Tripoli Voices: A Waiter, Doctor, Engineer, and Shopkeeper React To The Revolution

Amidst -- and beyond -- the rebel bombs and Gaddafi’s bunkers, the people of the Libyan capital finally feel free to speak out, and say what the upheaval means for them.

Lemine Ould Salem

TRIPOLI – It took us until early Wednesday morning to reach the capital. We had landed on the Tunisian resort island of Djerba the day before, and then traveled by car over the western mountains. At the Libyan border, members of the rebel army offered safe passage to Tripoli.

First stop: Green Square. It is a dangerous place to be, but it is the most symbolically important place in Tripoli for the revolutionaries, who were firing shots of joy into the air when we arrived. But our objective was another: to meet citizens across the Libyan capital to find out what the revolution, and especially the last few days, has meant to them. What do they expect from the future? With Muammar Gaddafi's four-decades-long regime crumbling, these are the voices of four Libyan men in the capital.

Abdelnasser Trabulsi, 54, Engineer
Trabulsi works in the petrochemical industry; he has always been an opponent of Gaddafi. "Since the beginning of his tenure, it was clear that nothing good would come out of it -- and I soon began to hate him," says Trabulsi. Throughout Gaddafi's 42-year reign, he never doubted that he would one day witness his fall. "I was sure that I would see the end of his reign, before I died. A regime that is ruled by terror cannot last forever. That is true both in Libya and elsewhere. When I saw the rulers being overthrown in Tunisia and Egypt, I realized immediately that this would also mean the end of Gaddafi," he said. "I find no words to express my feelings today. Joy and happiness, these words are by far not enough to describe how I feel. It is so much more than that.

Naji Sbai, 28, Waiter
For Sbai, it's hard to grasp that Colonel Gaddafi no longer rules Tripoli and Libya. "Since I was born, there has been no other ruler but him. I thought, I will die and he will still be in power," says the young man. "You cannot imagine how happy I am." He now dreams of freedom and democracy, but also of equitable distribution of wealth in the country. "Here, nothing works properly. There is no law and no state. There has only been Gaddafi and his family. They claimed everything for themselves, and have killed and imprisoned so many people without anyone to stop them."

Khaled El Maadi, 25, Doctor
El Maadi, who has sympathized with the rebels from the beginning, is only partially satisfied today. He knows that Gaddafi's fall will not solve all of Libya's problems. "Gaddafi is not the only problem here. This country has been ruled for 42 years on the basis of a dictatorship and a mob. As long as this system is not completely destroyed, I will not be satisfied," he says. Nevertheless, the young doctor remains optimistic: "We have suffered so much that nobody wants a return to a dictatorship. I am convinced that the future of this country will be marked by democracy and freedom. However, it will take a long time to get there, because we have lived under terror and oppression for decades."

Even though he sees a positive future ahead for his country, the 25-year-old is apprehensive. He worries about the thousands of weapons that now exist in Libya. "Gaddafi distributed arms to all of the people that fought for him. Now the rebels have plenty of weapons, but this creates a very dangerous situation for the country," he said. "There is hardly an adult – or even teenager – who does not have a weapon. The new authorities need to find a solution to this problem as quickly as possible, otherwise we might risk falling into another civil war."

Yassine Charafeddine, 36, Shopkeeper
"I am the happiest person in the world. Never in my life have I experienced such a strong feeling. For the first time, I can smell true freedom," says Charafeddine, a young shopkeeper. "Never again will this country be like before. We have endured this dictatorship for 42 years, and we see now that it was never right for us. Believe me, Libya will be a great democracy, a modern country and a constitutional state." Some worries remain: "I am concerned that some Gaddafi loyalists may attempt to sabotage our revolution. Our new leaders must be very attentive to this, and must make every effort to neutralize this threat."

Read the original story in German

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The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation


Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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