The Way We Were

"Farida Al-Mahdi Al-Hajaji"

Time: School year, 1970-1971
Place: Tripoli Sports City 

Event: School Sports Day 

Photography: Ahmed Ismail and Hussein Al-Masri


We were seniors, and school activities were at their peak. We trained for about a month and a half, twice a week, in the courtyard of the Tripoli Secondary School for Girls, in preparation for the multi-school sports day, which Sports City was hosting for the first time. Also participating in the festival were girls from the Jamila Al-Izmirli Institute, boys from a few secondary schools, and students under military training. 

Physical education teachers from the participating schools collaborated flawlessly to train us for the planned performances; when we came together with the rest of the students at the festival, we were all in perfect harmony, as if we had practiced together all along! 

The day before the festival, the school administration summoned me to say that I had been chosen, along with one other student, to carry the national flag during the festival with a few other students selected by their respective schools. I was thrilled; for me, the flag is the strongest, most important, national symbol. 


On sports day, we arrived at school in uniforms, which consisted of a dark gray skirt, a gilet, and a white shirt. Then they gave out the outfits made especially for the day, which appear in these photographs. After we changed, buses waiting outside the school gates transported us to Sports City, which was being inaugurated on that same day.

Under the guidance of our teachers, we swiftly took out places on the field. My schoolmate and I separated from the rest of the students, and as far as I remember, four other students from the Ali Uraith Secondary School joined us. A few officials from the Ministry of Education approached us and handed us the carefully folded flag of the republic in what was a very stately scene. With reverence and respect, we unfolded the flag and carried it on our shoulders, leading the athletes through the opening ceremony, to the resounding tunes of the official band. When we reached the flagpole, we entrusted the flag to the elevated mast. 


I still remember the details of this emotional moment to this day!

The artistic performances came next, accompanied by the music. My schoolmate and I joined our team, and the show was wonderful in every sense of the word. After the festival, we took the same buses to return to school, happiness and joy written all over our faces. We changed out of our clothes and went back to the classrooms–for just two more periods. 

I thank God that I have held onto the festival's photographs, despite living in more than one country over the past 40 years. Perhaps these pictures are witnesses to a page from Libya's history, and a beautiful memory of a day from our youth, spent in Sports City with other high school students. That day, not one girl was subjected to any form of assault or harassment, whether from the audience or from any of the other students, who were all being polite and respectful. 


Today I wonder: if this is the way we were, and the way Libya was, what has changed after so many years? And why have we changed so much?

Born in Tripoli, she is a businesswoman and a guest lecturer at Italian universities, active in humanitarian and volunteer work. She authored the book “Tayeh Saadak wa Akhawatiha,” which is a journey through the vocabulary of the Libyan dialect.

Farida Al-Mahdi Al-Hajaji
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