16 Aug

Living the Revolution – Part 2: “Hiatus”

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فتاة الثّورةIf you haven’t read the first part, consider doing so here.

“Libya is not Tunisia or Egypt,” Saif Al-Qaddafi explained to us in his first of many peremptory TV addresses on the same night of February the 20th; right after the protests had been extinguished.
The man spoke truth. Seeing Ben-Ali escaping to Jeddah from the backdoor and Mubarak ceding power after eighteen days only, might have misled those who joined the protests that things would go as smoothly in Libya. I hardly doubt that the thought of being shot at so blatantly with live ammunition ever occurred to them. Neither did the thought of living in constant fear of being found out.

Every unexpected knock on the door would galvanize the entire household in terror. Anes walked out of his exploratory surgery only few hours after and was discharged clandestinely by the doctors. The experience affected him mentally and the nightmares of being captured did not expedite his recovery either. When Osama’s grown sister first came to my mother and told her in confidence about her brother’s frightful condition; restlessly sitting there, we could see her hands shaking like a leaf as we gave her the glass of water she had asked for. She recounted to us what happened at the hospital; during the bedlam of people arriving there with injured friends and family members in their backseats, others tossing dead bodies out of their vehicles; she specifically remembered an enwrapped dead body they rushed past outside the hospital with its personal belongings of a wallet and a cellphone on top of it. The cellphone had been ringing with a flash at that moment, and the caller ID, displayed on the small screen “Mother calling”.

The sun came out the next morning, urging us not to utter a word of last night’s events, to carry on and act as if nothing ever happened; for our own sake.

From that day on, neither father went to work, nor did we go to school other than for our exams. Father used to hold the position Program Executive in the state TV channel. Knowing that media itself would turn into a front in this war; he decided to stay at home. And it was about that same time Saif Qaddafi started making his rounds inside every TV station; checking on his army of soon-to-be-overpaid mediocre employees and appointing senior security officers, whom were considered Qaddafi’s right arm, to supervise on these stations; therefore, it was God’s mercy upon us that father was not forced to take part in that.

They did inquire about his absence, though. I still remember whenever they called him, before answering, my father would reposition himself on the bed and with an affected expression of fatigue on his face (to put himself in the mood), he would finally answer them in a suppressed voice, feigning a cough here and there. Indeed, little did we know at the time when my father had had his heart surgery a year ago the blessing in disguise that was to be of help to him now, as an excuse for his absence. And in case any of his colleagues came and visited him, we made sure to place his medications somewhere in his study where they can be easily seen.

As for us, schools were unofficially closed; since no one dared to send in their children. But it wasn’t long before instructions came from the ministry that studying should continue as usual, and that any teacher’s nonattendance of more than three days was to be reported; according to some rumors.

I can’t remember how long it’s been on that fateful night of the protests, but I will never forget how we all played deaf, dumb and blind towards it.

“Not a word!” my father accentuated to me and my sister before we reluctantly got out of the car. Donned in our rigid school uniform and holding our bags, from the moment we passed the entrance gate, a loathsome object greeted us in the vast school playground; it was Qaddafi’s green rag of a flag waving at us from the flagpole. Troubled in mind, we hurried in to stand in the line for the morning exercises, after which we had to endure the anthem and the Flag’s Call with soundless movements of our lips. I remember noticing two armed men watching us from on top of the neighboring AlShabiya TV channel building, before we were goaded inside. As we entered the main corridor, and on our way to class, we were met by the second loathsome object that we’ve never seen there before, hanging right outside the principal’s office; a large framed picture of a giant Qaddafi badly photoshopped among the clouds like a demigod, with his fist clenched by his side and a smear of a smile on his broad, synthetic face.

One school day, after discovering anti-regime writings on the walls of the students’ lavatory; the principal, a robust ex-Lijan and Qaddafi-fanatic, stormed into every class in the school and announced that whoever did the act will be found and expelled, and went on warning us, “… in one of every four students I have inserted an informant that would report to me everything each and every one of you is doing, so watch it! … Oh, and the lavatories are closed from now on.” Therefore, the rest of us poor students who hadn’t done anything had to hold it in ever since.

Known for being disputatious and one who stubbornly opines about almost everything, and to everyone (classmates and teachers alike); it wasn’t easy for me to pass whatever was left of my school days in that state of reticence. That’s why most of the time I avoided others and tried to seem rapt in a book I carried around with me.

Not only in school. The excruciating tension that lingered in the atmosphere ever since the night of the protests was ubiquitous in the whole city; in the markets, the banks, workplaces, universities, medical facilities, etc… Whomever you met, you could sense that he had a load on his mind, wishing to talk it out. The eyes of the people signaled weariness and longing for freedom. When you go out in the streets: litter-plagued and soiled, with too many rundown houses on the sides not befitting a capital, and less car traffic than usual and even lesser pedestrians walking on the mostly, if not entirely, broken pavements; you could feel that the city will never go back the same as before. We somehow stopped looking at her the way we used to. It was almost as if we cared about her now.

At school, I could always recognize the careful students who were fidgeting about, waiting for an opportunity to speak to me in private and ascertain whether I was a supporter or a dissident. And while there were those who were foolish enough to inquire after your affiliation blatantly in front of the whole class, taking the matter too lightly; there were also the pro-Qaddafis. Though, no more than three, they managed to create enough tension to make us all uneasy whenever they were around. They never bothered about others’ feeling or opinions, they just blared out theirs and made it known that Qaddafi was their new god.

Quite out of nowhere emerged those flag-waving pro-Qaddafis. I could swear that none of them, back before, had had the least concern about politics, but when it came to being a Libyan, for days they’d rant and rave about the corrupted institutions; the favored elite living the high life while they were stuck in the quagmire; the miserable conditions the country was in and that how they couldn’t wait to leave it. Somehow, they failed to connect the dots in between. But naturally, you couldn’t argue much with the ones who were related to others working for Qaddafi in any form; the justification that Qaddafi was a good person suited them best.

I’ll leave it to that. Not wishing to exhume the past conversations I had with them, for some of the dialogues are now conflated with my own internal monologues that I longed to say at the time but was unable to.

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