Monday, November 30, 2009

Libya Day 1 Part II

I'm so sorry I haven't been able to get the next chapter of my Libya trip up - I've been snowed under, and finding my way under the thousands of images, converting them etc, has been heavy! As we're speaking uploads are going onto my gallery site, slaughtering my bandwidth! Also, work didn't stand still in my absence, so it's been hectic catching up again.

Anyways, so here we finished at the museum with really old stuff inside, except for Cadaffi's moderately old cars.

So, onto the Medina (old walled city) next to the museum. Well, actually we went back that evening, but I thought I'll just throw the images together. There is an old bronze- and silverware market, where the smiths are actually sitting and working on their products. This is one of the more authentic parts of the market as the gold and jewellery generally comes from India or China. Not even Libya is immune to the Chinese trading giant.

Oh, first we had to go and change money elsewhere, at a hotel or somewhere, where 1 USD got you 1.23 Libyan Denarii. Roughly R6.50 to a Libyan Denarii. That's what oil does for you, baby. Anyways, on to the Medina and markets.

I haven't travelled much, but according to the experienced travellers in our group, in the Middle East and elsewhere in North Africa, you get mobbed in the markets and streets by heckling shop owners who'll be ready to barter button-holes to t-shirts. My experience here was rather different. Most traders just sat or stood outside their doorways, waiting for people to come in and see their wares. This was pleasant, as I don't like having to say no all the time.

So we're walking and walking and walking deeper and deeper into this maze of little alleyways and narrow streets of the Medina, surrounded by wares and flavours. Some of the group wanted to see more food and smells, others wanted to see more clothing. Everyone had a short shopping list. I was intent on buying myself a Cadaffi T-shirt. Just for the heck of it.

What is amazing about markets and streets is the relative calm of the bustle. I was always under the impression that where you have hundreds of people milling in a small confined space it would be noisy, but here everyone was calm, quietly seeing about the offers. I don't know if this had to do with the fact the woman in Libya are very modest, quiet and soft-spoken, and that the markets are mostly frequented by them.  I like it there. It was cool in the shade of the overhanging power-cables (not unlike the power cable lines in many townships where everyone helps themselves to some juice) and clothing and awnings making a canopy over all the little alleys. People were friendly, and a "Sabrach Anoor" (good morning in Arabic) was instantly met with a return greeting or a Salaam Maleikhum (Peace be to you). We were a tad disappointed to see the amount of Chinese wares scattered everywhere, and you couldn't help but doubt the authenticity of some of the local wares. Then again, in South Africa it's the same.

Libya has a population of 6 million inhabitants, of which 2 million are Arabs and ex-pats from neighbouring countries, notably Sudan, Egypt, Algeria, Nigeria and Chad. The colours, smells and dress reflects this to create a beautiful palette of cultures if you took the time to notice. But when you're carrying a 17kg camerabag (I wasn't sure what I'd need at this point yet), you just got of a 12 hour flight 2 hours before, and it is about 30 deg C, you start missing some things as well. So I chose to focus on taking pics and making sure I can remember it later.

Photographing woman in Libya can lend you in some hot water. Although most Libyan locals are not as conservative as some of the Middle Eastern Muslims, it is still considered rude to take pictures of woman, and especially some of the more fundamentalist Muslim woman who comes from Somalia or Arabia. I was able to take a picture of this Somali trader, but I was warned later by our tour-guide to tread carefully when photographing women. Some husbands or men might take offense. He didn't explain what taking offense implied, but I wasn't keen to find out. Carrying around a NIV Bible in my back-pocket could've compounded problems for me should said husband "take offense".

At this point (of taking the pic of the Somali woman), I started noticing the amazing array of doors in the Medina. Those who have visited Zanzibar claims that that is the city of doors, but it must be said that the beauty and intricacy, yet organic rusticness, of the Tripoli doors mesmerised me. From this point on I would barely be able to walk past a door without taking pics of the doors. I've always had a fascination with taking picture of open doors and doorways, but here it went to another level. It seemed like the absence of space or means to decorate the exterior of your house, most opted to decorate their door. I noticed later that even garage doors in the more industrial parts of town had intricate steel frills and designs.

After about an hour in the market (or probably much longer - dehydration was getting to me), we headed back to the hotel for some shut-eye and lunch. I'll skip over the afternoon sleep and take you back to our dusk return to the Medina. This pleased me, because barring the slightly low light, the shadows and harsh highlights of the Medina was more tempered. Also, there were kids and the streets, and an even more peaceful atmosphere. We entered the Medina via the Marcus Aurelius Arch, a magnificent Roman ruin from 160 AD. Here Marcus Brewster and I started the Marcus Brewster Arch project, where we attempted a portrait of Marcus at any suitable arch. The Marcus Aurelius Arch seemed like the best place to start.

There is a really cool little restaurant right next to the arch. On the other side we found a really awesome little hotel (R700 per night) which shouts Libya. It even has shisha room. I'd say if you come to Libya, find this hotel rather than the brand name monsters, and get the real Libyan feel. I also found my Cadaffi T-shirt at the curious outside the little hotel,  which on return to South Africa at a shoot at University of the Western Cape, got a serious amount of quizzical looks and even one annoyed Muslim.

 

Next to this hotel we were taken int oa really old Mosque, where the old janitor/steward of the establishment was very surprised to find out we were South African. He had served in the Second World War with South African soldiers during the campaigns against Rommel and the German invasion. He was really bright still for someone who must be in his eighties.

The mosque is filled with ...arches, and the most beautiful mosaic work. We were allowed in only if our shoes were taken off, reason actually being hygiene, and not religion.

At this time we ventured into the markets again, this time in the soft light of dusk.

As darkness came, the magic of the Medina came more and more apparent to me. In the balmy evening air, artificial lights getting switched on and the locals getting to their shopping after a day of work, the colours became even more intense.

Here I found some beautiful Persian shoes for my daughter (pink with gold sequence....) and a bag for my wife. I was still looking for a gift for my son, but this I would find later.

After browzing we were taken back to the hotel for a delcious dinner. Next time I'll tell you more about the ruins, Leptis Magna and Al Khoms.

To see ALL the pics of my trip, you can now go to the gallery here: http://nelimages.com/gallery.php?gid=81 Editing on keywords are still happening and the odd images might be removed. Also these images are unedited and simply as-is. Retouched and treated images will be added later.

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