A Single Dose in One Breath

"Nuri Abdel-Dayem"

This photo was taken at the Jamal Al-Din Al-Meladi Institute for Theater and Music, circa 1976 or 1977. There were around 30 students at the institute, hailing from all over Libya.

Our days were shaped like triangles; we lodged and ate between two streets, Haiti and Sayiddi, then moved on to the newly built Cordoba Hotel, a businessman's project that unfortunately coincided with Gaddafi’s crawl towards Tripoli. 

 

I am the fourth boy from the right. The first man you see is the Damascene professor Fouad Al-Bizri, a scholar of the qanun and music appreciation. By his side is Bahseer Al-Zatrini, who joined the military academy early–a common career choice back then. The young man standing in the back has escaped my memory. 

Sitting behind me is Abdel-Salam Al-Tawarghi, who has appeared in a few productions of the National Theater in Tripoli. Talented and spontaneous, he was a successful preacher in one of the mosques. The popularity of his sermons didn’t please the army, who detained him and stole seven years of his life. When he was finally released, he was received by loud chants that blended with the Sudanese singer Mohammed Wardi's voice. Abdel-Salam made his comeback as an actor, this time as part of the Children and Youth Theater.

Sitting to my right is Abdallah Al-Rayani. He had chosen not to enroll in the faculty for education, and had been wracked with nerves over how to break the news to his father. He insisted on wearing traditional Libyan attire when he arrived for classes, and again when he left at the end of the week. He has appeared in a few productions of the National Theater, before departing our world early. 

 

I was born in the suburb of Janzour. The ‘60s generation emerged from the soil's womb to the vastness of Libyan culture and folk music. We only went to Tripoli (or "the city") about twice a year; once to shop for new outfits for Eid, which we'd wear on our excursions there on the second day of the holiday. The city gave us joy and excitement. We went to the cinema there every now and then; Tripoli was like a mother, a safe haven. 

Inside the small mosque of Al-Katani, I once heard a fascinating question: "Sheikh? In which Maqam will you deliver the call to the prayer today? Rast or Bayati?!" That's when I first realized the intimacy between religion and art. A history professor at the time asserted that drama had its roots in the religious ceremonies that had been held for the god Dionysus. 

We were a generation swimming in rivers of dreams and pure desires. Nasser Al-Mazdawi ushered in a new era of music, while Ahmed Fakroun explored new horizons. And we'd eagerly watch the films of Hassan Al-Turki, the most prominent director at the time, until color permeated our black and white televisions. 

 

Egyptian singer Abdel Halim Hafez’s "Qareat Al-Fenjan'' (The Coffee Cup Fortune-Teller) emanated from radio stores, cassette vendors, and stereos on the beach; Abdel-Halim was the closest musician to the hearts of our generation of dreamers and lovers. 

I still remember the last day of March 1977, when our Azhar-trained religious education teacher kicked off his lesson by offering his condolences and praying for Abdel-Halim Hafez, who had died the night before. 

At the time, the street had not yielded to the military's stronghold. Tripoli still retained its urban quality, its beauty, and its purity. The shops kept their doors open, and ties adorned the suits of state employees. The men were clad in traditional garments, and the women's white robes radiated reassuringly in Tripoli’s alleys. Trade was the city’s lifeblood, its source of joy and dynamism. Zaqlam Stores supplied Tripoli’s youth with jeans–a garment for all classes–at modest prices, masking our poverty. 

Tripoli lived in a state of relaxation, and like us, swam in rivers of innocent dreams. Neither of us knew that the rivers would run dry, one after the other. Its lifeblood was cut off, the volume of hysteria grew louder, and the military penetrated the veins of the city’s institutions to overtake the remains... 

But history tells a different story.

Born in Janzour, he is a theatrical director and journalist. He has several books published on theater and architecture, including “Libya: A Hundred Years of Theater 1908-2008” and “Zawiyat Amoura as a Model of Architectural Art in Libya.”

Nuri Abdel-Dayem
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