Friday, 20 January 2012

Libya 2012: Of Green trainers and curly hair

I have raised eye-brows in Tripoli sooner than I thought. Since my arrival, it was the tiny details that appeared to matter most for Libyans. The first incident involved my trainers with their lime green stripes. Our taxi driver pointed at them in a “the-fuck-is-this?” manner. My poker face pleaded not guilty, and I insisted that it was fluorescent yellow, not lime green.

During my first dinner at a Turkish restaurant in Zawiyat al-Dahmani, where my hotel is located, another Libyan man wondered about what on earth made me wear a dark green jumper. This time, I swallowed my tongue. I realized the extent of intolerance to anything that could evoke Gaddafi, including his favourite colour.

Luckily, no one has so far made any comment on my curly hair, or Chafchoufa in Libyan dialect – the word of 2011 that Libyans used to mock Gaddafi’s hairstyle. I anticipated that by quickly having a haircut the following day.

Regardless of my lack of tact, Gaddafi and his legacy do still have a place in the hearts and minds of Libyans and is likely to do so for a while.

I went with Mohamed Madi to his grandma’s house in Gorje, an underdeveloped housing neighbourhood west of old Tripoli. The warm welcome quickly faded into a debate between the grandma and Mohamed’s friend (who drove us there).

The young man was complaining about the decisions by his university to suspend early results of examinations. To him, this was as fair and unjust as another decision to ban all cars manufactured before 1987 (which includes that wheeled box that he drove).

Gaddafi quickly came back to the discussion. After all, under his rule, universities became scenes for occasional mock trials and executions of opposition Libyan dissidents.

The grandma, who actually didn’t look that old, overflowed with emotions about Muammar. She admitted that his killing was inhumane. But she went on to say that he reaped what he sowed. She also said that his son Saif al-Islam, who is now held by the rebels, should face a similar fate.

The strong emotion about the late colonel is one thing, but I must say that the admiration of some of his acts - e.g. his alleged humiliation of Tony Blair and Silvio Berlusconi - seem to still provoke the admiration of few Libyans that I talked to.

A young Libyan man bragged about Gaddafi’s famous jet-lag remarks at the UN General Assembly (when he tore the UN charter). Another, with whom I smoked Shisha at Algeria square, told me that had Gaddafi been the president of Egypt, he would have done better to help the Palestinians. Certainly, Libyans hated the colonel and his sons for the squandering of Libya’s finances and despotic rule. But this is not the case when it comes to Gaddafi’s quirky behaviour i.e Libya’s foreign policy.

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