The Home That Never Felt Like Home
We were only surrounded by the sound of heavy shooting and armed machinery. "We must leave now." was what I shouted to my father as the sound went louder and heavier. He replied “To where?” and the only place I could think of was my hometown Al-Qalaa' which is located in the western mountain. However, I haven’t been there in almost 10 years and we don't have a house there since we don’t visit much but my grandparents’ houses are there. The sound was coming from the block behind us and we had no place to go. I hugged my mom like a scared little girl while she was scared herself. I felt sick in my stomach and my legs couldn't hold me anymore. That happened on 2014 in what Libyans call "The airport War" when Tripoli's international airport was completely destroyed by armed militias.
I went straight to my room to pack anything and whatever I can put my hands on. We didn't know how long the war would last, but we didn't seem to care, we just needed to feel safe. At that point, nothing else mattered. Our own lives were at stake and I wondered why we had to face what we are facing. I am too young to witness war, I have dreams of my own. However, dreams at that moment could wait.
When we all finished packing, we rushed to my dad’s car and drove off to the hometown I almost forgot, to the place I am least connected to. The irony is that the war forced me to go. As if it was a sign to finally go and pay a visit after years of refusing to go with the same excuse over and over again.
As we drove further, we started to feel the ease and after the two-hour drive, we arrived safely at my grandfather's house. The house I spent most of my childhood in during the summer. I had mixed feelings at the moment, I was excited and happy but fear made me come and I felt ashamed. My grandfather's house was a small house with two bedrooms, a guest room, bathroom and a kitchen. It was designed for summer visits and also in the summer, not the whole family goes so it didn't fit for two big families.
I got a flashback with all the memories I had there as a child. I remember when I sat next to my grandmother while she made fresh bread or the long walks I had down the hill to the tall pine tree with my cousins. The first few days were nice because I visited some relatives whom I haven't seen in years and some who I don't remember at all. Everyone in my hometown speaks Amazigh and I don't know how to speak it that well so it was so difficult for me to catch up since most conversations were carried with this language. I was fascinated that most children there didn't speak Arabic and they only understand Amazigh so that was a first for me. Moreover, the lifestyle is utterly simple, no complications.
We didn't have access to the internet so basically, we were disconnected from what was happening in Tripoli. We only called friends and other family members who were still in Tripoli for updates. Several days passed and more family members joined in. The house was completely full of people. I couldn't complain because I had no other place to go. Long power cuts started and they lasted for about 18 hours and sometimes for longer. Summer was mostly hot during the day and at night when there is no electricity, it was impossible to stay in. In addition, we suffered from water shortage too. We spent nights outside because it was cooler, I even slept under the moonlight and believe me, it wasn't romantic! I cried and I hated that it happened to me and my family.
I got the chance to live the countryside simple life, I went with my grandfather to the field to harvest fresh fruits and I visited the old city of Al-Qalaa' and the outskirts of the town. It has amazing views and places for sightseeing but it is a very small town so you can roam around in a week or less. When you are forced to be in a certain place, it wouldn't feel the same and you will struggle. I struggled in my own hometown and unfortunately, I was a refugee in it. I can't call it a trip but it was a chance to bond with my roots and learn more about my family's heritage since I spent my whole life in Tripoli and avoided visits so many times.
The best thing I got from that war in spite of all the suffering and tension is the chance to go back to my roots and learn life lessons on how to withstand critical circumstances. I learned that things never go according to plan; life will throw at you lemons so you better squeeze them. I learned to never take things for granted because, in a split second, things can be taken away from you so appreciate everything you have. After a month spent there that felt more like a year, I realized that you can lose your home, car, and sometimes dear ones and you will need to start from scratch. The simple lifestyle there wasn’t simple for me and I learned the hard way on how to tolerate and compromise to stay alive. I had plenty of time to think clearly and grow. It was peaceful there but I was in search of peace from within.