A Radio in Our House

"Atiya Saleh Al-Awjali"

When we were young, mostly everything around us expanded with time. Neighborhoods, bodies, buildings and vehicles were all gaining height, width, and weight, with the exception of one vital device that was constantly growing smaller; the radio. 

The first radio to enter our homes was carried with joy, pride and reverence into the haj's living room, who was its sole user, giving out clear instructions on who had the right to touch his magical device. It was a Phillips radio; one of the most famous brands, and a testament to quality and fine decision making. Despite its large size, it only gave us Libyan broadcast channels. 

Radio’s most significant impact was forming the public’s cultural and aesthetic taste. It introduced us to figures from across Libya, and to the country’s history, culture and geography. Many novelists, writers, and university professors presented cultural programs on the radio. I remember following two programs in particular: one by Dr. Ali Fahmi Khashim, and one by Dr. El-Hadi Boulqeima. Mrs. Khadija Al-Jahmi also secured a sizable space within the broadcast map and in the hearts of listeners. Radio production expanded and diversified with time, allowing the voices of many young poets, composers, musicians and hosts to reach their audiences. The Libyan broadcast system was also an international space; it introduced us to artistic innovations from Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, and even Saudi Arabia, which at that time had little artistic production. 

Perhaps another key impact of the radio was the entertainment it offered; it filled our lives with music. The radio was our companion in the early morning, as our mother got us ready for school, chasing us with a hairbrush or stuffing a sandwich into our backpacks, in spite of our objections. The radio brought us the beloved voice of Fairouz, singing "Jayebli Salam." And Oum Kulthoum sang "Good morning to those who are with us." To this day, I don't understand the relationship between the eve of the wheat harvest and the Libyan radio, but we still heard Abdel Wahab's voice crooning: "The wheat, tonight is its feast. O God, bless it and make it plenty."

 

On our way to school, my brother and I relished in the smells of hot sahlab mixed with the songs leaking from the coffee shop radios, where singers called for the pouring of coffee, the adding of more cardamom, and the riding of horses. As we walked along, turning at Al-Baaja Street to head towards Torelli School, a fair amount of morning songs echoed in our heads–like a soundtrack to our dreams of finding the school doors locked, so we could return to our homes, ecstatic, chanting at the top of our lungs: "We only came here out of necessity–we want seven days of holiday." 

Many years went by before we received radios with pick up devices–this time a German brand (Grundig). It was placed in the men's living room, which was now called a salon instead of the original term, "marboua." I still remember that joyous day, when our father, may God have mercy on him, played a recording by the late Quran reciter Mahmoud Al-Hosary, to our astonishment, joy, and admiration. Gradually, we started listening to songs, which were of course Egyptian. We waited a fair amount before we proudly listened to the first Libyan album by the late Muhammad Sedqi.

Born in Benghazi, he is a writer, researcher, translator, and Minister of Culture in the Transitional Council. He writes analytical articles in websites and newspapers interested in Libyan affairs. He has published two collections of short stories: “Eyes of Pride”, 2007, and “The Night of Mysterious Calls”, 2008.

Atiya Saleh Al-Awjali
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