We entered Tripoli


We entered Tripoli in the dark. No water, no food. I didn’t know that hope could diminish like an almond falling soundless on the side of a road. The smuggler, a Southern Libyan, told us: be vigilant, in Tripoli, there’s a wolf in every alley, there is a wolf… on the bend of every road a fierce hyena. In Tripoli, the people walk as if burdened, feet drag them down, they trip over themselves. In Tripoli, at night, there are no women in the streets. In Tripoli, fear is the master, eyes of lost faces stare from windows. When you arrive, sing loud, child, you will see from far away how a crumb of bread can flower, covering the sky and the earth. Sleep will unravel your ropes and bind your book with stories. I was there on the boat. A lightflash. The randomness of fate.

In Tripoli, we were like a soaked sponge. Exchanged among smugglers like Friday prayers. In a ruined house, in a wasteland. A thirsting olive tree. They took us to the house at night, locked the door and left. No electricity, no candles, no running water, no toilet, only a house in hell. How does anyone sleep in hell?


Vultures landed on our shore. Souls hanging from their claws.
Those who survived scattered the evil streets.

– Do you know your way to the heart of the city?
– The main square or the mosque.
– Where can I hear the heart of the city?
– In the market, in the bakery, or in the tavern.
– Where is the house of the governor?
– It’s there, on top of the hill.
– You will live a long life, my child!


The blue bird is fascinated by small things:

The smell of night coffee
The whistle of a valley’s reed
The call of a lonely cockerel 
The cough of a dock worker
The silence of an ageing body

That’s what the waiter at the bay café told us –
He only needed to tilt his head to see a massacre.

Dreams are all I own. I, the blue bird,
Tied to the mast of the boat.
With them I can rout death.
The heart lays down on its empty shore.

– A chestnut for you, a cold cup of tea for me.
– We stopped eating fish, because it tasted like human flesh.

Butterflies cover the woman’s naked body.
She could be from Mali, could be from Agadez.
Where do all these butterflies come from?
From the heart of a sorrowful God.

Ashur Etwebi
translated by the author and James Byrne

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