Remnants of a Faded Memory

"Hayam Arab"

Social media has become a better witness to our own memories, which have been swept away without a trace; from time to time, Facebook revives our vanished memories.

Before I left Libya–on 15 January, 2014–I took a whole month’s worth of photographs, mostly of the Arch of Marcus Aurelius from all angles, as well as vignettes of a nearby traditional restaurant, where my friends and I loved going to for fish and meat tagines. I was never a fan of the new, touristy cafes in Al-Andalus, which were spreading like wildfire at the time, boasting designs that had no relation whatsoever to the identity of Tripoli. Some of these places were contemporary in a way that clashed with the richness and nuances of the city. For a moment, these spots could make you forget that you were still in Tripoli–a city that had grown so diverse, making it challenging for visitors to capture its breadth in just one visit.

There are many tin houses in Tripoli. Despite existing for years and years, they have not changed. The facades of Tripoli’s houses, villas and complexes represented the city's other face, but I always found myself relating more to the streets of Fashlum and its narrow corners. The urbanized Ben Ashour on the opposite side stirred nothing in me. Even though I had worked and studied there, its streets had repeatedly snubbed my memory. 

During my last month in Tripoli, I tried to collect photographs of the corniche, and others of the tall rocks, the waves breaking against their harsh bodies. I photographed the streets I frequented every day. The Diabetes Hospital road, for instance, was my daily commute to work. And for our group of friends, the corniche garden and the Equestrian Club were extremely memorable–we walked there when we wanted to complain, all the while stealing time from the lips of people whispering that it was time for us to go back home. These streets were like boxes that held our secrets. We'd linger on the side of the road, trying to find a free spot so we could leave the car and walk a few steps to the shore, undisturbed. It was there we'd talk about everything going on at home, or at work, and we'd even hash out our little disagreements. These places were witnesses to us trying to forge different paths for ourselves; now, we all live in different countries, with only a handful of friends remaining in Libya. 

But when my apartment was robbed in Turkey, my treasure trove of photographs disappeared. I still remember the scene, and the moment I found out what had happened. That day, my Turkish colleague told me that my landlord had requested that I leave work immediately and head to the building, where five apartments had been robbed. Most victims had lost their valuables, but nothing was more precious than an entire memory, loaded with images and pain.  

They weren't just photographs; it was a history that I had left behind for good. These photos held the laughter of my youngest siblings in their childhoods–one of my brothers has recently grown into a young man, and another one got married. I could no longer celebrate the memory of their early years. 

 

I find a huge wedge between Facebook's random memory of my life, and that comprehensive memory that attempted to survive before being violently stolen; a silent memory hidden inside a computer–untouched, undisclosed, detached from the audacity of nostalgia. After the thief decided to steal everything in an apartment as bare as Tripoli's tin houses, all that remained was this photograph of Marcus's Arch. 

That day, the nighttime visitor decided to scatter every piece of fabric across the floor, and to overturn everything that got in his way, leaving behind a frenzied place. I couldn't remember what the space had looked like before his visit.

Born in Tripoli, she is a poet and writer, holding a bachelor’s degree in computer programming. Her texts are published in numerous Libyan and Arab newspapers and magazines. She has published “Before You Leave,” a poetry collection, in 2012.

Hayam Arab
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