Confessions of a Dislibyanised
The moment I realised that I have to compromise my status as a Libyan abroad wasn’t in 2005, the year that I arrived to England, but in late 2013, when I realised that my destiny is to go anywhere but back. Up until then I have always considered myself as Libyan writer in exile, a temporary one, with all its sufferings and cliches. But since I realised that exile is a state of uncertainty it was about time to reconcile with my original decision not to integrate with the British society, and to dig deeper than what the surface could offer for a foreigner writer.
I was living in London, and I recently quit my job as an investigative journalist for an online magazine, dedicated to present a new media platform for a society that isn't capable to deal with open discussion. During my experience working and interviewing a wide number of people to present essays and reports in subjects many have considered margin and sometimes unnecessary, I figured out that it’s a matter of time until everything goes to shit, and since my efforts have been rejected, not only by the right but also by the liberals, I decided to sit and observe the molecule of the situation shaping, waiting for the civil war to begin. Then, in this fog of disillusionment I saw that the only way to let go is to dedicate my life to a new way of writing. Wars are long and life is too short, I used to repeat everyday, and sure they were, though, little did I knew about what it takes to become a writer.
To become a writer, and in order to cut-off, I had to come up with few but major decisions, and to make a sacrifice, and obviously, as a consequence, there will be blood, metaphorically I mean, I should stress that otherwise if someone took the blood literary I’m the only Libyan here to blame, let alone the cliche of being one.
Fast forward to the summer I was working in a a nightclub in Camden and spent most of my free times roaming around the squats in the area. I avoided committing to any type of commissions that would deal with letters, since the writing itself was something to do with being Libyan. Specifically in those times, if I remember well, I stopped answering where are you from, the question that every one who [doesn’t] has an [English/or the surrounding islands] accent is doomed to answer in order to go on with the rest of the conversation. But I never thought about what lays beyond the act of evading the answer, and since I was working in a nightclub, mingling freely among the crowd, I had to face that question on the average of how many pints and spliffs I consumed on the shift. So, Sometimes when I was bored, I would ask them to guess what country they think I came from, and then go on with whatever the first answer was. I’d make them happy and let them fetishize their country-of-fantasy, don’t let Libya ruin it for them and myself, because the second question could be harder. If someone said that they speak the language and that they were in Buenos Aires or Tenerife or Cairo or Tunis or Marrakech - no one would ever say Libya unless they meant Lebanon - and started to ramble with a language that I don’t know, I would nod my head like a wise man while listening until the end and then would say, in a mixture of exotic accents, that I refuse to speak, let’s say, Spanish, and criticise the society in Argentina, where I, let’s say, came from according to my interrogator.
One night in a squat party in north London, under the usual amount of hallucinations, I was caught in a conversation about politics with someone I just met. I used the word conversation lightly as I kept half of the time second guessing what he was saying, and replying: “Ya man, so good.” In the midst of expressing his point of view, not able to sync with the 185BPM that was coming from the speaker, he blew the question of the doom, which was the only thing I could hear clearly. The question seemed full of connotations and concerns. His eyes sparkled while the sound slowly faded away. The fact that the question was connected to the thread of his pov, it arrived to my ears as a classification.
‘You being a racist now, mate’ I confessed.
’What you talking about man?’ He protested, and then said something about what makes London a special place to live is that a person can meet people from all around the world on a daily basis. It wasn’t the first time that I heard these words that are taken by the cosmopolitan city. And since the music stopped completely and people cheered for the DJ or welcomed the next, I told him that this question can be also a gate into fascism. None of us spoke after, long minutes of silence passed, and finally departure. Since then, and for the next two years or so, I’ve stopped to answer unless to protest why.
It wasn’t easy at first, and over time it became pointless. Londoners are always subject to the eternal question of the country in which they were born or the one that their parents came from, and the fact that I was aware of it made it pathetic. It is a question that a person is exposed to at work, or when socialising, or while flirting, it breaks the ice as they say; something like saying how lovely the weather is today, even while holding their umbrellas. It always comes to start or to progress a or to kill an awkward moment in a conversation. Sometimes it comes as a way to express an admiration to someone, as if everyone else from the same country would be similar to them.
One morning, after a heavy shift, a colleague asked me on the terrace while sharing a spliff why I never gave a steady answer to the question, I had nothing to say. I passed the spliff and held my breath for a while, let the smoke go to my head instead of chest and out through the nose, then I said: Do you know where are you from, Tom?
‘I always thought so’ Tom would reply, ‘but now, I don’t know man.’
‘Ya man, so good.’
I was fed up, and I questioned anyone’s motivation for asking such question as a way to start a conversation, or that someone wants to shake hand and the only way they’d remember you is by tagging you into a geographical label.
Later that summer, I was fired from the nightclub for calling the new owner a fascist dick when he read my name in the files and then asked me: Where are you from, Mohamed?
Why am I saying all this now? Maybe because the title of this piece contains the word confessions, which brings the urge to put it all out. Or perhaps because it has been so long since I wrote something that can be considered personal. I no longer believe in anything personal. I am no longer comfortable to share anything that is personal. Or simply because I’m writing this piece in English, breaking another original decision, which is never to write in another language but Arabic. Whatever the answer is, if an answer does even exist, or if such question is valuable in the first place, still, being Libyan is not bad after all; it's actually like swimming in the mud, or chewing a dry piece of bread, or sleeping in a rattle while having a migraine, it is no longer a curse, an affliction, a catastrophe, neither it’s an evidence of absurdity of existence, as I might have said once. Rather, it is an old notebook that I have kept away for fifteen years now, and a moment that will remain but would never prevail: A car ride on the coast that can be anywhere, and a sound of melody I will never recall; a moment that might have never existed, but if it did, only oblivion is what remains, and so it goes. I know this is another cliché, and it doesn't matter whether it is so either.
Anyway, where are you from?