The Story in a Photo

"Al-Taher Mohamed Al-Dib"

The date: 1989.

The place: Gurgi, a neighborhood in Tripoli.

The occasion: My brother Saleh’s wedding.


The scene is true to life. There is a complete lack of bright colors–though the occasion calls for them. Still, the motion indicates that a Libyan wedding is about to take place.

The wooden chairs appear briefly, before the white, plastic ones take over, forcing the wooden ones back to the official and educational institutions that they came from. 

I’m at the center of the photograph, holding a rifle–one of the markers of outer city weddings. Those in possession of hunting rifles at the time were required to hand them over to the authorities in exchange for a receipt. Things are not at all as they appear in the photograph. I don’t like carrying guns, nor am I fond of them, personally. I don’t even like the sight of them during celebrations. What actually happened on that day is that someone had brought this rifle to my uncle–an officer–as he needed his help to either issue a license to carry the gun or hand it over in exchange for a receipt, in accordance with the law at the time. 


In the photograph, my right hand is nonchalantly carrying the rifle, and my left hand is holding the keys to my Opel car, in which I’m about to place the rifle on my uncle’s orders. 

When I showed this photo to my nephew, Mohamed Saleh, it seemed to strike a chord with him. He said, “Uncle, have there always been militias? Was it normal to hold a rifle on the street back then? The photo indicates that you were the chief of a militia.” My nephew’s reading was affected by the present-day context, and everything the country has been going through.

The rest of the scene consists of men and women of different ages partaking in the wedding. The lights are on during the day, in preparation for the night's ceremony. We used to call the girl standing behind me, “the Doctor,” because she wore eyeglasses. She grew up with four sisters who all went on to become doctors; except for her. She became an Arabic teacher. Fate is never quite what we expect. 

On the right side of the photo is a small boy whose biggest wish was to make it to middle school. He had poor eyesight and couldn’t afford an education, so the whole neighborhood pitched in to pay his tuition so he could make it through middle school. He managed to pass, and went on to work as a janitor with a big company. Later on, a philanthropist funded a medical trip to Ukraine so the boy could treat his cornea. He got lost during his first layover on the journey, but he eventually made it there, and received the medical treatment he needed. He then went back to work as a janitor at the same company. Such is fate. 

In the foreground are two young men; my cousins. We lost one of them to what I suppose you could call familial neglect. He developed an immunodeficiency disease after the cruise ship routes were opened. The second has refrained from our social gatherings due to his new-found religious reservations, as he described. Fate had spoken.

In the back of the photo is a young girl. That one graduated with a degree in dentistry, which is what she wanted all along. Fate had given her a pass. 

The young lady who appears by the blue front door is my youngest sister. She gave birth to a daughter years after she’d been married. After many more years of trying, she didn't get pregnant again, so her husband decided to consult with a doctor outside of Tripoli, and asked her to go with him. We had plans to attend a social event together around that time, but she apologized to me, and followed her fate.

She never returned from her trip, and this photo is all that’s left of her memory.

Born in Gharyan, he is a cinema and television director who has showcased many of his works on Libyan television channels.

Al-Taher Mohamed Al-Dib
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