Libya in the heart. Tale of my trip to Tripoli

It’s Wednesday, April 18, 2018, we are just arrived at Tripoli military airport, Mitiga, there are 27 degrees. A slight breeze typical of coastal towns is blowing. During the descent, from the airplane window, we see some planes and some helicopters, stopped from while time, probably from 2011, when civil war broke out which resulted in the deposition of Muammar Gaddafi after 42 years government. Among the aircraft there are some armed men, dark-skinned, some greeting with a smile. Once the security checks are done, we take our luggage to the exit. In front of us there is an open space, on the left under a huge canopy there are men talking, while on the right on a small piece of lawn, a group of young women with veil are talking under the sun. Behind us, young men in blue camouflage uniform paces back and forth, peers at us. There is a bit of tension, maybe they don’t see many blonde women with the wind-like hair that quietly smokes in the middle of the street. Two cars arrive and take us to Al-Waddan Hotel.

IMG_20180419_083917_291

The structure is beautiful and the staff welcomes us with a cocktail. In the lobby dark wood and gold, some Arabian carpets on the walls are illuminated by soft lighting, we sit on the sofas and armchairs while we wait our rooms numbers to access wi-fi. The reception desk is very big, everything is taken care in the smallest detail in an atmosphere of complete security. A little further on the left we face the inner courtyard, where a wonderful fountain flows in front of us, the walls in travertine rise interrupted by a series of Romanesque arches where our rooms overlook. The Al Waddan Hotel opened in 1936 as Waddan Hotel & Casino, is a historical structure of the Libyan capital on the bay towards the sea, a few steps from the Italian Embassy. It was described by an American journalist as “the Waldorf Astoria of Tripoli” and was also named “a jewel of modern African architecture”. It was built in 1935 at the same time of the Hotel Al Mehari, according to the project of the Italian architect Florestano Di Fausto, with the collaboration of Stefano Gatti-Casazza. “In the past there was inside a casino and a theatre of 500 seats” – said Mohammed – “before we had so many events, people in the area gathered in the pool area, smoked hookah, drank something. It is a meeting place for the locals. We are doing our best to return as and better than before”.

IMG_20180423_133900_321.jpg

The next morning, we get up early, it’s an important day for the Italians. The organizers Sandro Frattini and Ashraf Tulty have been working for long time for the Italian Libyan Business and Development Association (ILBDA) and today is the date of officialization. So, the preparations start, in the great hall of the restaurant everything is ready, the speeches are adjusted, they’re talking about programs and projects awaiting the arrival of illustrious guests. The association was founded with the aim of combining the needs of Libyan people with Italian expertise and skills, which can seize great opportunities in this phase of “reconstruction” of the state and development. Libya wants to come back to life, everyone is tired even to hear about revolutions and militias. There is the desire to rebuild, to progress and you can see that talking to anyone, walking through the lively streets of the center where you meet boys and girls, families and friends who sip a tea, discuss, play table football. Of course, I would be pathetic to say that everything is perfect, but surely the situation is much better than I expected. We are so used to talking about militias, clashes and abductions that many fears were coming before we arrived.

IMG-20180419-WA0036

 

Hamed tells me: “the situation in Tripoli is much improved, it feels safe. We have no militia, the controls you see are the police or army”. Indeed, in our big cities we have men armed for security reasons, the difference is that here are every 100 meters, in every square and junction. They control the places of power such as the Ministries, the mosques, the palace of the King or the seat of the Government and Embassies, ​​but they are also in intersections and along the streets especially in the evening. They control each car, to some they ask for documents, but we have always passed. There is certainly a bit ‘of tension, but the atmosphere that you breathe is very safe. I feel so calm that while the rest of the group leaves, I decide to stay alone few more days and I did very well, I would have wanted to stay more time. The Libyans are very kind and hospitable. After eating some typical dish with rice, almonds and grilled chicken in central shopping street, we move near the historic center with a brief visit to the Roman remains. Parking in front the Central Bank is full. A little further on, there is the famous black market where you can exchange Euros with Libyan dinars with a rate much cheaper than that of banks that have no liquidity also. So together with my companion we decide to change 150 euros, receiving 1140 dinars.

IMG_20180419_170613_385

 

The evening with my friend Hamed hotel we are invited to a birthday party in the swimming pool. Colourful balloons like hearts embellish a round white table, there is also a jazz singer who intones traditional music and also some Italian pieces for my presence. Hamed invites me to dance a slow, I’m excited and a bit embarrassed, in Libya there is not much contact between men and women, indeed pats on the shoulder, hugs and effusions in public are considered inappropriate. The Lady offers us a chocolate and a fruit drink, obviously non-alcoholic, because in Libya alcohol is banned and is not served. I’m really happy so I approach to wish and thank. The next day a wonderful surprise awaits me: the graduation ceremony of 61 students from Tripoli University, celebrating the end of the academic year with dances, accompanied by drums and pipes.

20180421_130627

 

The welcome and affection I received is not easy to tell. From the lady to the floors that at the exit of my room “212”  every morning  hugs me and calls me “habibi” , in Arabic love, to the guy in the bar that the day of my departure wakes up at 6.00 to bring me breakfast in the room despite he slept very little, but also in the small things, in the looks of those who try to make me feel at home, protected and happy. They keep us looking good. Some politicians are curious to know what I will write, so when they ask me “what will you tell” I answer: “what I see”.

received_1227988937337301

It was also nice to wait for the Book Expo, for its world day and during which the UN Mission in Libya Special Representative, Ghassan Salamè, spoke about the importance of information and the role of the media which cannot replace the pages of a good text or the old and beloved printed paper. It should also be said that the media often emphasize some situations, every Libyan agency is loyal to a party or faction, follows its own agenda, a program and I had already guessed for some time that every news arriving should be filtered, screened, reviewed from different angles and if it’s possible listening more points of view. I met several times Dr Lamia Zlinten, director of Foreign Media Office in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which has always calmed me saying that my visa journalism would come soon, but in fact the letter has never arrived at the security office and my passport remained at the airport during my stay, even risking not being able to return home on sunday. Good thing there was my friend Hamed with me, he works in the Media Office of the Presidential Council and he helped me a lot, also the police officers in the airport did everything possible to make sure I would leave in time for Tunis.

IMG_20180419_194252_428

Despite this little inconveniencemy first visit to Tripoli will bring with me the smells, the flavours of food, the smiles, the Arabic music on the radio, the calls to prayer that echoed in the squares, the traffic, but also the sea breeze, the wind that ruffled my hair and the stories of every person I met. Like Hayman, a young man only 22 years old has already fought against Daesh, Ali working as a translator in an oil company and involving his peers from different cities in youth activities for a real “reconciliation” that accepts every “diversity”, a word that says be “not much appreciated  in Benghazi where he lives. I saw the queue before the bank on Thursday, people walking and relaxing in “green square” or martyrs’ square, kids playing table football at the roadside, young people cycling between cars and fireworks on the evening that looked like shots to celebrate a wedding, a bit like they do in Naples on New Year’s Eve. I saw happy people who have not lost hope, who want to take back their dreams, their passions, and their great Country, ready to open up to the world from which they were isolated for a long, long time. I have not had the opportunity to visit other cities to see also what the situation outside the capital is, despite having received invitations from all sides from northern to southern Libya. Just while I’m writing this report, many are texting to me: “when will you come back? “. With all my heart I hope soon! Goodbye Libya and thanks for the hospitality!

IMG_20180422_145859_027