In Tripoli Suburb, a Life After Qaddafi Emerges

Celebrating freedom from the dictator but left without basic services, revolutionaries move on to challenges more mundane but crucial for their community's survival

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TRIPOLI, Libya -- In Gorji, a residential neighborhood next to the now-destroyed military compound at Bab al-Aziziyah, the streets are lined with a desert tree that grows about 30 feet high. The trees throw enough shade to walk comfortably around the neighborhood in Libya's brutal midday sun. On Monday, they were full of children sent by their parents with plastic 5-liter bottles to fetch water from the mosque, which has the neighborhood's only working well.

"The problem is not the water," said Khalid Sharif, a Gorji resident supervising the line at the mosque's faucet. "We have water under the city. But we cannot bring it up because the electricity has not come to Gorji yet." To get around the problem, Sharif said, the members of the mosque disconnected its plumbing from the city system yesterday and reconnected it to the mosque's 50-year-old well, previously used for ablutions. A few oil engineers who live in the neighborhood rigged an electric pump to a diesel generator. The pump should run for a week, he said. Compared to water, fuel is widely available. Groups of men sell it from jerry cans at the city's intersections, though at war profiteer's prices.

Sharif, who works in Tripoli hospital's emergency room, said the regional network of hospitals is awaiting the arrival of a Libyan-Canadian vascular surgeon who has volunteered to visit and will be sent to the hospital in Yefren, two hours from Tripoli. Yefren, which loyalist forces abandoned last month, has taken much of the injuries from the fighting that only ended here three days ago.

Though shortages of blood and equipment have received more attention in recent days, Sharif said that supplies of surgical and post-surgical anesthesia are becoming critically low. He named Dormicam, Fentenyl, Xylocaine, and Valium as drugs that were dwindling, and said the injuries were requiring specialists.

"We have seen more shattered bones and injuries to the arteries than is normal for bullets," said Sharif. He attributed that to fragmenting ammunition he claims to have removed from injured on both sides. "We also need a neurosurgeon," he said. "The snipers. They aim for the head."

Such shortages in Tripoli are acute but have a peculiar inconsistency. Near the Avenue Omar Muqtar, a main road, a tanker truck was dispensing drinking water on Monday afternoon, across from a mini-mart fully stocked with soft drinks and juice. Price-gouging seems limited. A shopper named Khalid bought 30 eggs for four and a half Dinars, about the same price as before the fighting, he said. The shop's owner, a man in his 60s named Abdullah Adesaid Ben Shibbel, said he had raised prices a few percent because his distributor had, but that most of his customers were buying low-price staples anyway, and didn't seem to notice. "Macaroni, oil, tomato, couscous, rice, milk, diapers," had been flying since Saturday, when people started to brave the streets again, he said.

The shop's shelves were full, and both the freezer and the air conditioner were working. It was in many ways indistinguishable from an American mini-mart in peacetime. He did not know if his distributor would restock the shelves, though.

If there is a risk rising rather than falling Tripoli today, it is disease. The first sighting of a garbage truck in some time came on Monday afternoon, with two men grimly scooping up one of the orderly but long-neglected rows of refuse along the roads leading into town. You can now find your way to Tripoli by following a kilometers-long garbage berm, and no one seems to know when regular garbage collection will begin again.

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Marc Herman is a writer in Barcelona. He is the author of Searching for El Dorado.

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