By Agence France-Presse
A villa in Misrata is abuzz with activity as mothers prepare food parcels with poems and messages of love attached for sons battling on the outskirts of the Libyan capital.
More than 10,000 food parcels are being sent each day from home, 200 kilometers (120 miles) away, to the battlefront south of Tripoli against Libya’s military strongman Khalifa Haftar.
In their fourth war since 2011, Misrata’s men form part of the assorted army of Libya’s internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) fighting Haftar’s forces.
Reputed to be Libya’s best organized, Misrata’s fighters were at the forefront of the revolt eight years ago that ousted Moamer Kadhafi.
They were heavily involved in a 2014 battle for control of Tripoli and spearheaded the 2016 defeat of the Islamic State group in Sirte, to the east.
The latest war is being waged not only on the battlefield but also in the kitchen, courtesy of several women’s associations in Misrata, notably Al-Narjess which alone accounts for 2,000 of the daily food parcels.
The villa in the center of the Mediterranean city has been transformed into a field kitchen since Haftar’s forces launched an assault on the capital at the start of April.
Around 100 women work in two shifts a day.
Seated in circles on the tiled floor, the women chop meat and vegetables for pies while chanting battle cries and constant songs of praise to Allah.
The food is donated by local businesses.
Nawara Ali said she turns up each day at 8 am sharp to prepare the “iftar” meals that break the dawn-to-dusk fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan that started last week.
She has six sons who have fought in Libya’s multiple wars since 2011.
Four of them have been involved in the latest battle for Tripoli between the GNA and Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army that has killed at least 430 people, according to UN estimates.
– Motivate fighters –
It’s a labor of love for the mothers.
“Even if I’m tired and weak from fasting myself, coming here to prepare food for our sons who are fighting fills me with happiness,” she said.
“People ask me what’s the point of allowing my sons to go to war at the risk of losing them,” 55-year-old Ali said.
“I tell them Libya deserves the sacrifice and that thousands of our young people have paid the price of freedom with their lives.”
Serving like a battalion chief on the culinary front of the latest war blighting post-Kadhafi Libya, Halima al-Gammudi supervises operations in the kitchen.
Soup, meat, homemade bread, and a filled pie make up a typical meal for the front.
Each one comes in a plastic container wrapped and labeled from the association “in support of Volcano of Anger”, the codename of the GNA operation to prevent Haftar from seizing Tripoli.
Under the cellophane wrapper, the women slip in handwritten notes with verses in Libyan dialect such as “revolutionary to the end” or less poetic messages like “may God destroy Haftar and those with him”.
The mothers say the aim is to motivate the fighters and keep them in touch with home.
“It’s been days now since we have had news from our sons at the front. Even telephone calls are difficult sometimes, so we turn to these words of encouragement wishing them victory over the enemy,” said Gammudi.
Zaynab Qatiche is convinced of the power of the messages attached to the food parcels.
“One of my friends has two sons at the front, and one of them told her that these messages… bring him some consolation after more than a month far from loved ones,” she said.
“Our sons are sacrificing their blood and their lives. A meal prepared with love is the least we can do for them,” said Fatima, who has special status as “mother of a martyr” having lost a child in the war.