“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.