After the passing of afternoon, also known as the bored hours of the day, Libya’s main streets are crowded by shoppers, men sitting in outside cafes drinking tea and smoking hookah, and children in dirt alleys playing soccer, using their own creativity to create goal posts.
However, Fridays are like no other day in Tripoli in the sense that the streets lack the normal rhythm of life that the city is known to beat to. Rows of beeping cars do not crowd lanes 2 to 1, nor do the frequent construction sites sound their systematic hammering. Fridays are quiet days often spent at home in the company of family.
Streets sleep in on Fridays in the way inanimate objects can, stirring only at the appearance of an occasional car and finally by the call of Friday prayers. After the men complete their mandatory attendance at the mosque, they return home where family and extensions of it, spend time with one another.
What Libyans do for fun, and more importantly when they are bored are interesting displays of what society constitutes as appropriate and desirable forms of pastime.
Different to how more individualistic societies entertain themselves – delving in independent activities like surfing the internet when bored – most activities in Libya considered fun and entertaining seem to depend on the number of people in attendance.The more people, the better.
A zarda, or the famous word for picnic, drives Libya’s central entertainment system. When there is reason to celebrate a small success or a change in climate is in order, multiple family entities and friends get together in a distant lot of land and spend the quiet day in each other’s company, eating homemade macaroni, watermelon, and more junk food than normal.
Tasks are split by gender or age group; the men assigned to barbecuing busy themselves with talk of soccer and politics, the women slice the watermelons and pour tea, and the children try to stay out of everyone’s way. The overall picture of the get-together is an effusive display of Libyan culture and its value system.
Cultural values such as community and family are highlighted by these small, simplistic performances of Libyan pastime. Members seemed to enjoy the idea of temporarily leaving aspects of modern society behind in order to cook a meal over ad hoc burners with those they find deserving of the time.
Outsiders might find it surprising that Libyans should prefer the outdoors on summer days considering its desert climate, but Libyans are accustomed to the weather and have learned small tricks from older generations of how to control it; like watering the surrounding sand in order to cool the earth and prevent the sand from lifting to air dust.
On picnics like these, the length of Libya’s days seem to extend passed their infamous durability. Libyans enjoy feeling the passing of time, if only to spend the length of it with family. Not doing anything at all is considered relaxing. Unfortunately, that often means that luxurious chunks of time pass without effect. Many families fail to come up with activities that will be both entertaining and beneficial.
The great thing about Libyan pastime is that it plays as the perfect window for tradition to preserve it’s role in a modernizing society. This, however, does not mean that adopting modern trends would, in any way threaten that tradition.
Forming an activity such as story time can be beneficial to children, and no doubt, would bring family members together. It can also preserve Libya’s diminishing oral tradition. After time, this could be an example of a new tradition that younger family members will follow.
What Libyans do while waiting for a doctor’s appointment, while riding a public bus, or on Fridays are the clearest display of Libya’s tradition of pastime. It is important to value tradition, and respect the value of family and community, however that should not be seen as a task on its own. Many families complain that there are not enough recreational sites geared towards families, and this is a change they’d like to see in the developing country.