Ever since the late stages of the Revolution, guilt has been gnawing at me; urging me to write about whatever I had experienced at the time. About my constant cerebration towards what was happening, the journey of discovering my own country’s real identity for the first time. How my emotions were siphoned with such extremity from absolute hatred and rage to ultimate happiness and gratitude. Our erstwhile expectations we held together as a nation, the unfailing patience we had to rid ourselves from an ossifying tyrant and probably, some of our truest moments of prayer. It seemed so unreal to me, how in one year the status quo of our country and the lives of its people could change entirely. To my inexperienced young self, it was as if the crisis we were in was so unprecedented that I am to be held responsible if I did not relate those findings to the rest of the human race. How life events are so personal to us, that even though throughout millenniums before us people had already experienced it all, over and over; be it love, war, a new born, death or a revolution; till today, we still have to make a big deal out of it. But after the liberation, the sad reality that no moment can hold still in life had dawned upon us. As I had drifted into other occupations of mine, and uncounted for worries started barging into our newly elated minds, I couldn’t really sit my rear down and fulfill my promise towards humanity.
Until today.The sound of the fireworks is still booming with its shower-like echo in the sky since sunset, and now it’s almost 4 a.m. in the morning. Today, Libya is celebrating the first anniversary of liberating Tripoli. The day that I thought a year ago I’d never forget, is already jilting my memory. It’s difficult for me to retrieve anything chronologically cohesive, but as I said, I won’t rest until I give my full account of the experience, and writing is one of the greatest mnemonic devices for me.
It all began with me exclaiming “Allahu Akbar!” before the television screen once I saw the news that Al-Zawiya, the closest city west to Tripoli, had been liberated. Right after my sisters reached me in the living room and while watching the news together with gleaming eyes and hopeful prayers, we heard a shout coming from outside. We mistook it as a reaction to the same news. Instead, it was to the news of our neighbor’s son who had passed away, and it was the sister’s grievous shouts we were hearing then. The funeral was held in our other neighbor’s house; which was yet to be occupied by its absent buyer. After procuring the owner’s permission, men gathered there to pay their respects to the father of the deceased. Nothing could stop elderly men from conversing at such occasions, but I did not expect the topic of the revolution to be broached so often and so loudly. I could hear them all the way from my room. It was then that I first witnessed the act of people discussing the country’s state of affairs with much interest and virility unfit for elders at the end of their lives, with such strong conviction, even recklessly deriding the government and whoever supported Qaddafi among them quite openly. Our neighbor was usually at the head of such arguments, and I believe that the death of his son gave him the courage to speak up like that. Although, the son died of unfortunate conditions, and had had struggled most of his life like many other young men trying to make way for themselves and failing when met with multiple dead ends, his death was a reminder that brought the people of our neighborhood together, and so, preparations began.
Remembering one Civics class in high school; the lesson was exactly the same one we’ve been introduced to tens of times before: The Public Conferences, where all Libyans practiced their right to freely and democratically run the country. Well, that’s how Qaddafi fantasized it for us, anyway. “Excuse me teacher, but you don’t really believe in this? I mean it doesn’t work, does it?” I genuinely asked. With a disapproving tone she replied, “That’s the way things are. We have to understand that the fault is not in the system, it’s in the people themselves…” “Have you ever been to these conferences?” I interrupted her. “Me? Oh, no! Never.” was her answer.
The teacher did not practice what she preached, shockingly. Intrigued, I turned to the rest of the class, “do any of you know or heard about anyone who went to at least one of its sessions?!” There was no answer. Thirty six students in my class and not one had even heard about anyone attending these conferences.
Going back to the night of February the 20th, when Tripoli’s first protests broke out; counting on the bruited about news of Qaddafi escaping to Venezuela. Men went out against Qaddafi in response to the regime’s crackdown on the eastern cities; I recalled the military helicopters we had seen in the sky two days before. We knew they were heading towards Benghazi. That night, a strange-smelling smoke hung ominously in the air. It pervaded our house along with some sort of clamor coming from the backside of our area. Afterwards, we came to know that it was produced by the pans and pots the yelling protesters were pounding on along the coastal road of the city, to grab the other areas’ attention. As for the smoke, it was the product of tires that had been set on fire in the highway as well as a couple of police stations and most cleverly the main Public Hall, where those useless conferences used to be held.
Four hours past midnight and my parents were getting ready to leave the house in a quiet rush. Two of our neighbors had been wounded during last night. Anes Sha’atany was shot in his stomach and leg after he had been beaten up in a car trunk he was forced into. Shortly after, he was found unconscious by a soon-to-be-assassinated stranger who dropped him at Alzawiya hospital, and who himself was shot at later by a sniper while trying to aid other injured men. Osama Ben-Yameen was taken out of his car and has received bullets in his chest, thigh and another one underneath his shoulder as he was trying to escape through the alleys surrounding the square. Terrified and breathless, he later told us that he was knocking and ringing all the doorbells of houses along the way, looking for refuge, with one arm, while the other one disjointed, was flailing at his side. In the pandemonium of the previous night, when the protests were silenced once and for all and the assemblage was scattered and aimed at by Qaddafi’s forces, we inside our houses had no idea what was going on. The apprehensive families of each man have requested my mother, being a doctor and a close friend to both of the young men’s mothers, to come and check on them. The whole thing was done in such secrecy, that neither families was aware that the other one also hid a wounded member. They had to sneak them out of the hospital immediately after their surgeries once news reached the doctors that an order was given to armed forces, to conduct searches for wounded suspects who had taken part in the protests, and that any found dissidents were disposed of on sight and placed in the morgue instead.
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