Saturday, April 6, 2013

Streams of memories

I was asked this last Friday to talk about my memories in Libya, I was asked to open the pandora box.  I was not prepared for this simple and yet obvious question and my answers are eating at me, my love for Libya is chiding me.  My internal shame was amplified by the supernatural desire that brought out all the bad memories and not enough of the good ones.  I am wondering why, why was I so weak to bend my desire to frame Libya in the best of light and make for a joyful interview?  Why did I whimper and let the dark side take over!  WHY?!?!?!?!!! I have many memories and now that I have regained my composure, I see them exiting in an orderly file, the good and the bad, with no feeling of hate towards a regime that abruptly came to an end but is yet dominating the Libyan ethos.

I remember running through the shallow Mediterranean waters. I remember teasing the gentle waves and eluding them under their weight. I remember basking in the evening sun and running barefoot, on scalding hot sand, to reach the refuge of the mesmerizing water.  I remember laughing with not a care in the world.  I remember building sand castles for hours on end and then sit and watch them gracefully disappear like the sun in the horizon.  I remember playing hide and seek with my 24 carat gold jewelry in the sand and I remember being very generous.

I remember being dropped off by the driver with my teenage cousins, at Benghazi's sailing club.  I remember the abundance of food sent with us; enough to feed my brothers' basketball team.  I remember the watermelon bobbing in the water, within the protection of our sand castle, and the chicken drumsticks and potato stews always made better by the ever present sand.  I remember forgetting to bring a knife for the watermelon, a usual occurrence that brought delight to our hearts.  I remember the fruit's loud crack on a favorite rock and I remember being among the elite group of youngsters who were allowed to dig-in a few minutes before the onslaught of the other spoons, driven by excited hands, in the red sweet flesh of our maimed watermelon.  I remember having those daydreams as I was reading "The lord of the Flies"; I was always Simon and never the wicked Ralph.  I remember being rinsed in the garden, under the canopy of jasmine, with the garden hose; I remember the deluge of sand streaming out of my hair and I remember the taste of that well-water of which I couldn't get enough. I remember marvelling at how brown my skin had gotten.

I remember walking hand in hand with my dad through the Greek ruins of Cyrenaica captivated by his description of the Greek Gods and their glory.  I remember seeing the ocean in the distance and feeling the sand, riding the seabreeze, caressing my ankles.  I remember walking into Zeus' temple and being surrounded by enormous pillars, while twirling, with my arms outstretched, on mosaic floors thousands of years old.  I remember diverting my vision from the pale blue skies to be met by a row of headless stone nymphs, comforted only by the trickle of water still murmuring their songs, in centuries old aqueducts.

I remember being at the sailing club, in the shower areas, on my knees, listening to soothing words from an adult male; I don't remember his face, he did not touch me, I was off limit, but I was fascinated and not afraid.

I remember the throbbing pulses under my firm grip; I remember the final bleating and the knife being drawn in one swift and agile movement.  I remember the warm blood gushing on my fingers like a spring stream kicking into action for the last time.  I remember jolting back to reality when the pulse is no more and the blood is pooling by my feet. I remember the lamb's glossy eyes looking into nothing; I remember licking my dish clean from the BBQ sauce.

I remember driving with my sister and seeing the bodies, still jerking, hanging from the ropes; they
were Benghazi's boys, they were brave and they were caught but not my teenage brothers.  I remember my mom pacing in our vast back yard, listening for running footsteps and weighing in her options.  I remember her furtively leading them to my uncle's basement, a rarity then, as they increased in numbers in our sanctuary.  I remember the sirens and the loud knocking on our door, I remember my mom taking her time and composing herself, and I remember hiding behind this incredibly strong woman and amazing actress while she blatantly lied to the security forces about the rogue youth "destroying our revolutionary dawn".  I remember my brothers and their friends, barely men, huddled in the dark basement.  I remember being but an invisible shadow to my mom, too afraid to leave her and she all too conscience of my presence. 

I remember the sea of boxes littering our veranda after they had 'cleaned up', as in nationalized, my dad's empire.  I remember our Egyptian help, men and women, crying in the far fetches of our home.  I remember seeing my dad, in his real form, for the last time, and my mom's fierce eyes too proud to show grief. (see 'The shattering of dreams' for full story)

I remember Naima on her wedding night; I remember her jolly face and misunderstood beatification.  I remember the last drawn blood of the evening to great fanfare and personal heartbreak.  I remember her tears drawing a line in my conscience and the jasmine's tiny white flowers contrasting with a bleak scene.  I remember the grasping for air as if I was next, I remember the chorus of ululations fueling my fears. (see 'The breaking of glass' for full story)

I remember sitting in a miniscule apartment, in Greece, fighting to take it all in, claustrophobic, and watching my dad's marbled face as he was serenaded by Pavarotti’s strong voice in 'La Boheme'.  I remember getting sick flying economy class for the first time; I remember the kindness of strangers.  I remember the strange world we had landed in, I remember the confusion of a young mind, I remember missing my family now taking refuge in other countries.

I remember getting on the private medical airplane, leaving my 18 year old brother Oussama in Greece, alone to battle his monsters while in the safe confines of our dreary apartment, away from gadafi's reaches.  I remember them resuscitating my dad so that he may take his last breath in Benghazi.  I remember my dad passing away a week later and Oussama calling to check on 'daddy' just to be told, by a stranger, that his dad had lost his battle with cancer.  I remember my dad's last words "Hala and Oussama" and the doors they opened for me.  I remember my mom using those same words when pressured to stay back in Libya and raise the girl there.  I remember her finishing up her mandatory 40 days of grieving in Greece alone and happy to send me off to school every day.  I remember the phone calls from a then married brother, in the States, shaming my mom for her sacrifice while disregarding a dead man's wish.

I remember my mom teaching herself how to read and write, in that same apartment, away from her busy and worthy life in Benghazi.  I remember waking up at night and finding her writing the Arabic alphabet and sounding it out; I was often lulled back to sleep on the sound of the pencil grinding under her firm hand threatening to succumb under the pressure.

I remember getting the long awaited phone call from the US embassy informing me that my student visa was ready.  I remember my mom, feeling vindicated for her 'sins', standing with Oussama, looking at me with a pride she had not felt since 1978.  I remember Oussama congratulating me on what he had failed to achieve.

I remember being sent to that same stranger of a brother to pursue my education in the US, I remember the struggle to adjust to having a brother after 19 years of loneliness.  I remember my being beat for having boys as my friends. I remember missing my mom and suppressing my yearning for the lost freedom and independence that came with trust.  I remember leaving, without farewells, to go live with another brother with whom I became more humble to avoid my disastrous stay with the elder.

I remember not knowing how to tie my shoes at the age of 19; my mom had assumed the role of maid.  I remember my American sister-in-law, kindly showing me how to "loop the laces, hold them tight, and pull".  I remember my accomplices and my heartbreaking 'crimes'.

I remember graduating with honors in record time and wishing for a mother's embrace.  I remember allowing myself to truly fall in love because he was Libyan.  I remember the closing of a chapter and a wedding void of my mom.  I remember my first paycheck at $4 an hour and I remember the NSF notices from the bank.  I remember the half-emptied bottle and my saving grace; the crystal clear image of my mom waving in my stupor.  I remember the sighting of a light at the end of my tunnel...

I remember no more because I now live the moment and challenge it to last; it is balsam to my wounds and I am tired of licking them.


  1. Hello Seabreeze, from another tired and weary Libyan.
    Enjoyed reading your blog. Life is still full of surprises, and your blog was one of those for me.

    1. Hello exiledinLibya, I like your pseudonym.
      "Life is full of surprises"...indeed, I just hope that my surprise was not unsettling but rather inspiring to spread your wings.

  2. Replies

    1. Your poems are beautiful and I can relate. Your story, however, is unsettling though you did find an obligatory equilibrium. You built the light at the end of your tunnel and that, my friend, takes courage and wisdom. Pardon my ignorance for I may have erred.