The Neighbors

"Khairiya Hafalesh"

She was sitting by the tea set, which consisted of: a Primus stove; four boxes, one for black tea, one for green tea, one for sugar and another for mint or dried apples; two teapots, one for brewing the tea and the other for straining it; a burner to keep the water warm; and a tray to carry all these different utensils. Our mothers took good care of their tea sets, which were essential in every Libyan kitchen. 

My aunt had just prepared the tea, the smell of mint blending with that of green tea. As she poured it into cups for her family, Walid suddenly screamed: "Mother, have you heard?" 

 

"What's the matter?"

"I heard that my aunt Aziza's family is moving, and selling their house."

My aunt jumped up and screamed: "Don't say that! What did you just say? What kind of news is this?"

 

Her name was Rabah Bin Saud. Because he came from the same tribe my mother was from, the Al-Masameer tribe, we called her “Aunt Rabah.” She was born in 1949 in Al-Fayedia, in a cave that carries the Bin Saud family name to this day. 

Al-Fayedia lies approximately 22 km south of Al-Bayda. It spans several villages, including Ishnish, Balqas, Al-Sabah, Al-Dhafiria, Al-Kawain, Isbaq, and Nakhlat. It was named after the tribe that originally lived there–the Fayeds. Al-Fayediya still stands as a historic site, featuring a castle that dates back to the Ottoman era, and a mosque built in 1848. 

My aunt Rabah is a generous, courageous Bedouin woman, who stands by her loved ones in their joy and sorrow. She screamed at her children: "God, I hope Aziza doesn't leave me!"

Aziza, my mother, was almost the same age as my aunt Rabah. They were each other’s friends and confidants. My mother is incredibly loving and kind. She and my father–may God have mercy on him–owned a farm in Al-Bayda’s Sports City, complete with cows, bees, and chickens. My mother was adamant on not selling the farm's products. She thanked God that the farm could satisfy our needs and those of our friends, which in itself was an immense gift. 

 

My aunt got up, furious, and mumbled: "What has gotten into the Faraj family?"

 

She dashed out of her house, tears flowing from her eyes as she walked over. "Every day is wrapped in loss and tears," she chanted. My mother had been her lifetime companion and friend. 

When she arrived at my mother's house, even before she greeted her, my aunt said: "Do you really want to leave me, Aziza?" My mother said: "I swear to God, you mean a lot to me. But Seif Al-Islam [Gaddafi] wants to take our farm in Sports City, and Faraj is worried sick. You know very well that Faraj has watered the farm with his blood, and that he can't stand to see it suffer. And you know, O daughter of Bin Saud, that the only distance possible is the distance of the souls. You know how close the farm is; you will come visit me soon, and we can breathe fresh air beneath the trees."

 

"No, please, O daughter of Abdullah. You are my neighbor. And the loss of a loved one is like death. And how can we cure death?" 

 

My aunt Rabah left in tears. Later that evening, she heard that a man had come looking to buy her neighbors' house. She went up to him and said: "There is a ghost in the house." The man laughed and said: "It seems like you don’t like your neighbors," to which she replied: “I will never find a neighbor like Aziza."

 

She went back home, chanting: "They will replace the Faraj house on my dead body." 

And this was in fact what happened. My aunt died around a month before her neighbors moved out. 

I’m still grieving the loss of my aunt, with whose kids we had grown up, sharing food and water.

May God have mercy on my aunt Rabah, and on my father, haj Faraj Hafalesh, and may God have mercy on all Muslims. 

Born in Al-Bayda, she is a researcher in medieval European history and a professor at Al-Jabal Al-Akhdar University. Her book “The Byzantine State in Light of Its Legal Issuances” was published in 2015.

Khairiya Hafalesh
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