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Mona Farrugia's Malta-Libya Commentary - Part 2

 
Mona Farrugia's Malta-Libya Commentary - Part 2

On Friday night I watched Khaled Riani, my old colleague on Caqlaq (a television programme which Television Malta paid us a measly LM35 each per programme to produce] cry on national television and ended up crying myself. I don’t know why but it could have been a culmination of a week of wondering what on earth is going go happen to many friends and their families. I had forgotten Khaled like I had forgotten most Libyans I know. To me they’re not ‘Libyans’; they’re just friends.

In 1998 Khaled used to tell us a story which, at the time, we found hard to believe. Before coming to Malta he went through a stint of reporting for Libyan television. Reporting on football, mind you, not state affairs, but this still meant that, amongst other things, as a commentator could not call footballers by name: they were numbers. Nobody was as important as the general. Literally.

Khaled did a fantastic rendition of the ‘rararararararararararara’ commentary which all football people identify with, but in Arabic. It was hilarious and at some point every three seconds a number would come up. We knew what he was saying because the Maltese language shares one thing 100% with Arabic: our numerals. When we were children, Libyan and Tunisian friends of the family used to make us recite them, much to the jolly merriment of all adults: wiehed, tnejn, tlieta.

Khaled also told us of crazy situations surrounding the Gaddafi family, such as if one of the sons had a particular penchant for a particular football team. Khaled recounted the shooting of fans at the ground. And there we were, not even able to get anybody to watch Malta play.

We found the whole thing crazy but then Khaled was a little crazy in the sweetest way. He built a career on being funny but through all that I could detect a broken heart and much anger lurking somewhere near the surface. When we hung around together – myself, my ex, his very blonde (and tall! much taller you Khaled xbin) Maltese girlfriend, we looked like a funny bunch.

And yes, we got some ugly looks. Khaled is right: the Maltese did exercise more than a fair amount of xenophobia in his regard. He only broke through that barrier by pretending to be everything he wasn’t: hilarious and blonde: his nickname was, still is with his fans, Ginger.

Riani speaks of the fear struck in their heart when Gaddafi spoke a few days ago and called them dogs and all the names under the sun. We laughed. We called him a madman. We wondered what on earth the guy was on. What we did not realise was that for Libyans of Khaled's generation, that was not funny at all. It was a reality. And it was scary.

Khaled has blossomed. From what I read, he now actually runs a television production company, which is fantastic. His dad was actually in the diplomatic corps for many years, yet Khaled, like many others even those close to the Gaddafi regime, was ever fearful. Please do not read anything about him and take it with a pinch of salt or read opportunism into it.

When he lashes out against the LAFICO business people as well as Maltese with obvious Libya business interests at the protests in Malta, as he did in today’s interview in Malta Today, he is doing it straight up, from the heart: he, like many others who suffered, having to leave their country mostly against their wishes, cannot stomach those who made huge amounts of money from the country that seemed to keep on giving Westerners while its own people lived in a decrepit reality: no wonder the Libyans kept wanting to get out and the expats can’t wait to go back in.

And the Libyans do not trust each other. This feeling of ‘I don’t know if my Libyan friend could snitch on me at any moment’ is pervasive and constant, reminiscent of Iron Curtain times. It reminds me of us Maltese who, under pressure, and sometimes not, lash out against each other preferring to protect others instead. That, of course, includes politicians, business people and the media.

 

Photography and editing with kind permission of Artificial Eyes

 

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