Once the capital of all the Barbary states, Derna sits between Libya’s Green Mountain and the desert, looking out onto the Mediterranean and back upon a history stretching into millennia.
However, this ancient city now finds itself striving to define itself beyond the war that has dimmed its light in many people’s imagination. Today, it strives to forge an identity beyond that imposed upon it by the country’s warring belligerents.
From clubs celebrating literature to those studying astronomy, from the people photographing the city to those racing through tits streets, Derna is carving a place for itself beyond destruction and war.
Running for peace
It is early in the morning and already some of the city’s youth are preparing for Derna’s first ever Peace Marathon. By midday, around 90 people have assembled outside the city’s western entrance, preparing to run the five kilometers to the Harich Hospital in the city Centre.
“I told my friends about it and they all agreed to take part in the marathon.” Jawhar Ali, who had been delighted with his Derna, City of Peace T-Shirt. “Everyone was excited to learn that the person announcing the start of the race was the same person responsible for overseeing athletics throughout Libya.
“We knew it was five kilometers, but we didn’t even feel it.”
A new reader
If people are not running, they’re reading. In April, Derna’s medical library hosted the first of the Charitable Book Club’s New Reader forums designed to reintroduce people to books and ignite their passion for literature. As part of the event, club members invited young people from all backgrounds from throughout the city to join them at the Library.
Club members, themselves avid readers, held discussions with attendees to discuss the reasons many had stopped reading and, as a group, to try and find solutions. Similarly, club members talked about their own thirst for knowledge and the information that could only be found in books. New titles were also suggested for attendees with books being given as parting gifts to the club’s departing guests.
A month after the evening, I met one of the attendees, who told me of the difference the evening had made in the way he saw books. “Before l wasn’t really into reading, as I preferred audio books. However, following the evening at the library, my love of books has definitely grown.”
The world in a picture
From a passion for reading to passions of another kind, the photography club of Faiz Friti, ISO Derna. Faiz has been drawing amateur photographers to his club from throughout the city and instructing them, through trips and free classes, in the basics of the photography.
The club even staged its first exhibition during Ramadan of last year, gaining a positive response from those who attended. One of the club members, Abdul Aziz Mansouri said that the spirit of the club had given him the motivation to continue and to keep learning about photography. Within ISO Derna, Abdul said, there existed a real sense of belonging and a shared passion for showing the beauty of the world. “I really learned a lot from Mr Faiz. For instance, after just a short period of time, I was able to take a photograph of a distant galaxy in the night sky.”
From photographing galaxies to studying them, Aliya Hassadi from Ro’iaa (vision in Arabic) the Association for Amateur Astronomers and Libya’s delegate to the Space Generation Advisory Council told participants at last summer’s TEDx about his love of astronomy.
Surrounded by red lights, Hassadi told participants about, “mankind’s relation with the stars and our journey to unlock the secrets of the universe.” Hassadi continued, telling the conference, “The stars invite us to change the way we think about humanity and our problems. They open up new horizons for us and call us towards a bright new future.”
Hassadi also talked about how ancient Libyans had contributed to humanity’s knowledge of space and how, through astronomy, we could unite Libya. He also outlined some of the new initiatives underway in the country that would contribute to the understanding of the universe and how, together, we could all one day shine a little brighter.