Saturday, August 20, 2005

Imsallata

Retired Rambler dropped by Pigsty's Flickr and commented 'Imsallata?' I googled it and found only my own references to it, plus a mention my fellow banishee, Rogan Deep, gave it on Virtual Tourist.

It deserves to be better known. I spent ten weeks there last year. Imsallata's a Libyan rural market town, about ten miles south of Al Khoms. I've also seen the name spelt 'mesallata' and 'msallata'.

Few of the streets are metalled. On market days, you would actually see people coming to town on donkeys, though most of the farmers drove ancient, battleship-grey Peugeots . The street corners were occupied by men idling at all hours: they weren't used to outsiders, and stared, and stared.

There was one cafe, where we'd eat sometimes; and a couple of nights a week we'd go there for a shisha pipe; (that picture in the top right hand corner was taken there, as was this one of Peter and Padraig).

After my ten weeks in Imsallata I was teaching in Tripoli again and found that my students were very amused that I'd spent time in such a rural area. The inhabitants of Imsallata are figures of fun, I learned, because they're always saying "Sh'ni?" ("What?"). And the fact that people still go about on donkeys is a source of hilarity to the Tripoli lads; (donkeys are ancient comical/sexual symbols throughout the Arab world, I'm told).

There must have been other westerners there at some point in the place's history: I saw a little boy with blonde hair, and there was a young man you couldn't miss, wearing traditional Libyan dress, with red hair and freckles. Padraig and I christened him "Ismail O'Flaherty", behind his back of course - Libyans are very touchy about the red-hair genes that surface in the populace.

Once you got past the staring, the people were very friendly. After we'd been going to the shisha cafe a couple of weeks, usually smoking apple tobacco, the lad there asked us if we wanted to try "cocktail". Hmm. I don't know what was in it, but we floated home afterwards. (I later asked for a cocktail in a Tripoli shisha cafe, and was given a funny look; maybe it was just that they did things differently in the country).

I was sixteen months altogether in Libya, but the ten weeks in Imsallata seem to have left the most interesting memories.

This is the road to the town centre, from the house we were staying at. The adjective I kept using in letters home was "biblical".


I googled my way accidentally to this site about Libya's Jews .

Rogan Deep's row with the Libyan flickr group has now led to drive by postings from this Moody75 nutcase, who began by urging me to post to the Libya group, and then turned to insulting me. In Jarrow, we have a word for people like that, but I'll refrain from posting it.
The Libya.alt group on flickr has masses of pics now. A lot of them are great photos.

Finally, for the noo, here's Gilbert the Gecko, who lived on my bedroom ceiling for a while in Imsallata.