Briber

"Hassan Al-Maghribi"

The birth of my first son Abu Bakr in 2011 coincided with the war. He weighed no more than one kilogram the day he was born. As a child, he fell in love with the sea, and grew passionate about painting in the style of Picasso. He has made a hobby out of visiting historical sites, and he especially enjoys touring the Briber region and Wadi Al-Nagar, which appears behind him in the attached photo. 

The Briber (or Tufaya) region is located southwest of Benghazi. Many Libyans have no idea where it is, but it means a lot to our family. We spent the best and most bitter moments of our childhoods there. 

My father used to take me and my brothers there every week to visit my grandfather, who loved the land and pinned all his hopes on it. In winter, we would chase gerbils below the drizzle of rain, looking for wheatgrass, and as soon as we found it, we would say: “Oh wheatgrass, show us your neighbor, or we will cut off your donkey’s tail.” My father taught us the difference between wheatgrass and poisonous mushrooms. During the harvest, we would eat mathroud, a delicious meal, and drink fresh yogurt. I’m almost certain that my grandmother is the best yogurt maker in Briber, or even in the whole world! And at the beginning of spring, there were the artichokes. We all loved the taste of these artichokes, which grew every year in the same spot they had died.

 

In the winter of 1995, I remember how we all woke up to aunt Amna’s screams for help; her flock had gone missing. My brothers were forced to go with her, but I went out to the pigeon coop to watch the chicks, impatiently waiting for them to hatch. Suddenly, it started raining heavily, and a violent storm broke out, destroying everything in its way, including my grandfather’s house and my aunt’s flocks. Suddenly I found myself face to face with Wadi Al-Nagar; it was the first time in my life that I had looked death right in the eye. Had it not been for my mother, who urged me to resist the current, I would’ve been swept away into the valley and died. It’s truly unfortunate how much this memory is still alive in me.

Seven years after the disaster, my grandfather took me to the valley and said: “All your ancestors were buried here, in Al-Sira (Briber). They all lived long lives, with the exception of your father, who died young.” I remember asking him: “When did Al-Sira close shop?” He loudly replied: “Maybe in the same year when the poet Hassan Laqta was buried.” At the time, I didn't know who Hassan Laqta was–that great poet who sang about love and pain with the same force with which Homer performed his epic poems.

We walked along Al-Sira while the eagles were flying low, and my grandfather hummed some incomprehensible words, then wept intensely for my father. He told me that the word Al-Sira was interchangeable with “cemetery” for Libyans, and that the name had been given to this place to commemorate the dead. On our way back, we saw demolished rocks near the shrine of Sidi Amjihid, facing ancient ruins and wells that reflect my ancestors’ great skills in supplying the region with water. These places were tied in my memory with the abundance of birds, especially the abu zureiq. 

 

To this day, I feel proud as I walk through the impressive region of Briber, and I’m always happy when I hear the story of the black asp, which never gets old, as well as the story of Abu Krousa, who died in a traffic accident–only for a ghost with one eye to appear where he had died. 

 

The photo was taken on February 3, 2021.

Born in Benghazi, he is a writer and short story author. He has several publications in literary criticism, creative theater, and history. A graduate of Garyounis University, he is the editor-in-chief of the cultural magazine “Ru’ya”.

Hassan Al-Maghribi
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