Tripoli market bustles in spite of war

Abu Saleem market, Tripoli
Image caption The Abu Saleem market is bustling prior to the start of Ramadan

The government keeps a close eye on the foreign reporters who report from Libya's capital. We all stay in the same hotel, we're not allowed to go into town on our own.

We're often taken by our escorts/translators to pro-Gaddafi rallies, where we're free to interview the colonel's supporters. But getting an idea of what ordinary daily life is like is much more difficult.

On the Friday before the start of Ramadan, we're driven to the Abu Saleem part of town and given an hour to walk around the marketplace. We do so free from escorts and translators.

Even so, those who oppose Col Gaddafi may still feel too intimidated to speak freely - in this city, public criticism of the leader is unwise.

The marketplace is busy with shoppers getting ready for the start of the Islamic holy month. Many stalls sell clothes - including Chelsea and Arsenal football shirts. One shop sells mugs with pictures of Col Gaddafi and his family (about $3 each).

Umm Ahmed is shopping for clothes at a stall on the edge of the market.

"Happy ... very happy ... because our Guide is very good," she says in English. The "Guide" is one of the titles Libyans use for Col Gaddafi.

Further inside the market, Ramadan Fitouri sits on a stool opposite his shop. He sells evening dresses for women to wear at weddings (he doesn't sell actual wedding dresses - there are special bridal shops for those).

Mr Fitouri used to get his new dresses delivered once every two weeks from Turkey and Syria. Now, because of Libya's conflict, he gets his deliveries only once a month.

"It takes longer and it's more expensive," he explains.

Mr Fitouri has put up his prices by 20%. A glittery blue dress on a mannequin outside the stall now costs the equivalent of $60.

Plenty of choice

But right now, he has few shoppers. The country is at war - so weddings get put off.

"People feel afraid, not ready to do their ceremony - they postpone," he says quietly.

Further along, the Shaban sisters are doing their pre-Ramadan shopping. Huda, 19, has bought a shirt and jeans and is looking to buy a pair of shoes to match her new outfit. Her younger sister Hada, 16, has bought a headscarf.

The sisters have plenty of choice in the market. The stalls are full of goods - a sign that shopkeepers are still able to get hold of supplies, even if it costs them a bit more.

"Prices have gone up 15% but we can handle it," said Huda, who is a medical student.

"We love Muammar Gaddafi," adds Hada unprompted. She is still in secondary school.

"Is it possible to be happy when there is a war going on?" I ask them.

"We get used to it - it's been six months now," laughs Huda.

"We're happy all the time... I love clothing," agrees Hada.

Image caption The Shaban sisters have been enjoying their shopping spree

"We want our leader," says Huda enthusiastically, "We die for him, I love him so much."

This feeling is so strong that Huda, the 19-year-old medical student, even signed up for a two-week military training course in Sirte, the hometown of Col Gaddafi. Her course included weapons training.

"It's fun - it's like the movies," she says.

"Do you ever think you will really have to shoot a gun?" I ask her.

"For my leader, yes, I can do anything."

Across the road from the main market, Amir Maeza works as a pharmacist. He says that male chemists in Libya work at night so that their female colleagues can work during the day. I ask him about the effects of the war on his business.

"There is no war as you see in the capital. Nothing has happened. Everything works okay until now," he replies. The shelves behind the counter are filled with packets of pills and medicines.

Mr Maeza's family lives with his family in Tripoli. He says that he has no contact with Libyans in the rebel-held east of the country.

"I feel so sorry because in the final we are all Libyans," he says, "What is wrong, what is right - it doesn't matter. In the last we are Libyans. That's what really hurts."

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