The Square

"Farah Abushwesha"

Our parents in the 70s, in the Square - full of hopeful, youthful, waking, living dreams. They met in Dublin. Theirs was a love match. Our uncle commented upon seeing this photo recently - ‘those were our favourite of days, we all watched their happiness’.

I imagine our father quoting Rumi to her moments before - ‘everything that is made beautiful, fair and lovely is made for the eye of one who sees.’

Our mother is young, beautiful, creative, slightly camera shy, stylish, and clever. Her artist hands are held yet they itch to create, draw, express experiences of this exciting life. Her long hair, the envy and wonder of many - was often touched by curious strangers on the Tripoli streets. Sometimes she’d tie it up with a pen or wash it in the kitchen sink to the bemusement of her Libyan in-laws.

Our father’s funny, brilliant poise never faded. That confident charm, oozing as he leans on his for-effect walking stick. Many photos are of him posing in this Square, palm trees frozen still in the background. His hands are always furnished with a cigarette - a cigarette that will cost him his voice and eventually his life. He had three voices, he said - his own, a pen and a paintbrush.

From the Square, our father and I would catch a people-taxi to his mother’s place in Azziziha. On the way, he would talk animatedly with the driver and other passengers about politics, literature or lions.

Our mother learned to drive around the Square. Later, she’d furiously abandon our father, in this same car, in this same spot, when he became the bossy passenger seat driver instructing her to “turn Orla turn, go this way, no no that way Orla, look Orla look”. Fed up, she stopped the car, opened her door and left him stranded in the middle of the road, unable to drive away.

We would pass through this Square to get to the family farm. There, our big extended, noisy Libyan family would be sitting on the cushioned floors. Generations eating, gossiping, combing hair, applying henna tattoos whilst drinking Shahee - men in one area, women in the other.

Our mother and I passed through the Square on the way back from purchasing art supplies for her to draw a giant mural of The Three Little Pigs and the Wicked Wolf on my bedroom wall.

This is where our parents arrived one morning to see for themselves if the rumours were true that the Square had been painted green overnight.

Everything about Libya is noisy, BUT the Square is so distinct in its noise - beeping, shouting, traffic, birds, the souq. A cacophony against a bouquet of coffee, heat, gasoline, dust mixed with spices of Libyan food emanating from restaurants. In the near distance the waterfront and Mediterranean.

It’s the last place I visited in Libya with our father in 2011. I stood and inhaled its hot, smoky, dense air and closed my eyes to see this image of our parents and the shadow of their youth. This photo is the symbolic essence of why my sister and I came to be.

To understand Libyan history is to know this Square.

Now named Martyrs' Square (Maydān ash-Shuhadā) following the uprising; under the regime Green Square (as-Sāḥah al-Khaḍrā'); Independence Square (Maydān al-Istiqlāl) during the monarchy; Italy Square (Piazza Italia) during colonial rule. You can change the name but you can’t take Libya out of the Square.

Today, my sister and I wonder if we'll ever follow in our parent’s footsteps - echoing the past - now that our father no longer walks amongst us.

As I look at this picture and ponder, I hear the faint whisper of his pre-cancer voice, rising above the heavy din of the Square and beyond the palm trees quoting to me his beloved Rumi - ‘goodbyes are only for those who love with their eyes. For those who love with heart and soul there is no such thing as separation.’

A film producer and writer, she resides in Ireland. She has received the Vision Award from the British Film Institute and her works have been nominated for BAFTA awards. Her portfolio includes films showcased on Amazon and Netflix.

Farah Abushwesha
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