Women’s rights and equality, and I always wanted to be a fly on the wall to see and hear him in his “Deewan” , debating other intellectuals and enriching the lives of his companions.
I settled my tired body.. on a wooden chair at the far side of the outdoors, the pure light grey Italian marbled columns adorns both sides of the Boulevard from Maydan Ashuhadaa all the way to Caffe’ Le Eliuss. On the west end, my Brother use to play Bilyardo in that hangout. It is very evident that the Italians took all the necessary care and deliberation when they began the reconstruction and rebuilding of the City, after the occupation.. just look at the tall Marble covered Columns, and wide Arches, the sidewalks and then the inner walks for the store fronts and the outdoor Caffe seating, look at the land marks , the main circle and the fountain at the center, the Mira mare opera House , the Grand Hotel , and the Cathedral, and the main post office building, then up the hill to the now, Kink’s Palace , and all the beautiful gardens and parks, the Corneesh extending from the Saraya Castle all the way to Gazala fountain and beyond . Perhaps, that is why they named Tripoli “La Perla Del Mediterranio “ or, like any other land grabbing oppressor,. They may have thought, they want to keep it for ever...
I sat in motionless wander, as the clean marbles reflected the daily hustle, and the hustlers as well, on the opposite side of the street, the Mesherghi building, and another Caffe, not so far a distance, I can see the coming and going of the Country travelers hitching rides, a taxi packed with men, how uncomfortable they seem in that can of Sardine. I thought to myself, others waiting for the Buss lines to depart, some are just come into the big City, as the big Busses enter the main dirt covered lot , out escapes the dry dust from beneath the tracks, and as you wipe you face and forehead, a somewhat light mixture of brown layer of powdery dust and sweat will darken your clean white handkerchief, a Mule, or maybe a big Donkey, pulling a flat bed “Sharyul” full of someone’s earthly belongings, to a yet another rental, or to one of the new “Shaks” on the outskirts of Tripoli just before you get to Giorgin Popoli, and within stone’s throw from the new Villa City for the expatriates. The strain was vividly clear on that not so fortunate animal, and it served as poignant metaphor, as to what Tripoli is beginning to experience as well.
With the Oil explosion, came the migration of the county folks abandoning behind the Camel, the Mule and the crops in the fields, in a frantic chase of the easy money from any job that can be had, especially “House Boys” and yes, along with that came the amazingly fast construction of “Sheet Metal City.”
Over there, a man walking in front clad in a very fine spanking new “Jard “strutting as a proud peacock, his deep red Takhiya accented with a white “Mahrgka” covering his clean shaved head, he was primping the Jard, with one hand and fixing his Takhiya with the other, as if he was signaling to the other peacocks up the street to clear the path. A Lady in tow . The wife or at least, I presume she was, is lagging few steps behind in a futile rush to keep up the pace with her man. Modestly dressed, she was, I can tell from the aging of her not so crisp full cover, “Farrashiya” and her “Tellak” tells a story of few laps around the city perimeter. She seems to be a little bit younger, I thought .. but, judging from the way she walked, she could be a” big bit” younger than the old fox.
Up on the opposite side of the street, two flights above the Mesherghi Radio store, a Lady of a chubby physique resting her arms on the balcony ledge, the man next to her was somewhat of a slender posture, he too appeared to be motionless as I was, or perhaps, he was counting the ever increasing mixture of motor vehicles, Donkey Carts, Vespas, Bicycles, Men and Women all in a mad rush wandering aimlessly every which way.
That balcony was directly facing the balcony of Al Muetamar party, I, very keenly remember the masses of supporters, and that amazingly large contingency of “Fursan “ from every City, every Town and every Tribe of the Tripolitania Region near and far filled every foot of this Boulevard from Banco De Roma all the way to the old Train station, all in a joyful and festive anticipation of the homecoming of the leader “ Basheir Assahdawi”. I believe the time was either the end of March or, early April 1951.
I was young back then, but I was there, inside that building squeezing my short body between those towering men until I was with in reach of the balcony doors. A man grabbed me from the side and began to push his way into the balcony, he was not hearting me…he was actually making way for me to get in one corner so that I can stretch my neck and see, then he looked down, his head was directly above my face and
Began to shout words to me, as if he was chiseling each letter into my forehead, he said “from this point you will witness your future” then, he raised his hands and exclaimed Allahu Akbar. I heard some men say that “Arrakb” is now on the outskirts of Ghergaresh…the excitement began to reach a much higher level… Some were chanting…Allahu Akbar …Allahu Akbar. Others were singing…Alayki minni Assalam.. Ya Arda Ajdadi.. Fa fiki Taba Almakham.. Wa Tala Inshadi, ..Look..Look those balconies up there are filled with Women.. Listen to those Zaghareet … non stop… what a day to remember and what a way for a young lad to begin his life’s journey.
Hands began to stretch pointing to the slow but steady arrival of the caravan.. Another massive cavalry of Fursan surrounding the Cars that were bringing the Leader and his companions, very close behind huge fleet of Busses filled with those who were fortunate to hitch a free ride to be among the first to welcome Al Bashier.
After a short struggle some men were lead to the front of the balcony, and the chants mixed with the cries for “Azzaheem “ to appear has reached it’s heights, I knew that the British Government was not happy with the show of affection for this man, my Father hinted to that point. And I wandered, if our neighbors across the big pond in Malta and in Tunis, may have heard our loud welcoming chants. The other men went to a waiting room. And then, came that beautiful sound …and what a marvelous sound that was .. a young blond Lad, about my age, stood ahead of every one ..and the chants and cries slowly began to subside …every one stood silent and the Boy began to read some wonderful verses from the Koran, his first name escaped me, but his last name was Houriyh , later he and I became friends and a third one was our friend as well, Mustafa ElYazzji, all three of us use to “Rattill “ Al Quran in School. I think Houriyah was my inspiration…
After that Boy ended… the masses erupted with more thunderous cheers … and more cheers…another man very thinly built with a “ Tarbush “ covering his head took the center in front of the microphone ... as if they knew him.. in fact they did .. why that is Ali Mustafa Almusrati…He too later became my idol, and a dear Friend. I worked on his election campaign for Parliament, and assisted him with his sales and distribution of his Book “Mersal” in 1962. So, he began thundering those words.. that unforgettable call to all to answer.. motherland is calling “ LABBYKA WATANI .. LABBYK…The massive sea of humanity lost it…hands reaching upward… men young and old began to cry… joyful tears, and once again…LABBYKA WATANI… LABBYK he cried. And they began to echo that cry all in unison, well rehearsed LABBYKA WATANI…LABBYK, the euphoria has reached the tip of its climactic level.
Al Musrati was, magnificent, masterful of the art of oratory, free style public speaking and has the gift of rendering the human body, and soul in a tingling sensation with his penetrating words, Almusrati continued his fiery speech, with full intensity to arouse the faithful and to induce the yet, unsure, to a peaceful surrender to what history is about to engrave, but, from my vantage point, all I could see is that sea of proud Libyans shoulder to shoulder in anticipation for Azzaheem to appear and take the center stage…and to talk about the final days of our struggle for a united / undivided democracy.. by that point this young lad was exhausted, overwhelmed , and desperately gasping for a breath air.
I was a witness to history making, and I had a front view …and yes it’s still engraved in my mind.
That balcony, and those two persons are part of my childhood, ..Clima, and her Brother Climo, they were among the many Libyans, of Jewish persuasion, born and raised, just like all of us, they deeply loved Tripoli. My family knew them very well; in fact, later, I learned that my Grandmother, my Mother and my Sisters were among those women on those balconies with those loud Zaghareet welcoming Basheer Assahdawi.
My favorite was the third sibling, Aires, for she was well spoken very enlightened and very engaging, even with us children, her beaming smile will brighten the cloudiest day..if ever there was such a day in Tripoli. One day, my Grandmother, told me that Aires can speak in five “Tongs “, I said with glairing eyes, what is that…! She said, Arabic, Hebrew, Italian, French, and English, I was in awe, how can anyone speak that many.
All three never had any children of their own…and, perhaps that is why they loved the sight of children, or, very possibly, they found children to be harmless, you see, children, like you for who you are…not for what you are, children don’t go to wars, they don’t kill
and children don’t differentiate who is a Jew, or Maltese, or Italian, or Sudanese, or Greek. Our community, was the hub for multi cultural setting.. it was a small melting Pot… if you get my drift.
I often wandered, and once asked my Father, why didn’t they leave Tripoli for Palestine just like Misa and Gebri.. They left us in the dead of night,…mother said, they were very scared for their lives… things were turning very ugly in our lovely city in those days. Besides…Climo took his Sisters to the Island of Create, then they came back to the city.
Misa was just like second mother to my siblings and me, she was always in our home, my Mother use to say jokingly, that I belong to Misa, because she took part in breast feeding me, and because I was very cunning, and a big snoop, of course, I didn’t know if that was a compliment or not. Frankly, the snoop part seems to have served me rather well in my years in the Press Service, I want to know …and I dig deep to find what I want to know .. and because of my work I gained the trust and acceptance of many in the State and Federal, and I was able to get to the news ahead of many.
As for Gebri, he was craftsman, he makes the best and most solid Shoes, real leather from Sudan, don’t you see… and he was a good repairman as well. In Spring and Summer he can whip up the best Gelatti, oh man, you can hear that singing voice of his form far away, all over Shara Belkhair, and then he parks his sleek, home built Jelatti cart very close to the water fountain in Genan Annuwar, so that us children can wash our hands and Gelatti covered faces before we go home. That was his un-written rule.
Gebri took a great joy when making his Gelatti, why.. he made the very best .. in fact much better than any Italian Gelattaio in Tripoli, hands down. And he seems to take a bigger joy when he sees our faces covered with sticky Ice cream on a hot summer Tripoli day. I still hear the sound of Gelatti…Gelatti,… Petssi Duri.. Gelatti…Gelatti
Mahmud Sahuki, knew what I came for, and with his wide smile stood, hand extended with that cup of caffe…the real thing, not like the caffe they serve in some far away places…before I began to thank him, he offered to prepare a fresh “Reghila” for me, and as always, I declined his offer, you see, he does not like Cigarettes at all.. He
was a smart business man, took over the operation from his Father, but he and his Brother were very dedicated, great sense of humor…and, always up to date on what is happening in our city…the place is always packed with “Zabayen” inside and out, Mahmud, just like my dear friend and Barber Ziglam they were always good sources of news.
I lifted the cup for a quick sip…but realized that my lips were passionately romancing a Cigarette, and so I took a quick deep inhale… then an exhale, and another, and, I am loving it… the Cigarette in between my lips seems to be quivering..Or perhaps in a joyful dance as the gray smoke rose above my head, as if it is telling me… I know you love to hold me between your lips… and I am loving it too, You are all mine .. Even when I fill your lungs with my black tar…I am a killer, and you still want more of me. And so, I , as the slave of my own vises, very quietly took a deep.. very deep inhale of my poison…and yet another, and then let it all out… a mosaic of curling grey smoke began to escape out from between my lips, .. still gripping that slender poisoning lover of mine, all wrapped in its seductive white veil.
Out of no where an inner voice began to whisper..Are you going mad.. Look at you…
I did look at me…and I found myself subconsciously reaching for yet another Safeer to relight from the one that is still huddled between my lips. Good God…See what I have done… my caffe is cold by now.. and the beautiful April Sun began it’s slow but certain westward journey, as for me,..I am back in the Midwest, filled with endless wanders about my childhood, my youth, my parenthood, and full of hope for what the future may hold, for me, my friends and loved ones, and for my Tripoli.