I have just moved back to Tripoli, Libya, two months ago, after having to be evacuated soon after the start of the revolution at the end of February 2011. Before the war I had been living and working in Tripoli as a teacher, for 16 months. I then had the privilege to be able to join a humanitarian group and take medical supplies into Benghazi during the war (in June 2011), and then I visited Tripoli last December/January, to celebrate with my Libyan friends, take stock of everything, try to recover all my things I had left behind, and discuss future possibilities. I was invited to set up and then run a new language centre on the outskirts of Tripoli, as well as managing the English Dept of a small private Libyan school on the same premises. It was to do this that I returned to Tripoli on 16 August.
Before the war, Tripoli and all of Libya was in bondage, and you could feel the oppression in the air very strongly - in the streets, in the classroom, in the taxis, etc. Nowhere could you speak freely, or say ANYTHING in criticism of the government or anyone of the "brother leader"'s family - and you werent even allowed to speak his name out loud, for fear someone would hear you and report you, and the next thing you would either be called in for a nice little "chat", or you would be escorted out of the country pretty sharply. I discovered after the war that i myself had been under surveillance, simply because I had mostly Libyan friends - nothing more. YET, I can honestly say it was the safest city I had ever lived in, and i could easily walk around alone, even late at night, without any concern that I would be attacked or worse. I often said to friends and family outside Libya, that Tripoli was the safest city in the world - and WAY safer than my own country, South Africa!! :-) However, there was NO medical care to speak of, no road infrastructure, education was of an extremely low standard (and the main manual was the "Green Book", which was required reading and curriculum in all schools and universities), the police force and government was corrupt - and almost every taxi driver was working for the government as a spy!
(I am giving you this background so that you will know where I am coming from when I say what I am about to say. :-) )
Now that I am back, I prefer to see the positive side of this revolution. YES, there is still gunfire to be heard some nights (though this really IS getting fewer and fewer), YES the traffic is even more chaotic than ever, YES there is still corruption and bad/non existent medical care and no road infrastructure to speak of, and YES there are still the odd clashes in different parts of the country, as the people go about rounding up the die hard Gaddafi fanaticists, who insist on continuing the fight even though the man is dead.
BUT - the people are FREE - FREE - FREE - for the first time in 42 YEARS. I wonder if those of us who have always enjoyed freedom, and a democracy of sorts, can ever really understand what it means to grow up NEVER knowing freedom?....And in fact NEVER having a democracy?....Because even before this awful regime came along, there was a king in Libya - and before him, the Italians...and so it goes on. So NO Libyan living today has EVER known a democracy - and everyone under 42 has never been free!!! We take our freedom SOOOO lightly, folks - and yet it is a valuable thing. Something Libyans are only now beginning to taste.
So I am prepared to forgive the at times unruly behaviour demonstrated by some, as they try to figure out just what freedom means. Most (even the passionate Tuwar, who fought so hard for freedom) do not have a clue what it really means - that with freedom comes responsibility. This is like a pendulum - during the gaddafi era it swung completely one way - now it is completely swinging the other way, in reaction to just about everything he forced on the Libyan people. I firmly believe (because I have made many many friends right across Libya) that the Libyan people are a good people at heart. They were and are a friendly, hospitable people, extremely welcoming to foreigners (apart from the usual few you will always find in every nation!) - and have certainly always made me feel very welcome in their country.
Even now that I am back, although yes there are some incidents of rude and unfriendly behaviour (though I have personally NOT experienced this), this is NOT the norm, and I believe is due to the extremely dire and traumatic things experienced by most of Libyan society in the past 2 years. I am trusting and I believe that as the revolution fades in memory, and people are slowly healed and re-integrated back into society, the true beautiful mosaic that is Libya will once again show itself.
But it will take time. Libya was ruled by a vicious dictator for 42 years. That sort of evil brainwashing and oppression does NOT just disappear overnight (even among those who were AGAINST the regime), just because the perpetrator is dead and his minions have fled or are in jail. It will take time for the Libyan people to heal completely, and for the basic infrastructure to be put in place - remember, the Libyans aren't starting from where they left off before the war (which was with nothing) - they are starting from BELOW zero - every single thing has had to be broken down and thrown out, in order to build a just and REALLY free society. I believe it will take at least 5 to 10 years before we see the really positive effects of the revolution, and real change in the country. I personally came here to help rebuild the country in any way i can, to help them along the road to democracy and true freedom. I want to be part of that change, and part of the solution - NOT part of the problem. Many Libyans know and understand that the real revolution didnt end on 23 October 2011 - the REAL revolution only STARTED then. But many others dont realise this, and are impatient - as are the rest of the world, it seems. Some Libyans (and some parts of the world) want everything to happen overnight, and get angry and argumentative when they see things changing only slowly - or not at all.
In the past, I also think many expats came here to make money out of the country and leave - they had no love for the counbtry or the people. I think if we as guests in this nation come here with the right attitude, willing to make friends, learn from the people and the culture, and prepared to help them rebuild their country on THEIR terms - without telling them what to do - then we will be welcomed here with open arms and will not experience many problems - except for what should be expected in any country!!
I think in the past, we were spoilt in this country - in the sense of it being relatively crime-free. Little did most people know at what price this country appeared crime-free. Now that Libya is becoming more like the rest of the world (sad, but true!) we throw up our arms in horror and cry foul!! When in fact, most of the petty theft that happens (bag-snatching, car theft, etc) - is nothing more nor less than what happens elsewhere!! Before, people were just too scared to even consider doing this - but it doesnt mean everything was fine - just that people were controlled very strictly!! Now, there is the natural reaction to a release of the pressure in a pressure cooker, as it were - and some steam - and violent pressure - has to be released. It's normal. Not nice, or acceptable - but normal. Shweia bi shweia, as they say here - step by step.
What about Tripoli now?...As a woman, I go about my daily business as before, I take taxis during the day and early evening when i want to go anywhere (on my own!). I go shopping on my own during the day and early evening (i.e. until sunset - at the moment that is till 7pm). Life here is pretty normal.
The main change for me is that now in the evening i dont go out on my own, but make sure I travel around with friends (preferably local male friends) - but apart from this change, we still do things in the evening as normal! We go to restaurants (which are ALL now open again - including some new ones!!! :-) ), we go shopping wherever we want, we walk around on martyrs' square with all the other Libyans (families, single men , single women and young girls), drinkling "Freedom Tea" and having the odd debate or watching some event, etc. Life is (almost) back to normal - apart from the road blocks - which are now manned by official police and army - YES, in spite of what the newspapers (and some propaganda)say, there IS a real army in Libya now, with proper uniforms - and a proper police force, with official vehicles. However, these forces are still quite small, so they DO get some of the militia to help them sometimes - but these guys have official permission to be there, and have badges and ID card identifying them as being official - and you are allowed (and expected) to ask them for their ID if they stop you needlessly. Personally, i feel pretty safe seeing these men at the roadblocks, because at least this means the government is strying to bring some law and order back into the country.
And talking about law and order, think about this: Which country in the WORLD (including my own!), if it had NO police and NO official military, and NO rule of law, would be as peaceful as Libya?....I KNOW that in my own country there would be complete anarchy if there was no police presence, etc!! Yet Libya has OVERALL (I say overall because I KNOW that things are NOT all perfect yet) been extremely peaceful since the war ended. So for me, there is hope. I am VERY happy to be back here, and I dont plan to leave any time soon. I definitely recommend Libya to those who want to make a positive difference, and who are willing to contribute in some way to this country's future stability, education, infrastructure, freedom and democracy.
PHEW!! Sorry folks - that was quite lengthy - but hope it has helped some of you in some way. Lets help to make Libya a really beautiful, fully functioning country. Hope starts HERE, TODAY!! :-)