A Detention Camp, and an Embrace

"Al-Mekki Al-Mustajir"

He was born in the era of the Al-Aqilah concentration camps, home to some of the nastiest genocides of the 20th century at the hands of the Italian occupation. The specific year is unknown, perhaps because those fascist years have been blotted out of people’s minds. Al-Aqila existed outside of history–perhaps it still does. One time, trying to determine the date of his birth, his uncle said: “He was born after we lost half our tribe, and before the first group of detainees was released, after the execution of Sidi Omar Al-Mokhtar.”

 

They initially didn’t name him, out of fear he’d meet the same fate as his siblings. None of them made it, and they ended up scattered across various burial grounds. But his tender body had managed to resist hunger, disease and the harsh environment. He withstood all of it, until his uncles and older brothers were released from detention. They found his survival to be a good omen, and named him Salem. Indeed, his survival was perceived as a miracle and his arrival a sign of divine mercy. The benevolent Salem has been resilient ever since he took his first breath.

Decades later, he became a pioneer educator in the city of Derna, and a famed media professional in Barca, eventually rising to prominence in the wider Libyan cultural scene. With his lifetime friend, Si Hassan Lamlum, he led two very important initiatives; the founding of national cultural centers, and the mobile cinemas that moved through the eastern governorates. He also joined Mohamed Bin Saud in founding a guild for blind Libyans. Four decades later, he held a prominent position in the branch of the Culture and Information Ministry overseeing the eastern governorates. 

He was this inextinguishable flame, a tireless initiator who was always in a race against time. His vision was always set towards the future, because looking back meant one thing: a return to the concentration camps. 

He is my grandfather, haj Salem Akrayim, the dignified, the kind, the honest fighter–the compassionate, honorable man. He was the one who insisted on calling me Al-Mekki, and never called me by the name I was given. He passed away in 2013. May he rest in peace. 

A few weeks back, I dreamt that I was embracing him. His lifetime friend, Si Hassan Lamlum, was there too. I was crying in the dream, and so were they. We were all young, around the same age. I woke up feeling peace after months of gloom. I believe this dream was a good omen.

May God have mercy on our grandparents, and may those who still have grandparents find comfort in their embrace. There is a place in one’s heart that can only be filled with the kind memories of grandparents.

He was born in Mecca, hence known as “Al-Makki”. He is a surgeon in the general surgery department in Tripoli, as well as a researcher and writer. He is interested in the cultural history of Libya.

Al-Mekki Al-Mustajir
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