Home is where my fate is

If there’s one thing that I always recognise Libya by it’s all the dogs that you see everywhere. This country is filled with them. I remember when I was younger, I watched a segment on Top Gear with my brother which mentioned Libya. This was back when any mention of Libya on TV warranted a mini gathering; before the uprising in 2011, and all the embroilment of it in the news after. In the show’s segment, a racer who was being interviewed by Jeremy Clarkson mentioned that he was chased by hounds for hours in the Sahara Desert, in the south of Libya. The audience, me, and my brother all erupted into laughter. We knew all too well that dogs weren’t domesticised back home. In fact, they were trained to be vicious most of the time. Incidentally, one of the most famous Libyan proverbs says, “Dogs only love those who strangle them”, meaning that you need to treat someone badly, harshly, for them to respect and fear you.

We always had dogs in my grandpa’s farm back in Libya. One summer, I realised that two of them didn’t have tails any more. When I asked my cousin about it, he said that people cut the tails of dogs to make them more vicious. That was odd. It sounded like something that older people would say, people who still believed in common myths. What was it about cutting off tails that made dogs more vicious? It had no basis in science; that was for sure.

I suppose it’s the pain that makes them more vicious and angrier. It reminded me of the proverb I’d always heard about dogs being strangled. Of course, no dogs were strangled by their owners; but it seemed odd that inflicting pain always seemed to bring dogs round; whether it made them more vicious or obedient. The proverb was right, though; because it wasn’t talking about dogs. It was talking about people in Libya. Right now, it seemed that many Libyans only saw eye to eye when someone stood their ground and kept fighting back. (sth about gaddafi body and rev)

***

Over the years, I saw people get angrier and angrier back home. It was always for a different reason. Before the uprising, it was because of Gaddafi and his underdevelopment of Libya. Later, it was because of NATO, America, men, and green flags.

ISIS, women, sex, drugs, men, borders, bombs, guns; everything made people angry. Everything burned. Even the fate that had made it this way, that had brought everyone up to the mountain top before striking an axe into it. Usually, you didn’t have to ask about where your pain came from, because everyone received some of it and that life was that way. But after the revolution, Libya felt a hot, slow burning pain that demanded an answer. Hadn’t Libyans fought enough? Why were things only becoming worse? Maybe Gaddafi was right in his method, maybe needed to have an iron fist to make people listen to you. After all, dogs only love those who strangle them.

When you think about it, almost every household in Libya has lost someone to this burning, consuming pain. News of people being injured, shot, or dying, became more and more commonplace over the years; though the sadness was always new and raw. The screams were always fresh, undulated, high; extended across the open, barren desert outside before being swallowed by silence.

When I pass through my hometown, even the palm trees seem to stand quiet, rigid, and upright too. Curse those who drew them lopsided, without someone inside them picking dates, right? Curse those who only mentioned NATO, and America, and Gaddafi when talking about Libya, and refused to talk about all the dogs and jasmine leaves and orange trees. Curse those who didn’t talk about our pain. Curse the very ground we stood on, curse it for spinning on an axis, for waiting for nobody, for driving the currency down and raising the dollar, for raising the white man and putting him on a pedestal. Didn’t you know that we are always hurting here? Didn’t you know that our dogs have no tails?

Growing up in Libya, thought it was funny that mothers hit their children, or that teachers always shrieked at boys when they were naughty. I suppose now it only reminds me of how much pain Libyans have experienced; and how much emotion is repressed underneath everything, waiting to be resurfaced. Sometimes it felt like a big bottle of water tied to you, that you just couldn’t open. On some days, small droplets would spill, but the bottle stayed closed.

Back home, even children seemed callous and cold. They had no hand or hip to hold. Sometimes they stared at you, whilst other times they hit you for smiling. Sometimes it feels as if somebody ripped them from the hot, flaming, core of the earth and placed them in the middle of my classroom. I teach children English here now, by the way. Only until I sort everything back home in London. I teach little strangers who might one day also talk about their memories of Libya. I hope that as time passes, they are given less reasons to be angry. I hope that they can hold onto whatever happiness they get when they start off, in the very beginning. And most of all, I hope they get the chance to find their happy place. I know that I’m still searching for mine.

Image of the view from a ranch in the poet’s hometown in Libya.

Image of the view from a ranch in the poet’s hometown in Libya.