The Teacher and the Musician

"Nesrine El-Alem"

When a Libyan woman, convinced that a woman's dignity lies in her independence and equality–at a time when society had many reservations over women’s roles–marries a man who faces every challenge with a smile–that had became his most memorable feature–and entrusts his dreams to his violin strings, they will undoubtedly raise a family where every child is unique, each in their own way. We have inherited this balance between mind and spirit; one of our parents had the mind of a mad artist, and the ability to chase his dreams at any cost, and the other studied–and taught–life's curriculum with care and calculation.

Out of their three daughters and a son, I was the eldest. This family taught me that I didn’t have to answer to society's gaze and its judgments. Success and excellence were non negotiable; I learned to challenge the paths laid out by society, which sometimes, unfortunately, don’t give us the chance to be truly ourselves. 

In the dynamics of their relationship and the way they raised their children, the middle school teacher and the violinist challenged the world around them. I still remember the sound of the violin ricocheting across all corners of the house, and how my mother's pen would chafe her students' homework into the night. 

 

My parents were born in Tripoli, and they passed their passion and love for this city on to us. My father worshiped music, but he was often ridiculed for the idea of pursuing it as a career. He used a pseudonym, Monir Osman, and one of his friends told us that some nights, he went to Martyrs’ Square–a crowded area in the heart of the capital–to play the violin, solo, and then make his way home. It was as though he merely went there to impose beauty upon this city. 

Meanwhile, my mother was raised by a conservative family who subscribed to societal traditions, but that also offered room for individuality. Like other girls of her generation, she dressed in contemporary fashion, (old photographs of our mothers give us a glimpse of that time when Libyan women resembled movie stars) and bought a car when she could afford it, and even upgraded it whenever she had the chance. 

It was only natural for the spirit of the independent woman to converge with that of the wandering artist. As for us, we didn’t develop a knack for playing instruments, but we all have a good ear for music, having grown up listening to it. And from our mother's side, we inherited planning and organizational skills, the ability to predict results, as well as treating others with respect, which was one of her most sacred values. 

 

My father left us too soon. Suddenly, in 2002, his departure compromised the family's equilibrium. The Libyan woman was now cast into the role of a widow, burdened by the responsibility of raising four children on her own, of whom I was the eldest. 

This imbalance did not last long; this strong woman grabbed the helm of life to lead the small number of (weighty) passengers to safety. Some people consider parenting logistics–such as enrolling children in school, driving them there, making sure they’re happy, planning each of their birthdays, and fulfilling each of their desires–to be easy, but they are actually very challenging for mothers, even in the presence of their husbands. I have to say that my mother fulfilled this role expertly, until we graduated from college and found jobs–and excelled–in various fields. Now, she harvests her success. Or, in parentheses: we hope we have reached a level of success that has made her proud. 

Perhaps this is a common story among Libyan society, but it is important to document a small portion of what this family went through–as a reminder that this type of family has always been a part of our culture, and that it has not gone extinct.

Born in Tripoli, she studied Information Science and Libraries at Nasser University. She worked as a presenter and program editor for several Libyan television channels. She currently hosts the program “Here Libya” on the WTV channel.

Nesrine El-Alem
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