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…?