On The Shores Of Tripoli, A Beach Party Libyans Need

The beach bums of Tripoli say that no matter who's in charge of Libya, they'll still be at the beach. Faisal Ali Kabir was here the night that former dictator Moammar Ghadafi was ousted, and Kabir remains, renting equipment to tourists, even as things around him change. NPR's Leila Fadel sends this postcard from Tripoli.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel. Libya's capital, Tripoli, is hugged by the Mediterranean Sea. It's part of more than a thousand miles of sandy coastline, along the sparkling water in that North African country. And in three years of tumult - war, ousting a dictator, the brutal killing of that dictator and militia-on-militia violence - the beach has remained a constant source of escape for the most part. NPR's Leila Fadel spent the day with beach bums in the capital. And she sent us this report.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: A young man revs the engine on his dirt bike and weaves through the sand near the water in central Tripoli. Dirt sprays everywhere on his sharp turns. Around him, families picnic on plastic tables and children build sand castles and splash in the waves. People ride jet skis and go swimming. It's a Friday afternoon, which is equivalent to the American Sunday afternoon. And people are chilling on their day off. Faisal Ali Kabir is where he always is, sitting on a plastic chair in the shade in his orange swimming shorts.

FAISAL ALI KABIR: (Foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken).

FADEL: His stand is set up. He rents out plastic tables and chairs, sporting equipment, floating devices for the water. And he's done it every day for 35 years. Others who work here call him the old man at the beach, although he's just 47.

KABIR: (Foreign language spoken).

FADEL: He says it's a place to take a break, to find comfort and to swim. Soon we'll have beach volleyball, he says, like Brazil - and, of course, soccer. In the summer, he and others set up games for the kids and even offer prizes. And for most Libyans, an escape is exactly what people are looking for. This is a country that is starting from scratch after 42 years of dictatorship, under Moammar Gadhafi. And so far, it's been chaotic to put it mildly. Rebel fighters who ousted Gadhafi never laid down their weapons. And there are no viable security forces and a weak central government. So kidnappings and assassinations are happening regularly. But all that melts away at the beach on a Friday afternoon for a lot of people.

KABIR: (Foreign language spoken).

FADEL: Kabir says he doesn't even pay attention to what's happening politically. He just comes here. He lives right nearby. He says the Ministry of Tourism has done little to entice tourists to their coastlines. They don't provide bathrooms. They don't clean. So he and others from the neighborhood who work at the beach pick up the trash themselves. And when Kabir says he and his friends come to the beach every day, he means it - in the dead of winter, during thunderstorms and even during NATO airstrikes. His friend Sami Kamel pipes in.

SAMI KAMEL: (Foreign language spoken).

FADEL: On the day of the strikes on Bab al-Azizia, we were here, he says. It was the best day, watching nature and the way the missiles came down. He's referring to the day in 2011 NATO hit the Bab al-Azizia compound, Gadhafi's base in the capital. But of course, waves and sun doesn't mean that people can ignore the dangers and divisions in the country.

KABIR: (Foreign language spoken).

FADEL: Kabir says people are afraid to drive at night. So they collect their things and leave before sunset, especially if they're from out of town. They don't want to get robbed or killed on the roads. So at night, he's alone with the other men from the neighborhood. He goes home around 10:30 p.m.

KABIR: (Foreign language spoken).

FADEL: He says, he feels free to speak openly now, but nothing else has changed. Nothing has gotten better. He's lost faith in politics. He didn't vote last month for parliament. And he regrets voting for the outgoing parliament, which people accuse of corruption and further dividing an already divided country.

KABIR: (Foreign language spoken).

FADEL: But all of Libya comes here, he says. From the South, the West and the East - at the beach people are united. Leila Fadel, NPR News.

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