The Guardian of the Valley

"Fatma Elgargani"

June 30, 2020. Eastern Libya, specifically: Wadi Derna, or Wadi Al-Shallal, or as the locals call it, Wadi Al-Shawaer, after the tribe that has lived in the valley for years. 

It was a beautiful summer afternoon when I decided to go to Wadi Derna. Walking between palm trees and oleander roses, I stumbled on a 12-year-old boy named Abdel-Rahman, seated in a way that was strikingly inconsistent with his age: barefoot, facing the oleander and bamboo trees, his feet dipped in the waters of the valley, his mind clearly miles away. 

When he saw me, he smiled and greeted me courteously. “What's your name?” I asked him. He told me that he lived in the valley, and offered to show me around. The deep valley extends from the south of the Quba district, southwest of Derna, and concludes in the heart of the city, flowing right into the mouth of the sea. It contains abundant ground and surface water sources, the most prominent of which are the Sidi Boumansour spring, the famous Derna waterfall, and many others. 

Abdel-Rahamn was kind and friendly, and well-aware of the value of the life he lived. The valley boasts many fruits and crops, including pomegranates, apricots, pumpkins, and grape vines. I always love visiting places with a distinctive human character, and as captured in the photographs I took, people's lives are my main focus: their happiness, sorrow, separation, etc. Documenting these experiences gives me a sense of both personal and professional fulfillment. 

I believe that shedding light on people's lives is an essential task for any photographer. Many followers of my work believe that I prefer color and nature, but the truth is quite the contrary. I adore photographing people's lives, but the conditions in Libya make this type of work challenging. 

My journey with Abdel-Ragman was delightful; when he saw the camera in my hands, he smiled and said: “I will show you something that people can't see from here. Take your shoes off and come with me.” I took my shoes off, cuffed my trousers, and we walked deep into the valley, the freshwater caressing my feet and urging me forward. I saw everything through the eyes of the Guardian of the Valley–the name I decided to give Abdel-Rahman. 

He spoke with an affection that astounded me. Every time he gave me a rose, he was clearly overcome with pride. It was as if he meant to say: “Everything we have here is beautiful,” especially when he found out I was living abroad. He told me about how proud he is of his aunt, who takes clippings from the valley to plant in her house, where she has a beautiful garden. He asked me if I wanted to go visit her, and I promised him I would, on my next visit.

When I was about to leave, Abdel-Rahman asked me: “Are you coming back?” I said: “Just you wait for me.”

My wish is for Abdel-Rahman and everyone else who works to safeguard nature and beauty to have a beautiful future, free of anxiety.

Born in Derna, she holds a Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy from the University of Tripoli. She is passionate about photography and has participated in several international competitions and held exhibitions in Switzerland and Germany.

Fatma Elgargani
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