When Munir Atigia, 38, remembers his childhood, it is always as a little boy kicking a ball and dreaming of one day becoming a footballer.
“We had nothing else to do,” he says. “All we had was a one-channel TV. But it was still a happy childhood – maybe because as a child, I couldn’t understand what was going on around me.”
But Munir was also business-minded – he used to buy pigeons and watches and sell them at school.
Munir was born in Misurata, Libya’s third largest city, but his family moved to Tripoli, where he was brought up together with his brother and two sisters. Eventually, he started his own oil service company.“That’s all gone now,” Munir says. “I have lost everything.”
In November, 2010, Munir decided to come to Malta with his wife, Nzouha, and their three children. He already had a close connection with Malta – his father used to bring him to Malta on holidays. Two of Munir’s children were also born in Malta, as Munir and his wife preferred Malta’s hospitals to those in Libya, so he would bring Nzouha to give birth here.
“Late in 2010, we could feel the pressure building up in Libya and we decided to come to Malta,” Munir says. “It all happened very fast – we packed up everything in two weeks and came here.”
“The move to Malta was hard, especially because of our children,” says Nzouha. “Yet I agreed with Munir that we should move to Malta.”
Munir’s wife was born in Tripoli. When she finished school, she joined her parents in Canada when she was 15 years old – she lived in Canada for seven years, where she also completed her studies.
Munir and his family settled down well in Malta. “We feel at home,” says Nzouha. “We like the people and the country. Even at school, the teachers are very nice to my children. The fact that my husband integrated so well also helped.”
Munir agrees. “Libya and Malta are culturally close – both peoples are friendly and nurture a great love for family,” he says. “Also, acting in a positive way helped me integrate quickly.”
Four months after Munir and his family arrived in Malta, the Libyan revolution started. Munir joined the NGO Igo-Aid Foundation and helped in sending aid to Libya. At the foundation, he also met Peter and Timmy Sullivan, and Matteo Lamanna and they became close friends.
“He is a family man with a beautiful character,” says Peter Sullivan.
Timmy Sullivan agrees: “Munir is an extremely generous man, not just with the people he knows but also with complete strangers.”
For Matteo Lamanna, “Munir is like my younger brother. He is part of my family.
Munir worked hard to contribute to change in Libya and is now helping the Igo-Aid Foundation in sending aid to Syria.
“Now we have our country back,” Munir says. “I have visited Libya since the end of the revolution, and it feels different. We will have a good future.”
Munir will eventually return to Libya. “I look forward to returning to Libya in a couple of years. But I will never forget what Malta did for me and for the Libyan people.”
Grouper with couscous – The kick of the hot peppers combines well with the tender fish and couscous.
Ingredients: 1.5kg grouper, cut into pieces; Green and red chilli peppers; Garlic, crushed; Couscous; Tomato paste; Olive oil for frying; Coriander; Cumin; Mixed herbs; Salt and pepper to taste.
Method: Fry the peppers in olive oil. When they start to crisp, remove. Fry the spices in the same oil and then add the tomato paste. Simmer for 40 minutes. Add the fish and cook for 20 minutes. Add the garlic. In the meantime, steam the couscous. When the fish is ready, mix the sauce with the couscous and serve.
This interview was included in the publication InterAct – A Portrait of Third-Country Nationals in Malta, published as part of the Media InterAct project (IF 2010 02) and distributed with The Times. They are based on the TV programme Minn Lenti Interkulturali, produced/presented by Maria Muscat (PBS), and directed/edited by Godfrey Smith (PBS) and broadcast on Education22/TVM2 and TVM between January and March, 2012 and on TVM between April and June, 2012. The project is co-financed through the European Fund for the Integration of Third-Country Nationals. The project is led by SOS Malta, in partnership with the Public Broadcasting Services and the Institute of Maltese Journalists.
Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.Support Us