For those of you who don't already know, I was a Mediterranean baby, born in the North African coastal city of Tripoli in Libya. Although we moved to New Jersey (an underwhelming move, indeed) when I was a toddler, I can't help but feel that people carry place memories with them wherever they go. When I think really hard, I can almost smell the salt in the Tripoli air and hear golf-sized hail falling in our courtyard. I imagine sitting under a pristine blue sky and sucking on an orange slice until the rind sticks to my teeth and picking ripe olives right off their branches.
All of this talk about the US reestablishing diplomatic ties with its one-time foe Libya has me trying to dig through my memory for the vast deserts and stretches of azure beaches that I saw decades ago as a toddler. My parents still talk about the Berber and Greek architecture that adorned the landscape, the mountains and the farms, the fierce rains that enticed children to run through their billows until they were drenched with joy. Neighbors became family and helped raise my two brothers. At Libyan parties, guests often shared potfuls of rice and meat, couscous and vegetables. Utensils were never necessary; everyone ate with their hands. After my family moved to New Jersey, my mother often baked magrood and ghreyba, two of her favorite cookies, the way her Libyan friends had taught her, only to sadly shake her head over the finished products, sighing about the absence of richness and flavor. I'd nibble on the cookies, wrinkling my nose in blind agreement.
I imagine that the joie de vivre of Libya came from its very terrain. How could one not live life ardently in a land that is, at once, so lush and parched? The wilderness of the Libyan dessert offers as colorful a palette as the monuments that rise from history, against the backdrop of the Green Mountains. Life exists beyond four-walled offices (a typical work day ended at 1PM); it is out there, in the outdoors.
I wonder if the land still remembers me, a lusty baby born kicking and screaming to Pakistani expatriate parents. I'd like to think that it's as haunted by me as I am by it.