Monday, June 20, 2011

The Road to Awe - Libya - The Good, The Bad and The Amazing

Photo Courtesy 

The situation in Libya has been plaguing me with a maddening sadness. It rushes over me like a hot blanket that I can’t kick off. The last few nights, when I close my eyes, nightmares become my dreams and I find myself tossing and turning for six seemingly endless hours, asking myself a myriad of tough questions; yet I never come up with a clear answer.

I grapple with this series of questions that I want to ask anyone who will listen but I am afraid of what their response may be. All these conflicting thoughts bake in my heart like a marble mix cake; the answers never combine, instead they stand in perfect opposition. What role should we play? How far should we go for survival? For a dollar?  How many more innocent people will die? Can we work together to better man as a whole? And not let our national identities separate us? When is enough, enough?

I suppose it is somewhat understandable why I feel conflicted, since Libya’s revolution has been full of simultaneous moments of freedom and helplessness, extreme happiness and sadness, iron fisted regime and rebellion. But I have learned, as a hesitant observer many lessons from what is taking place right now.

All of the lessons center around one main theme, the power of an idea. An idea engulfs your senses like a tsunami and can spread like a wildfire in dry brush, changing whatever is in its path.  However not all ideas are created equal. They make up a range of representations conceived with a range of intentions. They can invoke fear, create doubt or inspire hope and change. They can unlock mysteries, cure diseases, and improve quality of life.

But the true power of an idea comes from the individual and the collective putting meaning into it. What makes any idea, whether it is “bad” or “good” so beautiful is that it has an everlasting, mutable quality. It can change and evolve to become something new and different. Yet, if you peel back the layers you can trace its source through histories and across barriers like time and space.

The cyclical nature of life and ideas remind me of a movie I just watched called The Fountain. It was recommended to me by my friends Greg and Kim. There was one particular part that stood out in a big way and that was the phrase “the road to awe.”

If you haven’t seen The Fountain let me set the scene up for you. The main character is a cancer researcher and his wife is dying of brain cancer. His wife becomes increasingly interested in Ancient Mayan culture and one night she has a seizure at the Mayan exhibit in the museum. While recovering in the hospital the two characters are talking and it becomes evident that her husband is having a hard time dealing with the fact she may die. So she tells him this story about a man she knew named Moses and how he dealt with his father’s death:

“If they dug his father’s body up, it would be gone. They planted a seed over his grave. The seed became a tree. Moses said his father became a part of that tree. He grew into the wood, into the bloom. And when a sparrow ate the tree’s fruit, his father flew with the birds. He said… death was his father’s road to awe. That’s what he called it. The road to awe.”
To me “the road to awe” is the celebration and acceptance that we are all connected and that out of death comes life, out of destruction comes creation and that it is the journey not the destination we should cherish. Now there is blood in the sand but out of death the road to awe will bring new ideas, new life and a new Libya.

Having said all of this, there is something more positive that I want to address. As a result of the news coverage and talking with people I know, I realized there are a lot of things people don’t know about Libya. To be honest sometimes the amount is a little frightening because the “ideas” they believe to be true are not.  But I don’t blame them because most people in the world only know Libya to be synonymous with Gadaffi. And I think now you can understand why that totally sucks. So I’m going to share with you some of my experiences from Libya and also some from growing up as a Libyan-American; to hopefully shed some light on a part of my heritage that is rich with history and also very misunderstood. 

I am a Southern girl at heart. I was born and raised in the South. My mom is from Nashville, TN; therefore I was brought up with a double dose of Southern values. And if there is one thing that Southerners are known for its “Southern Hospitality.” 

But when I went to Libya, I realized that I am genetically predisposed to be an Uber Host because in Libya they take hospitality to new heights. It’s incredible actually. When you are a guest, even if you are a friend just coming by to visit, they roll out the red carpet. 

I’m talking 8 course meals, tea and coffee service with mountains of desserts.
Each person and family prides themself on being the best host. To be considered a bad host is one of the worst insults ever! It’s right up there with shoe throwing.

Another interesting thing about Libyans is they are known for loving sweets. This may sound like a stereotype but in my experience this is true for most Arab children, not just Libyans. I will never forget when I first learned just how much Arab children loved candy. 

 Now my mom is Catholic and my dad is Muslim so we celebrated both holidays and religions. It was the end of Ramadan and we decided to celebrate Eid at a new mosque in Virginia Beach. Ramadan is a holy time of fasting in the religion of Islam. It lasts about a month and Eid is the holiday that marks the end of Ramadan.

I was 8 years old and my brother Amir was 5 at the time. After prayer, we ate massive amounts of traditional North African food that was spread on tables everywhere. Once we finished they had a special surprise for the children. All the kids left the main area and gathered in a small, rectangular room.

My brother and I only knew one other person there and that was our friend Ali. Ali was 9 years old. Besides us, there were about 30 kids ranging in ages from 4 – 12 packed in this small room with their mothers. Hanging above our tiny heads was a beautiful piñata. Yea it was the 90’s, when Piñatas were all the rage. 

 The mothers lined all the children up to hit the piñata. The youngest kid was first and he barely hit it. Then the next kid went up, followed by another until there was one, there’s always one. He had a fire in his eye like it was his destiny to break that piñata. I looked at my brother and gave him a nod. We were both ready with our candy bucket.

The next events happened so fast that me and my brother were not prepared. The piñata burst sending little candied jewels into the air. 

All of the sudden it was like we were playing piñata with miniature versions of T.O., Mike Tyson, Shaquille O’neal, and Deion Sanders. They were bobbing and weaving, pump faking and leaping through the air like they were about to score the winning touchdown in the Superbowl.

I looked down and I could not see one piece of candy, only a sea of small bodies, writhing around on the ground, trying to clamor for any piece they could get their hands on. And the screaming, oh the screaming. 

I stood with my mouth open in disbelief. I did not know what to do but my Arab kid gene was kicking in and I really wanted some candy. I looked at my brother and I could tell we were thinking the same thought. Should I jump in the pile and fend for the candy? Or should I take the high road? I looked back at my mom and her face said it all. She could not believe what she was seeing.

After about 2 minutes of this candy chaos, it started to get ugly and the mothers began to break up the 30 sugar crazed children. The mothers were very embarrassed because my brother and I were the only two kids that didn’t jump in. I’m sure it also didn’t help that we looked extremely sad because we didn’t get any candy. I will admit it wasn’t one of my finer moments but I was about to cry.

However, the sweet part of the deal was that since we did not get one piece of candy all the moms made their kids give us a piece; so we ended up with the most candy in the end.

After the crazy candy incident the party was over and it was time to go home. As we were walking back to our cars, I looked over at Ali’s arm and I saw that he was bleeding and had a huge chunk of flesh missing where a kid had bitten him. He has a scar to this day,

Another funny candy story was one time my great Aunt was visiting from Libya and when she was getting ready to fly back, she packed an entire suitcase full of Jolly Rancher candies for the kids. I’m talking about probably 15- 20 pounds of Jolly Ranchers. 

I should note this was the time when Libya had a large amount of sanctions on them, so that probably played a part.  But I think you get an idea of how much Libyan people like sweets. 

To me the best way to learn about any culture is through its food. Food you get to experience for yourself and draw your own conclusions. Food is social, historical, and cultural all at the same time. Plus a culture’s food is like a culinary timeline that represents the past and the present. So next time I am going to walk you through one of the 8 course meals that I had at my Aunt’s house so you can have your own taste of Libya. 

1 comment:

Chrisp said...

What a great story Aisha! :) Excellent!

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