Life in Libya: The wrap-up

September 9, 2010

Yesterday while driving down a familiar street here in Tripoli, I couldn't help but notice how it looked"¦prettier. It's not that Libya grows on you (my past experiences and reluctance to spend time here are testament to that) but this year my love for Libya and genuine desire to get to know it, grew. Listening to the stories of Libyan women, getting to know them, and understanding their struggle helped me come to terms with my own identity, and their stories helped me understand how Libya sees them, how America see them, and most importantly how they see themselves.. Through their conversation, I was able to better understand The Libyan Identity, and how a woman's role is not separated from it. As Natalie mentioned, Libya is an Arab country that grants women full rights under the law. What's on paper is not always executed, and Libya is no exception, but many women here are active members of society; a fact that was repeated over and over again by the women we interviewed, (who were also quick to remind us that Islam also gives women many rights). Most women saw patriarchy and society's obsession with their reputation as the biggest obstacle, but a few claimed the emphasis placed on a woman's reputation gave them power. Through our interviews with female students, artists, writers, entrepreneurs, housewives, and women in top government offices, I was surprised to discover a progressive, intellectual class not often emphasized in the public sphere, or at least often missing in media reports about Arab women. The women we interviewed were curious and delighted to hear that an American from Chicago (shout-out to Oprah) and a Libyan from America were interested in their story. But so were the men. The feedback we got from Libyans who heard about our reporting endeavor was encouraging. In Tripoli's Old City a shop owner broke down the intricacies of a traditional woman's dress, typically worn on the third and last day of a Libyan wedding. (Traditionally weddings in Libya lasted 7 days). "You are from America?!" he asked as his young son peeked his head from around the counter. "I am from America," I replied. "You Libyan?" "I'm Libyan." "My niece too from America. never been here. She will come in fall," he says. "Will she wear this dress," I ask pointing to the hand woven fabric embedded with sparkling crystals displayed on the glass counter. He laughs and says, "Maybe. Now it is possible." Libyans have always shared stories with each other; the oral tradition in my family dates more than a hundred years back. My father, a poet and writer, remembers his father and mother reciting poems they created but never wrote down. My late aunt who lived during the Italian occupation, used to share her poems from memory at family gatherings and my late uncle who passed away when he was only 28, is still remembered for his legacy of short stories. My point is there's usually at least one skilled story teller in every Libyan family, which means Libyans have a lot to share. For the record: Most people we spoke with didn't want to hide Libya's past or sugar-coat their lives or be some sort of poster-child for the exotic. But they wanted to share their thoughts and be heard. Many women spoke about the importance of building cultural bridges, and their desire to be understood. Now, Libya is making what once seemed impossible seem possible. My time in Libya has reinforced this. My interaction with other journalists here reminds me that there are many stories to tell. But we chose women. I look forward to WBEZ's broadcasts and I welcome any questions or comments about our interviews or my opinions about my experience as a Libyan-American in Libya. I can be reached at yusratek@gmail.com.

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