Today I went to the cemetery to visit my uncle’s grave. I went with his mother, his sister and his nephew (my grandmother, mother and cousin respectively). It was the first time I’ve ever been to a cemetery. We brought with us flowers wrapped in aluminum foil, a big plastic bottle of water, and rice. Written outside the cemetery in spray paint on the wall is, “We are dead now, and you will die later.” There were some beggars outside the cemetery and my grandmother handed them some money as we enter.
The cemetery is infinitely larger than I imagined. It stretches far in all directions. The earth is a dry, orange color and the markers for the dead match. There are paths that lead through the cemetery, and we take one and start walking. The cemetery is silent. There are people here who have come to visit their dead loved ones but their grief is fairly muted. However, along our way we pass two women and a child who could be no older than 8 years old who is crying as loud as she can, “Baba” which means, ‘Dad’ in Arabic. She manages it once or twice and then her mom hits her to be quiet. She stops for a bit and then starts again.
Along the way we pass by two graves and stop. I read a sura from the Quran and my grandmother looks down at the graves. These people are family I never knew existed. Scattered throughout the cemetery is the Libyan flag. This place gives meaning to the flag. It’s the only place I’ve been to that I felt like I understood what was really behind it. Not the meaning of the colors, or the monarchy that instituted it, or even the flag that rivals it. The Libyan Flag is not just a symbol, but a rallying call. People saw it and died with laughter in their hearts and smiles on their lips. And these are the dead. And here are their flags. It’s a sobering reality.
We walk a little bit further, and I lag behind. My family stops at a grave and without approaching it to ask, I know it’s where my uncle is buried. His name is on a plastic marker, so is the date of his death, his birth and above it all they have written, “Martyr”. In between the crying, my younger cousin takes out the plastic bottle and pours some water in his hand. He then begins to spray the water around the soil my uncle is buried under. He does this until the soil is reasonably wet. He has a few plants atop his grave and the water will help them grow. My cousin then brings out a bag of rice and everyone takes a handful and scatters it on the soil. There is a plastic bowl near his marker with a rock inside it. My cousin cleans out the red dust from the bowl and replaces it with the rock and some fresh water. My mother and her mother read from the Quran while I watch my cousin get up and leave. He walks through the cemetery until I see him kneeling in front of another grave. I watch him as he pours water and rice on the grave, and I can hear my grandmother telling my uncle about his daughter. My grandmother also tells my mother not to cry loudly because her brother can hear her and it causes him spiritual pain to hear her grieve.
While we’re visiting him, my uncle’s best friend comes to visit. My grandmother says ‘Hello’, and he greets her and leaves to give us time alone. He is also carrying a bottle of water. We place the flowers on his grave. My cousin returns and we pour the rest of the rice and water on the graves near my uncle that appear to have been neglected. These rows are all the people who died recently, during the months of the revolution. On most of the markers, the word, “Martyr” is written. Many of these are the men who died to try to give us freedom.
As we leave the cemetery, we pass by a family we are also distantly related to. This woman’s son loved my uncle, and after my uncle died he said, “I want to die like him.” The boy was a bit younger than me and he died two days later. We cry with them a bit, and I notice that this is a grave we visited on the way in.
As we finally exit the cemetery I wonder why the Libyan flag isn’t on my uncle’s grave like it is on the others. My grandmother seems to know what I’m thinking and says, ‘You know, he asked to be buried with the flag.’
Source- Mukhtar’s Libya