Living in Libya, I never really understood why people abroad felt homesick, or what they could possibly miss about what I felt was the worst shithole to live in. Then I moved away, and the most mundane and trivial details of daily life in Libya became what I craved the most. I realised most of my treasured memories were in my grandpa’s house, and they constantly nagged at me, it seemed I couldn't go a day without being reminded of my distant homeland. The longing and reminiscence didn’t decrease with time, instead, it seemed to grow every day, to awaken even clearer memories of the minor details of home.
I remember I was skiing once, and we had just gotten on the ski chair lift, and I was looking down at the cold alabaster snow and everything felt so foreign and so uncomfortable. A memory of mornings in my grandpa’s house eating scrambled eggs with hreesa and shahi bel 7leeb in the dry scorching heat brought with it a sudden stab of homesickness, so sharp and so abrupt that it filled my eyes with tears (yes, seriously, I was on a chair lift crying over Libya.) And it's moments like these, when I'm going about my day, perhaps sitting in a cafe, when the wind carries poignant memories of breezy summer nights spent in the living room, complaining about our irritating mosquito bites, when all the windows would be flung wide open to desperately let in some cool air that brought the toxic smell of the nearby majaary-infested beaches. Each unannounced memory brought with it a sense of unassailable loss and longing, but also a sense of comfort, safety, hope for a homecoming. My grandpa’s house is so full of these memories, memories of family and friends and bliss. Maybe it’s nostalgia that has a way of making things seem a lot more appealing than they really were, but even bad memories seem bearable and less ferocious in the one place that feels like home, the one place I belong.
Its only after I moved away that I began to appreciate the same house that I used to dread going to every Friday because they didn’t have Wi-fi and we were forced to actually interact with each other. My grandpa used to carry us up the same flight of stairs that I now hated climbing, singing 'ween 7osh el boo sa3deya'. The best days of my life so far haven’t been during any of our travels, or in any of the exotic or lavish or glamorous places that I've seen, but rather in the dusty jnaan of my grandpas house, in the garage next to the old iron wardrobe that was exhausted from humidity and eaten away by rust but was still overflowing with tools. It was in that garage that my cousins and I played football, shedny o nshed m3ak, wabees, 5welaat, every game that you could possibly think of, all of which usually ended up with one of the kids cheating/getting hurt, snitching, and ruining everyone else's vibe. It was in that garage that we begged our uncle to take us for a tjeera on his motorcycle and ‘the chosen one’ would boast about their ride to the rest of us afterwards. It was in that veranda that we set up the tent our parents had bought us, and in that tent we hung our lantern, ate spicy bakbooky with our noses running and our tongues burning but still brushed it off and acted casual, pretended to be lost junglemen sneaking into our grandpas house for food, played UNO (and cheated every time), created our own code language to be able to say words like ‘7mara'' in front of our parents without getting hzayeb (which we did eventually when they figured it out, and we thought they were intelligent as hell for deciphering our encrypted communications). It was in that jnaan that we hid from our Quran teacher in various attempts and calculated strategies to skip class, but were always caught by my grandfather who would pull my guy cousin's ear, and the teacher would laugh in amusement and say she liked to see my cousin cry?? It was in that garden that we buried our rabbit, my grandma's gift to us to try and satisfy our desperate demands for a pet, (despite obviously not being able to handle the responsibility of having one). It was in that house that we planned all our zraady, and rushed to the bathroom after coming back from beach trips, with sand and salt in literally every crevice of our bodies, to fight over who would shower first.
My grandpa’s house was also a summer school, so during the summer we would sell food to the kids in the ‘ma9sf’ (aka tuck shop, for all the double shafras) and occasionally (ok maybe more often than just occasionally) steal some of the goodgoods. We would fill up our blow-up swimming pool and we made sure all the students saw us swimming and having fun while they were studying so they know who’s boss. In Ramadan, my grandpa’s house turned into a charity centre, where we collected food/clothes/school supplies and gave them to families in need, but at that time it was just another adventure for us, a way to avoid prevalent boredom, so we would measure rice, beans, milk, tomatoe paste, tuna, etc and and pack them in bags ready to be distributed to people in need. We didn't know it then, but as tedious as we thought it was, listening to those people and their stories about the difficulties and the injustice they’ve experienced shaped our outlook on life, and if it wasn't for that, we might not be the people we are today. But that profound wisdom wasn’t what excited us the most, the most amusing part of going to 7osh jdeeda after mo3’rb, and ofcourse, after watching bab el 7ara, was meeting with mama's friends' kids and each begging our parents for money to go to the dokan fe ras el zanga for askemo or chipsy bel sha6a wel laymooon, the deadly combination. After everyone left, my cousins and I would conquer the computers in the office downstairs and play Call of Duty, in the hope that my uncle wouldn't come home and murder us for messing with his precious game. In his presence, we adopted the role of the silent observer, so we had to settle for watching him and his friends have Thursday game nights, when they would all come to my grandpas house and set up their stations and begin their match. Being the annoying kids we were, we would watch over their shoulders and report back to my uncle on the location of his enemies' soldiers (snitching was all we knew).
The most tormenting memory in that house wasn't even of my grandma's funeral, in fact, it was during the funeral when all the da7k ensab 3lena. After the za7ma and the storm of distant relatives who were yelling and sobbing as if it was their mother's funeral, we all chilled on mnadeer as thin as a sheet of paper, and a spirit of laughter was bestowned upon us as everyone suddenly remembered and shared the most hilarious nokta they knew, and we all broke out in guilty laughter. The most tormenting memory was actually of Eid El Fitr, when my mother's whole family visited on the 3rd day, and it is exactly how I would imagine the emergence of Yajooj & Majooj would be. The imminent horror of that day still haunts me, how we would desperately try to hide from the fiasco in one of the rooms to avoid all human contact and obligatory tesleem with people you didn't even know existed but who claimed to remember what nappy you used to wear, and made sure to remind you of it. In the spirit of Eid, and after having experienced the unleashing of Yajooj & Majooj, we amused ourselves by forcing my younger cousin to surrender himself to a makeover, so we would practice our limited makeup skills on him, dress him up in a dress, and nickname him 'Yasmeena' for the day.
Despite all the tragedies, deaths, and L’s that we experienced in that house, these will always be the joyful memories that prevail and outweigh the sadness, and these are the memories that I will always remember when people ask me about what it's like being from a developing, war torn country, and why I could possibly miss the worst shithole to live in.
This song describes perfectly the feeling of homesickness and yearning that I'm trying to explain, but swap Amman for Libya. Enjoy sobbing your heart out! :)