A Photo and A Memory

"Fathi Nassib"

I took this photograph at the ancient Sabratha Theater in 1972, during a two-week school trip organized for 80 outstanding middle school and high school students from across the eastern region’s schools. At the time, I went to the Al-Ahrar Preparatory School in Benghazi. 

During the monarchy, Libyan leaders were keen on organizing student trips to various cities, and the Boy Scouts movement organized festivals across the country, with the goal of promoting Libya’s various corners and reinforcing the spirit of patriotism. 

We gathered in front of the Al-Hurriya School for Girls. Under the general supervision of the late Suleiman Al-Darrat, and Mrs. Oreida as the girls' supervisor, we traveled by land to the western region. It was my first visit to western Libya, which I believe was the case for most of the other students. 

The boys stayed at the Haiti Institute, located off of Algiers Square, while the girls lodged elsewhere–but we mixed on the tour itself. 

Among the landmarks we visited was the textiles factory in Janzour. We also toured the Kedah factories, which made notebooks, soap, sweets and bread. I remember that the owner, Muftah Kedah, had gifted each of us a bag of merchandise. 

It was my first visit to the ruins of Leptis and Sabratha. I took this group picture at Sabratha's three-story Roman amphitheater, which was probably built during the reign of Emperor Commodus, who ruled until his death in 192 AD. 

The trip was bewildering and unforgettable; it was my first time in the capital. I was enamored by the orderly roads, the vastness and cleanliness of its streets, and the harmony between its gardens and architecture. I fell in love with the city center, where I saw mansions overlooking the Mediterranean, and with Martyrs’ Square, from which several streets branch out, mimicking the rays of the sun. 

At the time, Tripoli was the crown jewel of the Mediterranean, rivaled only by Alexandria and Beirut in beauty, heritage and modernity; it resembled the finest cities in Europe, while retaining the East's language, habits, and fashion. 

My friends and I spent our free time eating at Dimitri's Pizza on Haiti Street, or at one of the many coffee shops, which served Arabic, Turkish and Western coffee, rose tea, ice cream and juice. We sat across from the mansions and the sea, listening to the music of Mohamed Sidqi, Abdel Latif Haweil, and Salam Qadri on the cafes' radios and record players. 

 

I discovered Souq Al-Mushir, and Souq Al-Qazdara (the goldsmith's market), and the textile shops that resembled those I saw in Souq Al-Zalam and Al-Gereed in Benghazi. 

One of my favorite beautiful memories is how well the locals treated us when they heard our eastern accents. 

The evenings of Tripoli seemed like a beautiful, distant dream. Women and girls walked safely on the street, and if anyone dared to harass them, there would always be someone there to immediately tell them off. The cars stuck to the speed limit, and vendors sold jasmine on the street. Everyone was in a state of peace. 

I formed many lasting friendships on the trip; I met a few of them again, and exchanged letters with some of the others. I also held onto handwritten notes from the other students, including the Scouts leader, Suleiman Al-Darrat (who appears in the top left of the photo). Suleiman left our world soon after this photo was taken, at the age of 35, when he valiantly helped to put out a fire that had broken out on Igzir Street. After he saved the family, he went back in to look for one more child, which is when he lost his life, setting an example of sacrifice and altruism.

Born in Benghazi, he is a short story writer and author. He has edited several Libyan newspapers and magazines, and has also produced literary programs for Libyan radio. He has published several collections of short stories, including “Al-Mad” and “Mirrors of Mirage,” as well as intellectual and literary articles titled “Approaches in Thought and Literature.”

Fathi Nassib
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