Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Rebellion runs in my blood

My mother was the result of an unlikely marriage--one between an Italian and a Libyan. To put it in perspective, it would be like two hostile cultures coming together. In the early 1920's my grandmother came to Libya with her family. My understanding is that they settled in Garabaldi. From there, they ended up moving to Crispi, the little Italian village near Garara (Misurata). Somehow, my grandparents came to know each other and eventually marry, despite strong opposition between both families. The opposition was so strong on the Libyan side that the children of this marriage clung to their maternal side to find acceptance. At those times, it was not easy to be the child of an Italian in Libya. The Italians had, like all conquerors, perpetrated genocide amongst the Libyans. The children were teased and thrown rocks at and called dirty Italians. My grandmother did not mix within the Libyan culture--she kept to her own kind. Part of the reason was the animosity between the two cultures, and part is a language barrier as my grandmother did not speak Arabic. By all accounts, she was a gentle, extremely overprotective parent. I have to wonder if the overprotectiveness was only due to the fact that she lived in Libya. Italian was the only language spoken in my mother's home growing up, and yet she tried her best to help her children fit in, at least when it came to religion. Libya is a Muslim country and my grandmother had been raised a strict Catholic. Her marriage would not have been recognised by the Catholic church, so I wonder what she must have felt, living in sin so to speak. Remember, this would have been during WWII where societal restraints were strictly dictated. And yet, she loved my grandfather enough to marry him. And she loved him enough to raise his children to be Muslim. I often wonder how she must have felt to bring them up in a religion that was not her own, and something apart from everything she was indoctrinated to. Unlike many foreigners who marry Libyans, she never converted. Further, I know that my grandfather asked her on her deathbed and she refused. And yet, she ensured her children performed salat, and fasted and learned Quran. My mother and her siblings have never questioned their faith, which I find amazing. My grandmother passed away in 1969, which was a blessing in disguise. For in 1970, all the Italians were order to leave Libya with basically what they could carry on their backs. Their property was repatriated by the Libyan government. They arrived in Italy with nothing, having to rebuild from scratch. I think that watching her family, the only ones she had to lean on get thrown out, would have torn her apart. I am very glad that she did not witness that. Moving away from that, I am surprised at how much ordinary Libyans like Italy and Italians, or want to be like them. I believe that many of our shabab pretend to be Italian overseas because it comes a bit natural for them (with the lingo being made up of so many Italian words). I find it interesting that Arabs build this affinity with the culture that colonized them. And yet, as Libyans we glorify the resistance and ensure that each successive generation is tasked with this. Is this because we no longer have any warriors left?


Chatalaine / شاتالاين said...

I am new to your blog and have enjoyed reading your thoughts on the Italians in Libya. I lived in Libya before the Italians were forced to leave. I have many friends that are Italian and had to watch their parents struggle after leaving their homes in Libya. My friends still love Libya to this day just as I do. I am an American, my father worked for an oil company in Tripoli.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

Dima Garriba Shwaya said...

Thank you chatalaine for your thoughts. I would have loved to have witnessed Libya at that time. I do feel sorry for the Italians as much as I feel sorry for the massacred Libyans (i call them the lost ones; the ones who were taken to still uknown concentration camps never to be heard from again). I have been fortunate in being able to forge a bond with my mother's aunt and children. They echo your love of Libya, which I find truly inspiring. What is interesting, at least to me, is that up until recently those Italians who were born in Libya were not allowed to return to see their place of birth. I am not sure if you've ever visited this site, but everyone I have ever met from here has been absolutely wonderful. They were able to help me track down my long lost relatives.

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