My Grandmother’s Stories

"Fadwa Bin Amer"

My maternal grandmother, Khadija Zadeh–may God have mercy on her–traced her origins back to the island of Crete. Her father had migrated to Libya in the early 1900s, following the escalation of sectarian violence against the Muslims of Crete. 

Like the majority of migrants from Crete, my grandmother was fluent in Greek in addition to Arabic, and she was influenced by both Cretan and Libyan customs and traditions. She belonged to a generation of Cretan migrants who combined both cultures to form a third strand altogether, and as a result, enriched the Libyan social fabric.

My grandmother had scores of great stories, always marked by luxury and splendor, and replete with meaning and symbolism. There was one story about a beautiful Cretan friend of hers: "The sockets of her eyes are blue, her cheeks are moonlight, as for the sun, it shines with her smile," she would say. New to Libya, the friend spoke broken Arabic. She married a Libyan man ("a carpenter," my grandmother said mockingly) who banned her from going out–no visits, no appointments, no, no, no. “You are the queen of the house,” he would say, while in reality, she was a queen under someone else’s reign. But her situation was far from unusual for her generation. 

 

One day, while her jealous husband was out, the beautiful friend looked outside the second floor window and saw a group of young men repairing a car. She stood there watching them without realizing that they were also watching her. Suddenly, their testosterone took over, and they began to sing and dance boisterously. Despite understanding very little of what they were saying, the young Cretan woman was thrilled–and who can ignore the rhythms of our beautiful local music and the vigorous traditional dancing? While enjoying the show, which she thought she was getting for free, she heard her husband's hoarse calls. Terrified of his reaction, she wanted to rush to him before he could catch her by the window. However, her head got stuck between the window's iron bars. 

A little later, her husband walked into the room, only to find her laying in bed, worn out and pale, a scarf tied around her head. Worried sick, according to my grandmother, he asked what was wrong. Disarming him with her beautiful eyes, she said: "I have a terrible headache. I can’t even stand up." So he did everything he could to take care of her; for she was his wife and the love of his life. He rushed out to buy medicine, and forbade her from leaving bed until she felt better. 

Basically, what happened was that when she couldn't pull her head out from between the iron bars, she had to force it loose, which bruised her forehead. To hide the bruises, she had to resort to women's oldest tricks; she quickly wrapped her head in a scarf and flung herself into the arms of her bed, pretending to be sick. That's how she escaped what would have been a dire fate.

Born in Benghazi, she obtained a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Mathematics and taught at universities in Britain and Bahrain. She has a column titled “Rukn Al-Amiriya” and hosts the program “Ma’a Fadwa” on Al-Wasat channel, where she conducts interviews with Libyan and Arab intellectuals and writers.

Fadwa Bin Amer
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