The Tripoli Zoo


I never saw the appeal of a Zoo, not even the London Zoo.
My memories as a child are marred by attempts to extract joy in that place. I couldn’t, so I pretended.

I pretended to enjoy watching caged animals, now tamed or drugged, looking at me, questioning me, ‘Do you feel happy now, Human?’

I’m good at pretending. We all are. We find people doing things in a certain way, we accept it and pretend this is the only way.

Our very rare family outing to Tripoli Zoo in the 90s was one of the most depressing memories of a Zoo I have. Yes, we had heard horror stories about the Cairo Zoo, but dad never took us to visit. I guess he was pretending too.

The Tripoli Zoo was portrayed as one of the major achievements of the tamed mad dog of the desert: Geddaffi. He was no longer seen as an animal, but as an ageing man who had learnt from Saddam Hussein a good lesson in good behaviour. Libya was Geddaffis Zoo where he kept his testing mice. We are still trapped: body, mind and soul.

The zoo was a step towards bringing a wild country closer to civilisation. Since the 2011 revolution against Geddaffi, the Tripoli Zoo have been more useful. It’s used as a refugee camp to African immigrants trying to use Libya as a step in their journey to their final destination: the civilised world, Europe. The irony.

Upon parking the car, we’d enjoy the long walk to the entrance, with a water piece walking with us along the middle. The joy stopped there, when the scorching heat received us with nowhere to hide, flies feasting on animal droppings and people wandering aimlessly dragging their feet. The very few animals that were kept were underfed, lonely and miserable. The laziness in the air was shared by all.

Why do some like it? Is it the power, the nothing else to do, or maybe the satisfaction we get when we see others more miserable than us?

Capturing and caging creatures in an unfamiliar habitat is inhumane, but it’s a human deed.

We cage others the same way. We imprison children. We imprison minds and thoughts.
We limit others to a rigid collective memory, pickle and solidify them. We watch them struggle until tamed into a lethargic mode of being. “It’s life”, we tell them. It’s how things are and should be. If it’s not your natural habitat, then tough luck.

Our ability to humiliate others, our sense of superiority and arrogance are human traits. We need to acknowledge them and fight them off.

A zoo has never been my kind of outing.