My September 11th
“Please continue, I’m only here to see how everyone is doing” said the man who just entered my class. At this point I wasn’t sure who that person was, he looked in his mid 50s, grey hair with an American accent. He greeted the kids I was teaching English to and asked them if they were having fun then left after spending less than 10 minutes. The class I was teaching was sponsored by the U.S embassy in Benghazi, and after work that day I learned that Chris Stevens, the American ambassador, was the one who came by. During that time, Libya was preparing for its first free elections for the General National Congress and I was super hyped about it. I had never had the chance to vote in my life and neither had my parents.
July 7th, 2012 was the day Libya voted for the first time and it felt fantastic. The night before the elections, no one was sure whom they were going to vote for. The Grand Mufti (the highest religious figure in the country) appeared on tv and said that Libyans must vote for the Islamic Brotherhood party and not for any of the other parties, especially the National Powers Alliance because they are liberal and do not represent our values. That was enough for me and most of the people I knew to vote liberal because fuck that mufti dude. The party I voted for got most of the votes but for some reason, Conservatives took over the congress through unethical tactics. That was when everything started going down hill for Libya and the country started to be more divided.
A couple of months passed and it was September 11, 2012; the morning started like any other day. There was news all over social media that a short movie mocking the prophet was released online and that a peaceful protest was going to take place that night in front of the American Embassy. My dad told me that I should stay away from the embassy that night, so I assumed that having dinner with friends two blocks away from the embassy was logical. We started hearing loud gunshots, so I decided to leave. On my way home, I saw pick-up trucks with black flags on the top of them and masked men were driving. I knew they were “Ansar Al-Sharia” which was a group affiliated with ISIS. I called my friend once I got home and he said that the area has turned into a war zone, there was smoke coming out the embassy, and that they were using RPGs to target it. Some civilians rushed into the embassy to rescue the people left behind and one of them managed to find the Ambassador lying on the floor. He was still breathing but seemed like he inhaled so much smoke. He was rushed into the hospital and at 2am that night he was declared dead. Four Americans were killed, seven Libyans were injured that night, and the next day people in Benghazi took the streets with signs condemning terrorism. Chris Stevens was a guest at our home and it felt like we betrayed him and failed to protect him. The next day I was teaching a class at 6pm and mentioned the embassy attack. One student didn’t seem to like the fact that I said the attackers were horrible people and said “I was there as well and I think they had all the right to attack the embassy” and then left the class because apparently I “offended” him. Not sure what’s life anymore.
“Here it goes again, another sleepless night” said my brother pointing out the fact that he could hear the drone going around. The noise the drone made was the worst thing ever, it wasn’t loud, but the buzzing sound hurt my brain deep inside. My mom would joke about cleaning the roof, because she didn’t want the American military to mock her tidiness. I could hear my neighbor every night screaming at the drone to stop because he had to work in the morning.
During that time, religious extremism was taking over the city; assassinations and car bombings became the norm. ISIS targeted soldiers, police officers, lawyers, activists, journalists and anyone who’d speak against them. They called us infidels, claimed we weren’t real Muslims and for that we must be killed. Around 5–10 people were assassinated each day. One morning we had to leave work early because someone left an explosive suitcase near the door. The ironic part was when we came back to work that same evening like nothing has happened. My daily routine consisted of waking up, getting ready for work, checking Facebook to make sure I’m not on anyone’s hit list, looking under my car in case someone left me an explosive gift and then driving to work. I was waiting in traffic one evening on my way to teach when a loud sound came out of no where and a car few meters ahead of me burst into flames. I knew that it was another assassination but I luckily still managed to make it to work on time.
Check points were all around the city and sometimes it was hard to tell which ones belonged to the army and which were ISIS. I got stopped one time at a checkpoint and I knew that it wasn’t the army, but luckily I had deleted every text and FB message from my phone and logged out from all social media platforms, which was what I did every time I left the house. They searched my car and asked me whom did I support and I didn’t know what to say. The man looked at me again and asked the same question. I said “God, I support God” to which he replied “Good, then you support us” and let me go. We were at a time where no one could be trusted. Some of my friends joined the fight on both sides and I didn’t know how to feel about it. I started losing people left and right but still managed to continue life like nothing was happening. One day a friend of mine was killed while fighting with extremists, he was a bad person, an assassin, he’d probably kill me if he had the chance to do so, but I still felt bad, because that person was my friend once.
The year 2014 was the tipping point for me. ISIS had its tight grip on the city, police stations were all destroyed and mostly people who benefited from having extremism controlled the government. Life seemed meaningless, as if it was an extreme version of Groundhog Day. I spent most of my time watching pirated movies and the same comedy specials I had saved on my computer.
One summer night, mid June, there was a black out in the whole eastern side of the country. After phone service was gone, Internet was disconnected as well. Those things were usual but not all at the same time. Two hours later I started hearing explosions, they were louder than usual. The whole house was shaking. This continued for two long days, which I spent with my family laying on the floor because we knew we couldn’t be around the windows. The Internet connection would come for few minutes and I’d go on Facebook but no one was online. It was summer time and 111̊ Fahrenheit outside. The heat was unbearable and I started hallucinating, with no more water in the house I couldn’t even shower and we still had no idea what was happening outside since there was no tv or internet. I believe that this was when I completely lost it for the first time in a few years. I started hysterically laughing while tears came out of my eyes and my mom was trying to calm me down telling me that we will get through this and I started yelling at her “Who said that I want to survive this time? Do you call this life? This is not life, I hope we die, I want to die right now. We were never alive, we’ve been dead all along”.
The electricity finally came back after two days and I turned on the news: “Breaking News: Abu Khattala was captured in Benghazi”. Abu Khattala was the man who planned the attack on the American Embassy. He was captured by the U.S and transferred to Washington D.C.; Obama was on TV later that day describing how the operation went down, how the U.S managed to capture Abu Khattala, and avenge the death of the 4 Americans. In order to capture one man in Benghazi, some 40 civilians had to die in less than 48 hours and many homes were destroyed. Every time the U.S bombed ISIS in Libya, ISIS would retaliate and start randomly bombing neighborhoods. It was their way of saying “every time the U.S bombs us, we will bomb you back”. At this point I understood that my life meant nothing to those with power in the west, they weren’t interested in protecting me, no one was. I’m a dead body in the making, a number, a nameless soul and a war kid.