Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A: Where you from? B: Thuwar Canada...?

We haven't had water for the past couple of days here in Tripoli. We're staying in an apartment building so we managed to have 2 extra days of water compared to the rest of the city - but it officially ran out a few days ago. I can't imagine how people were surviving during the fighting when both electricity and water was cut off for days on end - and in some regions, weeks, if not months. We've gone old school - people are filling up water buckets from water trucks that are going around to neighbourhoods. Despite that, Libyans seem to just be rolling with the punches and moving on like nothing is wrong. The streets are busy, people are still hosting dinners, weddings are still going ahead, etc etc.

The past few days haven't been overly eventful, so I will resort to writing about the mundane. I went to a fair a couple of days ago - it was pretty neat. There were various booths selling arts and crafts, revolution paraphernalia, food, desserts, magazines, etc. There were also booths advertising NGO's. They even had an outdoor stage and a rock concert. I had never seen anything like this in Libya. The Libyans are truly relishing in their newfound freedom. What really stood out to me at this fair was the artistic displays of talent. My uncle is a filmmaker so I knew there was an arts scene in Tripoli before the revolution - but it was never really allowed to fully flourish. I think we'll start seeing more Libyan talent emerging after this revolution.

At the same time, it was really disconcerting to see how many young people were walking around with guns at this fair. I am pretty sure some of them were not older than 14 or 15. Many of them are not holding their guns pointing downwards. Heck, I am not sure why they're even bringing their guns to a family fair. At one point I was standing and taking a picture of the concert, and I looked down and saw a rifle pointed straight up at me. The guy next to me just had his rifle casually leaning on the ground in front of him. What is worse is that if a fight breaks out between these hotheaded young guys, who are now armed, there's a real potential for someone to get killed. And from what I hear, it is indeed the case.

Every night I hear shooting. It's not celebratory gunfire these days - a few nights ago there were isolated gun fights across the city. I really hope they start disarming regular civilians. My brother got into a scuffle with a guy a few nights ago. He was armed and was pro-gidafi. Thankfully, nothing happened to my brother, but a shootout happened the next day between revolutionary fighters and these same guys; one pro-G person died.

Two days ago I went out for lunch with a friend. There are still food shortages in Tripoli. Many restaurants have not opened due to both the high cost of food and the shortage of workers. Libya is highly dependent on a foreign workforce, which at the moment is non-existent. Many businesses are still shuttered closed. So all I could order for lunch was a croque monsieur or an egg sandwich on a whole wheat hot dog bun with a yellow cheese slice. The restaurant we had initially planned to go to was closed due to a shortage of workers. On the bright side though, many young Libyan men who initially viewed many of these jobs as 'below' them, are now working.

Although in comparison to Misrata, Zawiya, and other cities in Libya that have seen heavy fighting, Tripoli is relatively unscathed, the remnants of the war are still rather visible. Many buildings are shot up, I saw a lot of bombed out military barracks, and there's still burnt out cars and remnants of barricades set up by civilians to protect their neighbourhoods.They're already starting to take down the walls of Bab Al Aziziya. Rumour has it that they want to destroy the whole thing. I think no one should be rushing to destroy anything just yet. It seems that no one is really in control here; people are just doing what they want to do.

They say that harassment has reduced since the revolution. I say it's still very much the same. You can't really walk down a street without someone saying something. Luckily, I am skilled at tuning them out (developed through years of studying in a home with 3 rowdy boys). But there are some you just can't ignore. I have been trying to grab some shots of revolutionary graffiti art. I saw one that I liked but couldn't get a good shot from the car. So I got out to take a picture. As I positioned my camera, one guy stopped his car in the middle of the road,  right in front of the graffiti art and started smacking his lips super loudly making kissy faces at me: Muaaaaaahhh muah muaaaah muaaaaah (this continued for a good 20 seconds or so). You just can't stone-face ignore that. I shook my head and laughed. I wish I took the picture anyways and caught the ridiculousness.

Other than that, I am just getting fat off Libyan food. We visit on average two relatives homes per day. I've started bailing on a few because I just can't keep eating. Last time I visited Libya I put on some 12-13 pounds. For most women, there isn't much of a life out of the home here (so you don't have much of a chance to work anything off). It's still very much a man's world. 

Even before Gidafi's demise, Libya was moving towards a very superficial Islam focused on appearances. Women who never wore hejab (and still don't want to wear it) feel socially pressured to wear it otherwise they are viewed negatively. Some women resist and continue not to wear it, but the pressure is pervasive and their reputations suffer. I have most definitely been told to wear hejab on more than one occasion by my own family members - the younger generation mostly. The men feel embarrassed in front of other men that 'their' women are 'uncovered'. That's pretty much what it stems from for most Libyan men - pride and ego (I am pretty sure saving me from hellfire is an afterthought - if even that).

My first visit to a conservative neighbourhood, I obliged. But then I decided that if Libya was truly going to be free, women should be respected whether or not they wore hejab. As recently as 1994, the majority of women in Libya did not wear it and they were still treated respectfully. I stopped wearing it to even the most conservative homes and neighbourhoods. No one has said anything so far, but I'm definitely getting disapproving looks and more harassment than my hejabed peers.

I worry about this revolution. The 'old regime' is still very much ingrained in the mindsets. The first little while after Tripoli was freed, many young people took to the streets to clean, paint, and fix up their neighbourhoods. Recently that has started to stop, and the old mentality is re-emerging. My aunt was telling me that the young people in her neighbourhood stopped sweeping after other young people started making fun of them and calling them janitors.

There's also lots of "where are you from/I'm a proud XYZ". The people of Misrata and Zintan are starting to get a bad rap here in Tripoli for what everyone is perceiving as overly emphasizing their victories and acting like no one else fought for freedom.  I have heard discontented voices both from Benghazi and Tripoli with regard to this issue. People are putting stickers on their car identifying themselves as "Thuwar [revolutionaries] of X region". There have also been allegations of looting by freedom fighters, and a religious decree was issued asking the revolutionary fighters to stop. There's also increased harassment to those from regions whose majorities did not come out against Gidafi such as Tarhuna, Ejmayl, etc. I hope this isn't the start of the fragmentation of Libyan society into regionalism.

Anyhow, that's enough rambling for tonight. (:

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