Saturday, October 29, 2011

Bidding Farewell to Libya

I haven't had time to write much here because the last week was just incredibly hectic. I also did not have access to the internet for a few days, and when it finally came back, I couldn't even load up this page. It was super slow.

So much has happened since I last wrote, so I'm not sure where to begin. The country partied for 4-5 days straight after the death of Gidafi. Every night there was traffic, music, people handing out sweets, or spraying people with rose water or perfume as they passed through their neighbourhoods (a custom often reserved for weddings). Many neighbourhoods pitched in to buy baby camels and fire up the BBQ. They handed out bbq meat to people on the street. I didn't get any unfortunately. I like camel meat, but have never tried it bbq'ed. I find it's the perfect meat - tender and soft like lamb, but lean like beef.

There seemed to be quite the controversy over the way in which Gidafi was killed outside of Libya - but it created little waves in the country. There were Libyans who wanted to see Gidafi tried in a court; but the vast majority seemed relieved he was dead and could not return to haunt them. They wanted to forget him and the horror they saw under his rule. I watched local Libyan TV frequently during this time, and they had a camera out on the street interviewing people as they drove by. One family was just sobbing profusely, and I sensed that there was more behind their tears than just relief that Gidafi was dead. Then the camera turned to a picture of their son which they had taped on their car's window. His mother wailed and kept repeating "hasbuna Allah wa ni3ma al wakeel fil gidafi" (a prayer said when someone has wronged you very terribly). Despite the happy moment of getting rid of Gidafi, this family and many others still lived with the pain of losing loved ones.

And so many families have lost loved ones. Driving through Tripoli you see the names of martyrs spray painted on the houses they used to live in. It was shocking to me to see how many have died.  I stumbled across a wall with the names of 19 martyrs written on it - I was surprised because it was a small neighbourhood who's majority were gidafi supporters. I can only imagine how much worse these numbers were in Ajdabiya, Misrata, and other small towns. We also often forget to count those Libyans who fought for Gidafi - many of them were young too and very brainwashed. Many of them honestly thought they were fighting Al Qaeda.  They weren't all innately evil - I spoke to some pple who had their homes raided, and they said that it could have been a lot worse had some of them not stood up to their colleagues and superiors and asked them not to steal and rape.

I heard some disturbing stories about rape in Libya. We will never know the numbers because of how taboo it is. I heard that in Mistrata, no one wants to acknowledge rapes even occurred and they deleted many of the video evidence that they found on the phones of prisoners of war. I asked why they would do that and that it was important for establishing war crimes, and I was told it would dishonour their daughters and their honour. It's frustrating and angering that many women will suffer in silence because their male family members and Libyan society in general think their honour will be tainted.

This aspect of Libyan society - honour of our women - is one of my most detested cultural practices. It has been twisted and deformed into something that has hurt women. It is not limited to situations of rape only - but men have come to stifle their women more than before for the sake of 'honour'. They are given less mobility and can't go out on their own as frequently as they did in our parent's generation.

There was a confrontation in our neighbourhood between our family and some fake freedom fighters (they weren't freedom fighters they were looters). My mother and aunts tried to speak to them, and my young male cousins pulled them away and told them to stay silent and stop embarrassing us. My dad was there and he was puzzled why our cousins were silencing his wife and sister in law. He mentioned it to us later and I explained to him the erosion of respect for women that began sometime around the mid 90's. When you ask young guys they say - we don't want the men of the neighbourhood thinking anything bad about our women. Rather than blame the men, they exhert control over the women. I don't think I could ever live under such a retarded system of blaming the victim instead of reforming the loser men. A woman has a right to speak, whenever and wherever, just as her male counterparts. There is nothing to be disrespected about that.

I hope the younger generation will change, but this is the generation that grew up under Gidafi, and their ideas about women are very troublesome. As a final point, it was also distrubing to see how many young men donned freedom fighter clothes and have gone on a looting rampage in Tripoli. Many of them are fakes who never fought, but are exploiting the current situation to rob and steal. We've been fending off a group of them from our land (they were looting the house across the street which belonged to a member of Gidafi's regime). They thought that our cars belonged to this regime member and tried to take them by force. It was pretty scary, shots were fired and we worried someone from our family would get hurt. After three days of fighting with these guys, we called our friends in the TNC to ask them to put a stop to this. Hopefully something will be done.

Moving onwards, we were finally able to visit Bab Al Aziziya, Gidafi's home. Honestly, there wasn't much to see - everything was either bombed out and charred or stolen. They even took the toilets. I had to use my imagination to try and reconstruct what it may have once looked like. There were a lot of journalists roaming about, and we got targetted right away because it was obvious we were coming from outside of Libya and probably spoke english. My dad had a pretty lengthy interview with a Dutch news outlet - I still have to email the lady for the newsclip.

What was surprising was that Bab Al Aziziya had its own hospital for the Gidafi family. This wasn't a clinic - it was a full on hospital just for him and his family members. There was also an office building that was super creepy - it looked like something out of a cartoon - like the evil cartoon characters dark evil headquarters. It was dome shaped and had green carpetting on the floor and walls. The windows were super tiny, so little light came in. It was massive - it was like a creepy evil king's court. I could imagine Gidafi sitting in the middle fanning himself with his golden fan, while his minions cowered about and sucked up to him.

There are mosques almost everywhere in Libya - and there normally would be one in a compound as large as Bab Al Aziziya - but there was none. There was nothing but evil in this place. Gidafi used a lot of black magic and that was said to be the reason behind the fact there was no mosque in Bab Al Aziziya.

Many of the bombed out portions of his home smelled terrible. I hope I didn't expose myself to NATO bomb chemicals that cause cancer. I probably did. I didn't really think about that until I smelled the chemical burning smells. Oh well. His house was ugly and not as big as I expected, but I had to rush out of there due to the smell.

The remaining days in Libya were spent visiting family and a little bit of shopping. I had a lot of fun in the Medina buying some Libyan crafts. When I went with my brother, it was a bit of an uncomfortable experience because he didn't like the fact that the men were staring. But with my female cousin, it was just fun. Once you start talking to the shop owners, they stop staring and become more respectful. No one said anything that bothered us, and we actually struck up conversation with a few of them. It was interesting to hear their take on the last few months. One of them had actually luckily escaped alive from Abo Sleem prison.

The trip home was straight out of a movie. Because the airport was closed, we had to drive to Tunisia. When we got to the border, again, it was a parking lot. It was barely moving. I didn't understand why it would take half an hour to move one car up. It's just a matter of stamping passports. So we literally had to take our suitcases (5 of them! and 3 carry ons! - my parents brought way too much stuff) and carry them across the border (this was no short distance). Even walking across took us a good hour. My morning shower with water not from a bucket had gone to waste (the water came back on the last day we were there!!).

My dad entered Libya with his Canadian passport since he didn't have a valid Libyan passport - it only took him 10 minutes to go through. But whoever decided it was a good idea for my mother and I to enter with our Libyan passports screwed us - as it took us a lot longer to get them stamped. The Tunisian border went alot more quickly as we entered Tunisia with our Canadian passports. Then we haggled with some cab drivers until we found a good one. He actually ended up being related to someone we knew in Tunisia.

After that harrowing border experience, the rest of the trip went somewhat smoothly. We flew to Tunis the capital from Djerba. We went back to visit Nabil at the hospital. We were happy to learn that he was finally going to be getting his treatment. He is scheduled to leave for Spain today. I am going to call to confirm that he in fact was able to go - nothing is a sure thing in that part of the world.

I am glad to be back in Canada. No more ducking at the sounds of gunfire! I know where I'm going and how to handle my own stuff. I have my independence back. I pray that Libya will be able to rebuild itself into a great nation. If they manage to become like Tunisia, Qatar, or Dubai, it would be a great feat. Of course, it is my hope that they surpass them, but for now, I'll keep my goals realistic (:

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