Home > Biculturalism, Education, Libya > Gaddafi, Libya, and Me, Part 2

Gaddafi, Libya, and Me, Part 2

Acacia niloticaMimosas bloomed under my window since February, making me feel like I had just stepped into a dream. I ran downstairs barefooted and came back upstairs with armfuls of mimosas. My room was full of mimosas. A vase on my desk, a vase on the dresser, a vase next to my bed. I taped the flowers into my journal (much later I learned, this was not the most practical thing; the dry flowers kept breaking and shredding that later I couldn’t even open my journal from that time without making a mess).

It was warm all the time. In December it got cooler, even rainy and windy, but the autumn-like weather lasted only a month or two. In February, I was sensing spring. I wanted to be out all the time. I came to like the wind called Ghibli, or rather the aftermaths of this wind. It was a warm wind coming from the desert, and it blew maybe once a month. While the wind blew, we kept the windows closed, but that didn’t help much. The wind filled the house with red sand. If you chose to go out during the day when the wind was blowing, you got as close as you could ever get to stepping into an oven. It felt like you couldn’t breathe. Sometimes you could even see waves of red sand in the air.

By the time the evening came, the wind would usually stop. And it would feel as if it had never blown. The nights that followed were gorgeous. I never learned if there was anything concrete that was special about them. But I eagerly waited for those nights and I delighted in them. There was something in the air that took me to a place where I felt so alive and so humble, because life felt so simple and so beautiful, a state of bliss so easy to reach.

By the time spring officially came, I was comfortable living in Libya. My English became better and more powerful, I was in love with mimosas and the Bini boy, my scant social life left plenty of time for daydreaming.

Overall, I was happy. Until my parents started mentioning the angry Americans and a possible military intervention in Libya. Spending time on our kitchen balcony, I started noticing endless lines of tanks in the red-sanded flat distance. I stood on the balcony and watched the tanks moving slowly. I wondered how many tanks the Libyan army had and where they were going. My mother kept saying, If the tanks are all the Libyan army has, the Americans will flatten the ground. My parents also believed that whatever happened, the Americans would leave the hospital alone (and our village was practically attached to the hospital). So ultimately, according to my parents, there was no reason to worry.

I watched the tanks go by for weeks, on and off, but I didn’t think much about them. They became part of the landscape, moving slowly like giant ants that were interesting to watch, yet way too far to have anything to do with me. Or maybe just part of the sunsets that I tried not to miss, convinced they were the most memorable sunsets I had ever seen, the red of the sky merging with the red earth. So, ultimately, the tanks didn’t really bother me.

Until the morning of April 15, 1986, when my mother woke me up and said I was not going to school that day. Before I even had time to ask any questions, she said, We were bombed last night. I was confused more than anything else. I didn’t hear the bombing? Was that possible?

My mother said my father wanted to wake me up, but she screamed No. I believed her, screaming was her specialty. She said my father panicked, my always so composed father who so many times managed to calm himself quickly enough to be able to hold a scalpel and cut people’s flesh only a short time after my mother delivered one of her spectacularly delirious exhibitions of fury and madness. That man whose control of his feelings I always admired panicked and ran towards my room to wake me up so we could all leave our apartment and go somewhere safe, but my mother screamed No, and then continued to scream, Where? Where are you going to take us? Where?  I could easily imagine the scene.

My mother won, as usual. I stayed asleep, my parents, I assume, listened to the bombs blowing up, pretty loudly, pretty close, trusting the Americans selected their targets carefully and were capable of being impeccably precise. Later we learned that yes, the Americans carefully selected their targets and were in general precise, but that didn’t mean there were not plenty of civilian casualties.

I stayed inside that day. I didn’t necessarily expect anything unpleasant to happen during the day, but I wanted to be perfectly safe (I’d definitely always been the extremely cautious type when my physical well-being was in question). I wrote in my journal. A long entry. A lot of pages. Decorated with a lot of pressed mimosas. I tried to make sense of the whole thing. Bombs dropped off the airplanes, bombs went off, and I slept through all that. Now I wouldn’t be that surprised by my ability to  sleep through a bombing because I know I’ve done it once. But then, I found it difficult to believe I slept through something as loud as a bombing must have been.  I packed a bag of stuff (the bag included my journal, some clothes, and a lot of peanuts – my idea of dry food) and put it next to my bed. In case we needed to be evacuated, I was ready to go.

When my father didn’t come back from work at the regular time later that day, I became restless. I knew my mother was scheduled to work nightshift that evening (she was a nurse), which meant I was going to be alone once seven o’clock came. We waited for my dad to come back home (and we couldn’t call him, because nobody had a phone in the apartment), but when my father was not home by six o’clock, my mother arranged for me to stay with a friend of hers.  I was only thirteen and I was not ready to stay alone overnight.

People generally expected a second night of bombing. I sat quietly in my mother’s friend’s apartment, across from this lady that I didn’t even like. I flipped through an old copy of some Serbian magazine and pretended I was interested in the subject matter, just to avoid talking to my mom’s friend. After all, there was nothing I had to say about the whole thing. I was afraid of what might happen in Libya next, of the concept of war, at that time completely abstract to me. Secretly, I was hoping someone was going to just  put me on the plane and take me back to Serbia. My mind was everywhere and nowhere.

Around midnight my father showed up to take me home. He spent a long day in a hospital different from the one where he usually worked, a Benghazi hospital that was closer to the areas where people got hurt during the attack. He was tired and went to bed, and I waited for another round of bombing for a long time and fell asleep only when the morning light started breaking. The second attack never came.

Our school reThe Mediterranean Sea from Benghazi opened. The life went back to normal. Weeks went by, and I eventually unpacked my bag. Days got hot. We started going to the beach. I fell in love with the Libyan beaches. With the beautiful  Mediterranean. Instantaneously. So many years later, when I mention the sea, I don’t picture the Adriatic. Or the Aegean Sea. It’s the Libyan Mediterranean that’s still lodged in my head. The water cooler than in the Adriatic, the color deeper, the waves wilder (but nothing – nothing – like in the ocean). My idea of perfection.

On weekdays we went to the few local beaches for an afternoon, but on weekends we drove for an hour or even two hours to get to these frequently wild beaches with magical sand and magically blue waters. I baked in the sun with pleasure, soaked in olive oil, refusing to even hear my mother’s concerns about the damaging influence of the sun. I simply didn’t care. My skin was dark and shiny, I felt a bit like I owned the world. Like I just stepped into a paradise. By pure chance. I loved living by the sea.

I visited Serbia that summer,  despite the Chernobyl catastrophe that took place earlier that year. My mother tried hard to convince me I should stay In Libya, which was farther from Chernobyl than Serbia was, but I didn’t care about possible radiation. I wanted to visit Serbia, period. So I went.

Things didn’t change in Serbia a lot in a year. My cousins that I played a lot with before coming to Libya had new friends and didn’t really care to include me. I didn’t keep in touch with my old friends, which didn’t mean much as I stayed with my aunt who lived in a village away from my town. I got to meet some new kids of my age (and I was very much in the mood for falling in love so I could forget the Bini boy), but most of the time I spent alone, simply entertaining myself: reading, writing in my journal, watching the villagers take their tractors out of their big yards early in the morning and come back in the evening with carts loaded with hay, wheat, whatever. All summer I had private literature lessons with my mother’s old professor as my mother thought my Serbian Language and Literature teacher in Libya was horrendous and that I didn’t learn anything about literature interpretation. I visited my old apartment a few times, but it felt weird being there. It brought up memories, but all blended together, making it impossible for me to decipher what was the exact thing putting me in a funk.

The time in Serbia (or rather Yugoslavia) flew by. Coming back to Libya felt strange, it felt like Libya was now my home, but the one I wasn’t happily going to. Some of my friends left, and a few new families with kids arrived.  I felt like an old-timer when my new friends asked me questions. I had that attitude, Yea, it’s different, not a big deal though! You’ll see.

We got a new set of teachers that were overall better than the previous year’s set. However, the school population shrank. I was now in the eighth grade, which consisted of only two students, me and a Montenegrin blond boy who sang a popular Bijelo Dugme song so many times in a day that by the end of the year I knew the song with every single atom of my body.

Acacia niotica / MimosaAfter being in classes back home that had more than thirty students, it felt funny being in a classroom the size of a bigger closet with only one other student. Teachers acted like they were stopping by our classroom only for a cup of coffee and a chat. My biology teacher weaved these spectacular stories that were vaguely related to the subject matter she was supposed to teach to us. For example, this man had a very weak heart, and he went on a trip, and then this – whatever – happened. I liked nothing better than to go home, share the stories with my father, and look at my father’s facial expressions. This was also a good indirect way to invite my father to tell me how the heart worked or whatever we were learning at the moment. Anything that was biology, physics, chemistry, mathematics, my father talked about and explained like these were the most exciting things in the world. And, interestingly enough, he would easily get the very-ADD-me to pay attention. Today, I can’t remember much more but the real basics (if that much), but the gleam in my father’s eyes, the passion of his words, the delight on his face, I’ll never forget.

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  1. Antonio
    October 27, 2011 at 12:12 am

    Wow my YU brother,i was in Benghazi when America bombarded Tripoli and Benghazi,im Croat who lived with all good peoples from ex YU(Serbs,Albanians,Macedonians and Monte Negro)My parents worked in Hawary Hospital for 12 years and my brother and i finish Ljuba Nenadovic school ….My sister was born i Benghazi,i still do remember wether and beach and mimosas uhhh what a life …Talk to me brother who are you >?My name is Antisa Milic

    • October 28, 2011 at 8:21 pm

      Yes, I totally remember you (and your younger brother Dario, right?)…I was in seventh grade in 1985/1986, Dejan Petric, Dragana Radojevic, Fljamur and I.

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