My September Eleventh

My September Eleventh

“Please continue, I’m only here to see how everyone is doing” said the man who just entered my class. At this point I wasn’t sure who that person was, he looked in his mid 50s, grey hair with an American accent. He greeted the kids I was teaching English to and asked them if they were having fun then left after spending less than 10 minutes. The class I was teaching was sponsored by the U.S embassy in Benghazi, and after work that day I learned that Chris Stevens, the American ambassador, was the one who came by. During that time, Libya was preparing for its first free elections for the General National Congress and I was super hyped about it. I had never had the chance to vote in my life and neither had my parents.

July 7th, 2012 was the day Libya voted for the first time and it felt fantastic. The night before the elections, no one was sure whom they were going to vote for. The Grand Mufti (the highest religious figure in the country) appeared on tv and said that Libyans must vote for the Islamic Brotherhood party and not for any of the other parties, especially the National Powers Alliance because they are liberal and do not represent our values. That was enough for me and most of the people I knew to vote liberal because fuck that mufti dude. The party I voted for got most of the votes but for some reason, Conservatives took over the congress through unethical tactics. That was when everything started going down hill for Libya and the country started to be more divided.

A couple of months passed and it was September 11, 2012; the morning started like any other day. There was news all over social media that a short movie mocking the prophet was released online and that a peaceful protest was going to take place that night in front of the American Embassy. My dad told me that I should stay away from the embassy that night, so I assumed that having dinner with friends two blocks away from the embassy was logical. We started hearing loud gunshots, so I decided to leave. On my way home, I saw pick-up trucks with black flags on the top of them and masked men were driving. I knew they were “Ansar Al-Sharia” which was a group affiliated with ISIS. I called my friend once I got home and he said that the area has turned into a war zone, there was smoke coming out the embassy, and that they were using RPGs to target it. Some civilians rushed into the embassy to rescue the people left behind and one of them managed to find the Ambassador lying on the floor. He was still breathing but seemed like he inhaled so much smoke. He was rushed into the hospital and at 2am that night he was declared dead. Four Americans were killed, seven Libyans were injured that night, and the next day people in Benghazi took the streets with signs condemning terrorism. Chris Stevens was a guest at our home and it felt like we betrayed him and failed to protect him. The next day I was teaching a class at 6pm and mentioned the embassy attack. One student didn’t seem to like the fact that I said the attackers were horrible people and said “I was there as well and I think they had all the right to attack the embassy” and then left the class because apparently I “offended” him. Not sure what’s life anymore.

“Here it goes again, another sleepless night” said my brother pointing out the fact that he could hear the drone going around. The noise the drone made was the worst thing ever, it wasn’t loud, but the buzzing sound hurt my brain deep inside. My mom would joke about cleaning the roof, because she didn’t want the American military to mock her tidiness. I could hear my neighbor every night screaming at the drone to stop because he had to work in the morning.

During that time, religious extremism was taking over the city; assassinations and car bombings became the norm. ISIS targeted soldiers, police officers, lawyers, activists, journalists and anyone who’d speak against them. They called us infidels, claimed we weren’t real Muslims and for that we must be killed. Around 5-10 people were assassinated each day. One morning we had to leave work early because someone left an explosive suitcase near the door. The ironic part was when we came back to work that same evening like nothing has happened. My daily routine consisted of waking up, getting ready for work, checking Facebook to make sure I’m not on anyone’s hit list, looking under my car in case someone left me an explosive gift and then driving to work. I was waiting in traffic one evening on my way to teach when a loud sound came out of no where and a car few meters ahead of me burst into flames. I knew that it was another assassination but I luckily still managed to make it to work on time.

Check points were all around the city and sometimes it was hard to tell which ones belonged to the army and which were ISIS. I got stopped one time at a checkpoint and I knew that it wasn’t the army, but luckily I had deleted every text and FB message from my phone and logged out from all social media platforms, which was what I did every time I left the house. They searched my car and asked me whom did I support and I didn’t know what to say. The man looked at me again and asked the same question. I said “God, I support God” to which he replied “Good, then you support us” and let me go. We were at a time where no one could be trusted. Some of my friends joined the fight on both sides and I didn’t know how to feel about it. I started losing people left and right but still managed to continue life like nothing was happening. One day a friend of mine was killed while fighting with extremists, he was a bad person, an assassin, he’d probably kill me if he had the chance to do so, but I still felt bad, because that person was my friend once.

The year 2014 was the tipping point for me. ISIS had its tight grip on the city, police stations were all destroyed and mostly people who benefited from having extremism controlled the government. Life seemed meaningless, as if it was an extreme version of Groundhog Day. I spent most of my time watching pirated movies and the same comedy specials I had saved on my computer.

One summer night, mid June, there was a black out in the whole eastern side of the country. After phone service was gone, Internet was disconnected as well. Those things were usual but not all at the same time. Two hours later I started hearing explosions, they were louder than usual. The whole house was shaking. This continued for two long days, which I spent with my family laying on the floor because we knew we couldn’t be around the windows. The Internet connection would come for few minutes and I’d go on Facebook but no one was online. It was summer time and 111̊ Fahrenheit outside. The heat was unbearable and I started hallucinating, with no more water in the house I couldn’t even shower and we still had no idea what was happening outside since there was no tv or internet. I believe that this was when I completely lost it for the first time in a few years. I started hysterically laughing while tears came out of my eyes and my mom was trying to calm me down telling me that we will get through this and I started yelling at her “Who said that I want to survive this time? Do you call this life? This is not life, I hope we die, I want to die right now. We were never alive, we’ve been dead all along”.

The electricity finally came back after two days and I turned on the news: “Breaking News: Abu Khattala was captured in Benghazi”. Abu Khattala was the man who planned the attack on the American Embassy. He was captured by the U.S and transferred to Washington D.C.; Obama was on TV later that day describing how the operation went down, how the U.S managed to capture Abu Khattala, and avenge the death of the 4 Americans. In order to capture one man in Benghazi, some 40 civilians had to die in less than 48 hours and many homes were destroyed. Every time the U.S bombed ISIS in Libya, ISIS would retaliate and start randomly bombing neighborhoods. It was their way of saying “every time the U.S bombs us, we will bomb you back”. At this point I understood that my life meant nothing to those with power in the west, they weren’t interested in protecting me, no one was. I’m a dead body in the making, a number, a nameless soul and a war kid.


A post I wrote on my old account during the attack.

End of an Era

End of an Era

“This doesn’t look good at all” said my mom, while pointing at my dad’s beard. My father decided not to shave his face until the revolution was over, thinking it wasn’t going to take this long. It has been almost 4 months since this whole thing has started, and I was keeping myself busy. I was working as a cameraman for a news organization, a radio show host, a translator and an editor for a newspaper. It felt great to be part of something this big, we were in the news every single day and I remember when Bin Laden was killed, a reporter was going around asking Libyans what they thought about that and a man responded “Who cares! Fuck Bin Laden! He’s taking our spotlight”.


It’s May 5th and it is getting dark outside, which meant it was time to go to the freedom square. They had a big stage there with a podium on it where someone would come and announce the latest updates from the front lines. I took my mom and little sister there and I told them that I will come back to get them in two hours since I had some work to finish nearby. Less than an hour goes by before I heard a loud noise, which at first sounded like fireworks. I stepped out of the building and there was a dark cloud of smoke that could be seen from a distance and then I heard a man saying that a car had exploded in the Freedom Square. My thoughts were racing and I started running, leaving my work and car behind. Why did I leave them there by themselves, what if something happened to them, how am I supposed to live without my mom and sister or even live with the idea that I was the one who left them alone. I got there in 15 minutes and started running around trying to find them. A burning car was right by the stage and not far away from it, there was my sister who ran toward me while shouting “You missed the coolest thing ever!! I can’t wait to tell my friends”. Later on the news it was reported that Gaddafi’s men had planted a bomb in the car but luckily no one was killed.


Working at the radio was the most fun I had during the week. We would usually receive calls from people who would discuss current political issues, read us poems, or occasionally threaten to shoot us all, but the worst part was when people would call and ask us if they can sing. We stopped broadcasting after a while for some technical difficulties, and by that I mean someone came at night and burnt the whole place down. That wasn’t the end of it, two weeks after the incident I was driving around with a friend before we made a stop at some store and two minutes after I left the car, the back window was shattered. There were three bullets inside of the car and one of them hit the driver’s seat. I looked at my friend and said, “I guess you are driving now”. I told my parents the story when I got home and my dad was terrified, which was understandable since the window was going to cost a lot to replace.


The war was going on heavily on the other side of the country, NATO forces were bombing Gaddafi’s soldiers day and night but he would still come out on TV telling his supporters that the fight will go on until the end. Two of my aunts were living in cities controlled by Gaddafi and we hadn’t heard from them for the past 7 months. The photos that were coming out from the cities they lived in were devastating and although my father held to hope, I knew deep down that there was no way they were still alive. Everyone I knew back then has lost at least one person if not more as a result of the war and it wasn’t something to be sad about; after all they died fighting for our country and their families should feel proud or at least that was what I thought, since I had lost no one at that point. I went a few times to the front lines but only to film or out of curiosity. One of my friends was among the fighters and I took a photo with him then pointed out that if he dies, this will probably be my profile picture, he laughed and said we should take a better one then. Sadly, he’s still alive to this day.


It wasn’t until August when the rebels finally broke into the capital city of Tripoli and into Gaddafi’s compound. Up to this moment, people claimed that more than 50 thousand people were killed in the war but no one really knew. This was supposed to be the final day of war, but absolutely no one was inside Gaddafi’s compound. The whole country was full of secret tunnels that would take you from one area to another or sometimes, from one city to the next. Hundreds of men who were supposedly killed in the battlefield were liberated from inside of the compound and the whole city started celebrating, but not for long. My cousin was one of the first people to enter the capital and an RPG targeted his car. He passed away that day with 4 of his friends. As I said, I was desensitized to death at this point; my mind was set to one mode, which was winning, all I wanted was to win, to be free, to live my life like I should be and for that to happen, Gaddafi must be taken down.


It’s October now, 8 months since the revolution has started, and by this time, seeing politicians like John McCain, Sarkozy (Former president of France) and David Cameron (Former Prime Minster of the UK) was something normal, they’d come visit Benghazi and give emotional speeches in the freedom square and tell us how brave we were and that they will always stand with us, always…………….


At this point, everyone assumed the Gaddafi was already killed, no one had seen him in a few months and his oldest son was probably the one leading the battle. It wasn’t until the rebels entered Gaddafi’s hometown, Sirt (where one of my aunt’s lived) that the fighting there became the most vicious. So many died and then on the 20th, the city was liberated. That morning, I woke up to the sound of laughter mixed with crying, my dad was in front of the TV with my mom and kept saying “Come look at this now!” I came and there it was, a video of Gaddafi’s face covered in blood being pulled all around by the rebels, I couldn’t believe it, He looked old and scared, he looked nothing like the dictator we feared, the man we had to whisper his name around, the man who killed thousands of us, the devil was a real let down.


The whole world seemed to be happy for Libya; world leaders were congratulating us for the win and the country celebrated for a week. Both of my aunts finally called and were alive and told us all about the horror they had to go through. But it’s ok, I’m finally free, the future will be better, everything will be fine. We won; we won this war and the other side lost. We won this war against the other Libyans who disagreed with us. We don’t need to be one to be strong, all we need is for us to be right, we finally won the right to oppress them like they did to us and we shall rule and our country will be great.

Black Saturday

Black Saturday

“This is taking more than I thought it would, why can’t they get it over with already!” said my mom after only one month of the Libyan revolution. I told her that ending 42 years of dictatorship was not that easy, but my mom thought the rebels weren’t trying hard enough. My mom would spend the whole day at home watching the news on TV, and then report to me in detail what they said about Libya. I would usually respond with “I know Mom, those reporters are literally one mile away from our house, and I work with some of them.” I decided to take my mom to the freedom square the next day thinking that it might get her more excited about the revolution, the fight for freedom, and stuff.


At the time, the rebels were making a good progress toward the West side of Libya. Things were not going that smoothly though. Gaddaffi would use air strikes against the rebels and most of them were civilians who volunteered to fight. Hearing about the number of men killed daily became something I was numb to, and every now and then I would see a new martyr photo at the freedom square that would have a familiar face on, but I would remind myself that this was the price of freedom. At home and in school, I have been taught that real men do not cry, so I embraced those teachings and I did not shed a single tear over anyone. I thought that being emotionless made me brave.


On the 18th of March 2011, I was watching Aljazeera news channel with my family. That night an important decision regarding Libya was being discussed on TV. The UN Security Council was about to vote on whether there should be a ‘No-Fly Zone’ in Libya or not, and if NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) should intervene to protect civilians. Adopting Resolution 1973 meant taking all necessary measures to protect civilians under threat of attack in the country, including Benghazi. After few hours of deliberation, the resolution was passed and Libyans took the streets to celebrate what seemed to be a big win at the time (it wasn’t). They were especially happy that the Security Council announced this resolution wouldn’t allow the Security Council to use Libya’s natural resources to their own benefit at all (Do I need to point out the lie here?).


I took my mom that night to the freedom square so we could celebrate the victory and the whole city turned into what looked like a very cheerful war zone. You couldn’t tell if those explosions were fireworks or RPGs being fired. But a Libyan celebration is like a Dothraki wedding: without at least three deaths, it is considered a dull affair. When we got to the Square, Gaddafi’s son, Seif, was on TV. We all watched together on the big screen while he spoke about the fact that a No-Fly Zone meant nothing and that they were about to reach Benghazi. I did not really take him seriously; he was like his father and was probably bitter that he won’t become president. After two hours, a man my age came running to the square and started yelling nervously that they are here, he was screaming at me and my friends, telling us to go fight and we thought he was insane. I went looking for my mom and told her that we must leave now, but I did not want to scare her. Once I turned the radio in my car on, a man’s voice came out of the speakers announcing that everyone with a weapon should join in the fight to save the city. That night, the military spokesperson announced it was only a rumor and I went to sleep right after.


It was 6 A.M when my mom woke me up screaming that we are going to die. I woke up feeling very confused while my mom kept shouting, “They are here, they are here!” I told her that waking up to witness my own death was not really my favorite morning activity, and I could’ve died in my sleep peacefully. I guess my mom likes to turn everything into a family activity. I went up the roof with my dad to check if we could see anything and after moments of being there, we saw a fighter jet falling from the sky, followed by a huge explosion after it hit the ground. My dad learned after an hour that one of his good friends was the pilot. It was one of those rare moments where I got to see my dad fighting his tears. The pilot could have survived, but he stayed inside the jet until he made sure it would explod in an empty space with no civilians around. My mom decided that we must go to my grandparent’s house. My dad looked at me and said, “Perfect, so the last thing we get to see is your mom’s family”.


Later we learned that Geddaffi had sent a military parade full of tanks, soldiers and cars. The parade was later estimated to be around 37 miles in length. The soldiers in this parade had orders to wipe out the whole city leaving no one alive; throughout the day all I could hear were loud noises of what seemed like the footsteps of a big giant trying to enter the city. Many families fled the city that day, and I asked my dad if he thought we should leave as well. My dad said that we shouldn’t leave: what if we left and the parade entered the city? What was life going to be like if everyone we knew was dead? We can’t live without them and if that meant sacrificing our lives, so be it (I can’t believe he actually convinced us with this patriotic crap). We spent the day watching the news trying to distract ourselves from what was happening outside; I was laughing hysterically the whole time, joking with my mom, but my mom didn’t appreciate wartime humor.


By 6 P.M that night, everything was over; the NATO launched its first airstrikes and in few hours, they bombed the whole parade killing everyone in it. That day we lost 90 men from Benghazi, some of them were not holding guns, but armed only with their video cameras. I had always wondered how those people I saw on TV, in Iraq and Afghanistan felt, and how it must be terrifying to live in these places. But why wasn’t I scared? No one around me seemed frightened. Then it hit me, I wasn’t that brave, but I was in a constant state of shock, I was in survival mode 24/7. I was overwhelmed with feelings to the point where my brain couldn’t process anything anymore. This war did not kill me physically, but it did emotionally. I got used to seeing blood and dead bodies. Every gunshot that missed my body would still hit me deep, and every tear I kept inside of me washed away my humanity. The death parade did not enter the city that day, but everyone around me was dead already.



We Shall Remain

We Shall Remain

“Tomorrow morning, we will be heading to Ajdabya” Those were the words a man shouted in the microphone, announcing that a group of men will be leaving Benghazi at 6:00am from the Courthouse yard to join the rebels in the city about 40 kms away. Some people volunteered to go, I wanted to join in, but I am not into fighting for my freedom anytime before 9:00am. I have never seen people that happy in my life; everyone was smiling, and the crowd was energetic and positive. After all, this was the first step into a new era. The phone company announced that all calls and texts will be free throughout the revolution and I remember thinking “Damn, this revolution is successful already”.


The next morning, I went with some friends to what was called “The Freedom Square”; there were thousands of people and lots of cameras. News agencies had finally gained access to the city and were interviewing some of the protestors. While touring the square, I noticed that there was a wall with hundreds of photos on it. Some were new and they obviously belonged to the people who died in the first days of the revolution, but the old ones belonged to Abu Salim prisoners. Abu Salim was a high security prison located in the capital, Tripoli, where thousand of men spent their time and were imprisoned for political reasons( No one knew what went on inside; visits were mostly forbidden and the men who went in, rarely came out. In 1996, riots took place inside the prison and the guards managed to take control in few hours. Instead of taking the prisoners back to their cells, they were all taken to the yard, where the guards started shooting them. Within 4 hours, 1269 men were covered under cement and buried in that yard. Abu Salim was the secret everyone knew, but couldn’t talk about. In 2009, after being pressured by the U.N, the Libyan Government finally came clean about the massacre.  


I went home that evening to find Gaddafi on TV giving a speech. He was all fired up, but I have learnt not to take him seriously. He asked people in Benghazi to take it back from the rebels and mentioned how sad he was to  see how the rebels were destroying the city, the city he loved and built (which explains why the infrastructure was a disaster). Then his tone changed, he started threatening and promised to enter the city and clean it, street by street, house by house, room by room and inch by inch, until he caught all the traitors, who he referred to as rats. I did not finish the speech because I fell asleep.


That night I have learnt that Gaddafi was not bullshitting. He meant every word he said in that speech, which was a first! My mother told me that she heard on the radio that Gaddafi would be sending his air force to launch the first attack on the city. We left the house that night to stay at my mom’s family house. The house was full and all of my cousins and my mom’s relatives were there. I asked my mom why couldn’t we just die at home like everyone else and my dad laughed and said, “Nothing is better than sharing the joy of air-strikes with loved ones”. We sat all night waiting in the dark.I couldn’t take staying inside for long, so I went out to see what was happening. People were out smashing street lamps (apparently air-jets use those lights to locate homes, which sounded reasonable at the time) and they were shouting and calling for Gaddafi to bring it on, to bring his air-jets, tanks and soldiers. People weren’t scared and they continued chanting that their hearts were numb to fear. The attack did not happen that night; the pilots refused to attack the city and fled to Malta instead, where they sought asylum.


I spent the next day at Freedom Square where I volunteered to work as a translator, because people were saying embarrassing shit on TV, Like that one person who was telling CNN in broken English about how he will march all the way to Gaddafi’s Mansion, and slit his throat. I had to explain to the man that this was very Bin Laden of him. The night time came and I decided to take a break from the revolution and go watch a soccer match at a friend’s house, ignoring my family’s warnings about how it was still unsafe and that Gaddafi supporters were kidnapping people. The match ended and my friend insisted that I should sleep over but I explained to him that through the course of history, it was always safe to drive after midnight during a revolution. The road was completely empty, except for that one car that drove behind me for at least 5 minutes. The car finally passed me but suddenly stopped sideways blocking the road and I hit the brakes. Two men came out of the car holding large wooden sticks and started shouting at me to step out of the vehicle. I was not sure if they wanted the car or me, but I couldn’t risk waiting for an answer. So I did what seemed reasonable at that time; I dropped the gear into reverse and drove over one of the men; he fell down and I drove up the sidewalk and shot off. The men got back into the vehicle and followed me but I managed to lose them and finally got home.

I woke up the next day thinking about what happened the night before. I started to realize that this is not all fun and games anymore; this was a fight against a bloody dictator. Now the question was, how far will I go to protect myself? And the idea of having to hurt someone to stay safe haunted me throughout the whole revolution. I went to the Freedom square that evening where I stood among the crowd, a song was playing through the speakers and we all held hands and sang along “ We will remain here, and the pain will fade away” some of us were lucky and remained, but not all of us; and as for the pain, the pain never faded away.

Freedom Beyond The Walls

Freedom Beyond The Walls

“I told you it was going to be fun!” My dad’s idea of a good time was being among people calling for the end of a dictatorship with a chance of being shot anytime. I should have introduced my dad to YouTube; he would have found it more enjoyable. People kept coming in big numbers throughout the morning and in no time, I was shouting with the protestors as well, calling Geddaffi names and making remarks about his horrendous hair. It felt really liberating; I have never said a word about him in my life, even to myself. He seemed immortal and everyone was scared of him. The first time I realized that I hated him was when the government would shut down the 20 channels we had on TV and put a five hour Geddaffi speech on instead.

Around noon, a man stood on the courthouse stairs in front of the protestors and shouted in a microphone that today is the day they break into Alkatiba. Alkatiba was a huge military compound that belonged to Geddafi. It was located in the middle of the city and it was the place Geddaffi spent his time at whenever he visited Benghazi. No one knew what it really looked like inside. The only civilians, who had ever gone in, never came out. It was a complete mystery. Whenever I drove by it I wouldn’t even look at it, because those guards with the big machine gun would start staring at you and might even pull you over. Parking was not allowed anywhere near it and the houses nearby were not allowed roof access, so that no one can peek to see what was in that place.

It was finally time to leave and my dad and I got into my car. We decided to join a funeral procession that was driving to the cemetery to bury the people who were killed the day before. Alkatiba was in the way of the cemetery, so the protestors decided to drive in front of it to show their dissatisfaction toward the Government actions, which seemed like a good idea, until the guards started shooting the cars and luckily I managed to take a right and drove as fast as I could until we reached home.

The next morning, the protestors had finally decided to start breaking into Alkatiba. People were unarmed and the only thing they had were Molotov cocktails that they threw at the walls, but that was not enough. The guards were shooting anti-aircraft bullets from behind the walls; one bullet of those would split a person in two. For two days after, people were trying to get inside and I kept hearing about the numbers of people who were killed, some said between 200-400 and some said there were at least more than 1000. I couldn’t imagine how bad it was until I turned the TV on and Aljazeera was reporting from inside the hospital near my house. It was horrible, I remember seeing doctors crying while dead bodies were all over the floor. There was a lot of blood; people who lost body parts and some bodies were unrecognizable. That was when I realized how horrible Geddaffi was; I really hated him that moment and I was full of rage.

One of my neighbors saw me standing in front my house and asked me if I wanted to go and see what was happening in the military compound in my neighborhood. He said that I shouldn’t worry, they are only shooting people’s legs and that was enough to convince me. While we were walking to get there, I heard the sound of shattered glass inside someone’s house, then a woman crying out loud. I have learned that my neighbor was shot in the head while trying to get into Alkatiba. After my neighbor and I reached the military compound, I realized how much of a bad idea it was; people around me were falling like dominos and some were running each time they heard gun shots. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t even run for my life, it was like time had stopped and my legs were not taking any orders from my brain. I didn’t know if I was scared, because I couldn’t feel a thing, then my neighbor took my hand and started running and after we ran for a while he asked me if I was stupid! (Says the guy who brought us here in the first place) In an hour the soldiers inside announced that they were going to surrender and people started storming in, but it was an ambush, because they shot everyone once they reached the doors. I have never come that near to death in my life. People used to tell me that before dying you remember every important thing you have in life. But not me, all I had in mind was “Fuck! I should’ve charged my phone, now it’s dead” …but at least I wasn’t.

That night it was all over, a big fraction of the military in Benghazi decided to rebel against the Government and they joined the people breaking into Alkhatiba. But one man made it all happen: a man in his 40s named Mahdi decided to put gas cylinders in his car and drove it into the walls of Alkatiba. A huge explosion was heard all over the city. Mahdi died inside of his car immediately and everyone stormed in. Mahdi was a calm person; people said that he couldn’t take seeing all of those young people dying in front of him and that led him to do what he did. Secret dungeons with people in them were found inside Alkatiba, lots of dead bodies and secret tunnels that led to different parts of the city, but not a single Geddaffi soldier was found; they all managed to escape. I drove my car that night with my father and young brother to Alkatiba; people were celebrating and crying tears of joy. Some dumb-fuck jumped into a tank from inside Alkatiba and started driving it, crushing parked cars, but at least mine was ok. I felt really overwhelmed. It only took 4 days to take Benghazi back from Geddaffi’s hands, the city was free, the independence flag was on every house, and the eastern side of Libya also all liberated in few days. I felt really satisfied; was that what freedom was supposed to feel like? I couldn’t tell, I have never had it. It’s a long way before the whole country is liberated, a lot of bloodshed and souls will be lost and I remember thinking, will I survive to see the end of it?


My First Revolution

My First Revolution


There is no need to study; by the 17th, everything is going to change.” Those were the words my friend said while I was studying for my upcoming mid-term. I asked him if he seriously believed a revolution was going to happen, because we all know how it ended the last time people took to the streets. Back in 2007, the government shot the protestors, and killed nearly 20 of them. An apology was recited on TV by a government official the next morning, which was a first, because usually the government would say something like “Go fuck yourselves”.

Gadhafi’s regime had been in power for 42 years and freedom of speech was not really encouraged. Anything a person would say to a friend, a neighbor, a co-worker, or a taxi driver would be used against them, and more than likely jail would be the next destination. You would usually end up spending anything between 10 years to life in prison. Of course, that was if you were lucky enough and the government did not decide to kill you in secret or sometimes in public if it was going to make for some good TV.

I still remember that one night, back in 1996, when I was coming back from my grandparent’s house. I was only 5 years old back then. We arrived home to find police cars blocking the way to my house and armed soldiers were everywhere. My neighbor’s home was on fire and the family was outside. All I could hear were police officers shouting and a woman crying out loud for help, but no one would come anywhere near her. In a few hours, my neighbor, who was the oldest son in that family, was in the back of a pick-up truck; a dead body put on a big cross,while they drove him around the city screaming through loud speakers that this was a warning to anyone who would ever try to fight the government. My dad told me that night to pretend nothing had happened, and that I should not say a word about it to anyone. For years after, I continued keeping to myself while I threw such events into the back of my brain.

I drove home from college that night and went on Facebook to see what the latest updates were about the imaginary revolution that was bound to happen. A friend posted asking if people thought we would be following the Tunisian and Egyptian revolution’s lead. In attempt to be funny I commented on my friend’s post but then deleted what I wrote, because I remembered that jail was not really where I wanted to spend the rest of my life.

Days go by and it’s the night before my mid-term and I’m in my room praying for a revolution, not because I wanted my rights or anything; I just kind of did not study shit. I didn’t mind for the country to become unstable; just so I could sleep the next day and not take my exam. My friend called me that night and mentioned something about an ongoing protest; I ran to the living room and turned the TV on. There was nothing on the national television, only a documentary about wild rabbits. I checked other TV channels, there was some random news here and there, but nothing official and I gave up and went to sleep.

I went to college the next morning and took my test, and oh boy, I did worse than Libya is doing nowadays. That morning I kept hearing whispers around campus about people who were jailed last night, and ones who were protesting at the moment. The news continued throughout the day, stories about people being shot, mercenaries roaming the streets with machetes, but nothing was for sure, because the Internet connection was down and there was no phone coverage. I had no idea what was really happening around me, so I turned the TV on and there it was! Aljazeera News Channel was playing some videos sent from the protestors’ cellphones. There was blood covering the walls, mercenaries who were wearing yellow construction hats while holding machetes and running after people.

I spent most of that night outside in front of my house, holding a knife I found in the kitchen (Don’t even ask why, it seemed reasonable back then) and my neighbors were all standing outside. They sat tires on fire because there was news about mercenaries breaking into people houses and I guess those mercenaries were also wolves. The next day my dad woke me up at 7:30am to ask me if I wanted to go to the courthouse yard where people were protesting, and I replied that I would choose sleep over death any day. My father reminded me that the Internet connection was down. Well fuck it then! I’d rather go get myself killed.

We both got into my car (My dad made me drive my car, because why die in his, right?) and the city was empty, some buildings were on fire, and the walls had anti-government slogans all over them. Once we reached the courthouse yard, many people were out holding signs and a kid waved an anti-aircraft bullet at me while explaining that this was what the soldiers were using to shoot the protesters. There was a colorful flag on the top of the courthouse. I was wondering which country it belonged to and my dad told me that this was the Libyan Independence Flag before Geddaffi took power. Benghazi was notorious for opposing the government, always refusing control, but would it really be where the revolution starts…?