If Famous Books Were Set In Libya

This post is a fun exercise in reinterpreting Western literature through Libyan eyes, the result of a crazy Ramadan morning on Twitter.

Hajer and Deeja (also known as @leftyuser and @_khadeja) , my fellow bookworms-in-arms and all-around amazing Libyan ladies, started a whirlwind conversation (no doubt brought on by fasting and lack of sleep) on rewriting our favorite books with a Libyan setting. The results were so hilarious I felt compelled to share them here. (CAUTION: Spoiler Alert if you haven’t read these yet)

1. A Tale of Two Cities: The story of Benghazi and Tripoli, and the hardships the people of these two cities face during the revolution.

2. Pride and Prejudice: Elissa and Jannah, two keen, witty Libyan sisters, must deal with their mother’s incessant badgering to get married to rich man, in a society where marriage determines a woman’s worth.

3. The Great Gatsby: A shady young member of the “thuwar” (revolutionaries), who was once poor, mysteriously becomes very wealthy after enlisting to fight in the revolution. He uses the money to try and get back his girl.

4. Alice in Wonderland: A young American girl finds herself in Libya, a strange country inhabited by the most bizarre creatures who, in turn, find her to be very foreign.

5. Crime and Punishment: A troubled former Libyan student kills an old woman and her sister, because in his mind, he is better than everyone else.

6. Animal Farm: The pigs (GNC members) try to cement their power after the revolution, by training dogs (militias) to intimidate and scare the people (farm animals) to keep them in check. All Libyans are equal, but some Libyans are more equal than others.

7. Harry Potter 5: Dolores Gheryani is brought into the country to “properly educate” the people, but instead forces rules, ruins education and tries to punish the citizen that don’t obey him. It’s no wonder his close friend is Lucius Sweihli.

8. The Arcana Chronicles: A post-apocalyptic Libya with unspeakable terrors and corruption, and an evil militia that kidnaps and tortures wherever they go. People must go to great lengths for basic survival and fight for an uncertain future.

9. The Handmaid’s Tale: After a terrorist attack that leads to the establishment of ISIS in Libya (an extremist military government), an ultra-conservative society forms where women are stripped of all their basic rights and are closely controlled.

10. The Fault in Our Stars: A sick nation falls in love with a captivating revolution that sweeps them off their feet. But the revolution couldn’t live for very long, creating a tragic romance. Aptly renamed to The Fault in Our Revolution.

11. Holes: A camp in the desert of Southern Libya is a place where delinquent young Libyans must go and dig holes to improve their character. But what they don’t realize is that they’re digging to find Gadhafi’s lost treasure.

12. The Trial: A young man is accused of an unknown crime, and is dragged through the bureaucratic hell of Libya’s confusing and corrupt judicial system, only to be needlessly killed without even knowing what his crime was.

13. A Suitable Boy: A long tale of a Libyan mother trying to find the perfect husband for her daughter with the right social status, within the jumbled world of Libya’s tribes, as the daughter tries to establish her independence and role in the New Libya.

14. Dr.Jekyll and Mr.Hyde: Dr.Jamal is an intelligent doctor and upright citizen. But unbeknownst to his family friends, at night he transforms into an Ansar Shariah member and wreaks havoc on the city. He leads a double life that eventually shatters his sanity.

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As you can tell, the common theme of books chosen is rather bleak, which is sadly a reflection of our reality now. However, they are all amazing books to read (I wonder if Libya’s history would ever make a great book?), and give some insight if you want a tiny glimpse of Libya. But don’t forget this Mark Twain quote:

‘Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.’

The 10 Strangest Moments of the Libyan Revolution

During the revolution I was a volunteer columnist for the Intifathat AlAhrar (Uprising of the Free) newspaper, which was published by the Tawasul organization. Most of my articles revolved around the state of the on-going revolution at the time and the changes in society.

But as I was rummaging through some old files to clear up disk space, I stumbled on this draft of an article that never got published. It brought back some memories and so I decided to publish it here. 

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Every uprising has its memorable moments, whether it was the lone man roaming the deserted streets of Tunis telling his people not to be afraid, to the confrontation between Egyptian protesters and Mubarak’s camel & horse thugs, or the tearing down of Pearl Square in Manama.

But when your revolution is against a man who wears flowing silk and velvet robes to UN meetings and surrounds himself with female ‘virgin’ bodyguards, prepare yourself for some very odd situations. In no particular order, the more memorable events of Libya’s uprising are:

#10. Yellow Hats – During the beginning of the revolution, widely circulated rumors about African mercenaries abounded. These were Gadhafi’s “riot police”, so to speak, except instead of water hoses and shields, they shot you in the heart. And they got paid $2,000 a day to do it.

But it didn’t stop there. People were reporting sightings of large groups of ‘yellow hat men”. These were men armed with clubs, wearing yellow construction hats, presumably to help them identify each other.

Of course, being Gadhafi supports, it never occurred to them that it would also help the angry mob to identify them as well. Needless to say, they weren’t around for long.

#9. Gadhafi’s First Speech – Protests have never gone unpunished in Libya before. But when the Gadhafi regime was faced with a situation that had gotten too out-of-hand, their solution was to confront the people, in the form of Seif Al-Islam Gadhafi’s televised address.

When dealing with angry protesters, the last thing you want to do is call them rats, accuse them of being stoned and threaten to burn the country. Unfortunately, no one shared these gems of wisdom to the Gadhafis, and the result was an even angrier mob.

In a hilarious display of poor judgment, it was then announced that there would be an address by none another than Brother Leader himself. The state T.V. channels broadcast that Muammer Gadhafi would shortly be giving a speech to the people. Would he also rave like a lunatic? Shout threats and vow to destroy the country?

It didn’t broadcast until 1 am, and if you blinked you would have missed it. It was a 15-second commentary on the rain, and how he wasn’t in Venezuela. There was also an umbrella.

Of course he made it up to us later with an hour-long threat-filled tirade about hallucination drugs and how the West wanted to colonize us.

#8. Secret Abortion Clinic - You’ve probably heard the phrase “only in Libya”. A combination of circumstances has made this country the setting for some very unlikely events.

After the freeing of Tripoli, a lot of secrets came out. Mass graves, underground tunnels. And an abortion clinic. Under the UNIVERSITY.

An entire suite was found under Tripoli university, including a bedroom, Jacuzzi, and a fully equipped, state-of-the-art female clinic. Why under the University though?

It is believed that Gadhafi posted people there to look for attractive young females, whom he could seduce (read: rape), without going to the trouble of kidnapping them from their home. Apparently he wasn’t a fan of contraceptives, which is where we think the clinic comes in.

#7. Condi Rice Photo Album - A good many odd things were found in Gadhafi  & Son’s numerous houses, including  a tortured maid, golden weaponry and a maze of tunnels. But one of the most peculiar items discovered was a photo album dedicated solely to pictures of Condoleezza Rice. Yes, the former American Secretary of State.

Apparently Gadhafi had a crush on Ms. Rice, even composing a song for her called Black Flower in the White House. Which is bizarre considering that he refused to shake her hand on her last visit. Was Gadhafi just a shy schoolboy? Or a borderline obsessive maniac? (Hint: it’s the latter)

#6. Magic Man – Revolutions bring out the best and worst people to the limelight. We saw the emergence numerous activists, leaders who embodied the best of the Libyan people.

And then there were people like Yousif Shakeer, a talk-show host and purported ‘political analyst’ who began his appearance on Libyan state television as a guest speaker and was eventually given his own show. Now, I could compile a list exclusively for the weirdest Yousif Shakir moments, but for now I’ll just mention one of the most well-known; when he called upon jinn to help Gadhafi.

Rosary swinging in hand, Shakir quivered with concentration as he held what is probably the first ever live television jinn-summoning. But either the jinn were anti-Gahdafi or Shakir needed more lessons in black magic, because they did not come to the deposed dictator’s aid.

#5. The Spluttering Spokesperson – One of the qualifications for any job with the Gadhafi regime is the ability to lie unabashedly in the face of a mountain of evidence, even at the cost of your own personal image. You must dismiss reason and logic, and focus solely on denying whatever allegations are being made.

This was the task assigned to Moussa Ibrahim, mouth piece of the regime itself. No matter what the media outlet was, Ibrahim would assert, with unwavering confidence and no trace of irony, that there was nothing going on in Libya and all the problems were caused by outside forces.

When Tripoli was finally breached and Bab Al-Azizya was crashing around their ears, Ibrahim emerged in a presser to state that Tripoli was under their control and they were prepared to defend it, while simultaneously asking for a ceasefire.

But possibly the biggest mishap occurred on an interview he did with BBC, when he claimed that “not even God” could stop the  Libyan people “if they wanted their dictator” (which you can watch here, scroll to minute 14:40). Way to echo the sentiments of a religious nation, Mr. Ibrahim.

#4. Gadhafi’s Last Stand – No tyrant lives forever, and Gadhafi was no exception to the rule. However, it’s how the tyrant ends which really matters in history. Some, like Hafiz Al-Assad, pass away unremarkably, while others face a violent ending.

In Gadhafi’s case, it was the latter, with a twist of poetic justice. After a NATO attack on his conveys left the ex-leader between a rock and a hard place, he was found in a hole by the same people he called rats. Horrific endings are not uncommon for despots, but how many of them were found with a solid gold gun?

Apparently Gadhafi liked to defend himself in style. This is not the first weapon owned by Gadhafi that was valuable enough to feed the entire Libyan population for at least a year. Among his stockpile were another gold rifle and a diamond-encrusted pistol. And he never even got to use them. Just goes to show you that when buying weapons for self-defense (or murdering your people), reliability always trumps ostentatious glitziness.

#3. Bab Al-Aziziya’s Nightly Raves – Everything Gadhafi did was in gaudy, tasteless style, including the “spontaneous” organized protests that took place in his compound. These took the form of nightly festivities with authentic Libyan wedding bands to boot (East Libyan of course, to show that half of the country that he didn’t hold any grudges).

Every night on Libya’s state tv channel we were treated to an exuberant party of Gadhafi supporters dancing and chanting their support for the Green Man. Flags of supportive countries (which dwindled every night) were waved violently at the cameras, as if to say, “Who needs you France? We have Algeria!”

But one of the highlights of those celebrations was an honest-to-goodness wedding. Yes, that’s right, a bride and groom, bedecked in “imperialist” wedding gown and tux, sat perched atop a chaise longue on stage while the revelers convulsed in dance below. It’s unclear what the message was (Gadhafi supports marriages? Married people support Gadhafi?) but we can say with certainty that it is the most unique wedding we’ve ever seen.

#2. Abdul-Jalil’s Liberation Speech – Few occasions are as momentous in a country’s history as the day it is liberated. The longer and crueler the dictatorship, the bigger the event.

Libya’s liberation declaration on October 23rd was one such day. The 42 years of oppression ending with the death of the tyrant left even the most inarticulate citizen eloquently proclaiming their joy.

And no man had greater opportunity to voice what Libyans were feeling than interim PM Mustafa Abdul Jalil, who was scheduled to give the “official” declaration in Benghazi’s Keesh square. Standing on the podium with the eyes of the country on him, Abdul Jalil declared that Libya was free….and that men can marry 4 wives.

In his effort to emphasis that Libya will become an Islamic country, and unaware that timing is everything, Abdul Jalil nullified a Gadhafi-era law prohibiting multiple marriages during his speech. Because nothing says “dawn of a new era” quite like polygamy.

#1. ???

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As you can see, I never actually finished the list. I don’t know if it was due to my inability to find more events to write about (10 point lists are hard, okay?) or if I was demotivated to complete it after the newspaper was discontinued. It’s funny how much of this stuff I forgot, or how sardonic I could be (oh, to be 20 again).

It also brought back memories of a time when we believed wholeheartedly that the country was headed towards nothing but success. Abdul-Jalil’s speech now seems like an ominous foreshadowing, rather than just a goofy comment from an incompetent politician.

There are very little events in Libya today that could provide material for a lighthearted article, which is why I shared this one. So share your experience with me. What is the strangest moment you remember from the Libyan revolution that deserves the number 1 spot?

Election Anxiety

(I wrote a more professional post on the elections for Libyan Youth Voices, which you can check out here)

*flips calendar* 

Oh my God. Tomorrow’s the 25th? The parliamentary elections are tomorrow! Okay, just be cool. It’s not like these are possibly the most critical elections in Libya’s history or anything.

Wait, what? They are? Hehe. Okay, no worries. *sweating and panicking* But, I mean, I’m just one vote, it’s not like I could single-handedly undermine the nation or anything.

Weeell. Technically, two votes. And you could be responsible for voting imbalance.

What is that?

Say you and the majority of denizens vote for the best candidate on the ballot. Any of the other lesser candidates could also gain a seat from their supporters, without needing a large amount of votes. This means that unpleasant people (like former GNC members who are running) have a chance at winning. Remember, if you live in Benghazi, 20 candidates will be chosen for the House of Representatives, 16 men and 4 women.

So, who should I vote for?

Everyone has own their method of choosing the ideal candidate. For a lot of people, being affiliated with a certain political party *coughMBcough* is enough to reject candidates. Others look for family name and status, activism, political ideology and so on.

I think that the best thing to do is to vote for someone who represents you as an individual. If you’re in the youth demographic, vote for a youth candidate. If you’re in civil society, go with the activist. But check their background and history and ensure that they’re someone you can trust with your voice. Don’t just vote for whomever your parents like. And certainly DON’T vote for former GNC members.

Ugh, but how will I know which candidates I can trust? That would require a lot of work and research.

Pretend like it’s a quiz. Except if you fail, YOUR COUNTRY COLLAPSES.

Day 1 of the debates

Day 1 of the debates

The three-day debates in Benghazi were a great way to familiarize yourself with some of the candidates. There’s nothing like blatantly asking a potential representative if they supported extremist groups and then watch them flinch at the question to let you know they’re not very trustworthy.

But I wasn’t kidding when I said these elections are absolutely critical. It’s not just the fear of voting for the wrong candidate (confession: I voted for Salah Jaouda in the GNC elections and yes, it’ll haunt me for a very long time) but also the fact that, if these guys fail us the way the previous government has, Libya is done for. With the extremists vs. Hifter showdown in the skies and streets of Benghazi, and the political tug-of-war in Tripoli between various militias, the country has never been more fragile. At risk of dropping a drama-bomb (pun totally intentional), our hopes are riding on the success of these elections and those who win. 

I’ve taken the liberty of compiling a to-do list for the Parliament members once they’re sworn in:

  1. Kick the GNC out the door (and preferably into a courtroom)
  2. Visit Derna and the South and figure out what the hell is going on there
  3. Security
  4. More security
  5. Constitution confirmation (affirmation? I don’t know what the legal term is)
  6. Security
  7. Working traffic lights would be nice, with someone to enforce them. And better roads maybe? Replacing car tires is expensive
  8. Are you in charge of the borders? If so, do those. (And by do, I mean construct a 10 meter high electric fence with rabid pit bulls guarding it.)
  9. Fight crime and corruption so hard that people will write songs about you to sing to their grandchildren

As you can see, we need to work on literally everything. Many candidates have said that now is not the time for development but stabilizing. While this is true, its also depressing, because the longer it takes to calm things down, the longer we have to wait to see a better Libya.

Yeah that’s right, I said ‘a better Libya’, you snickering pessimist. While a betting man wouldn’t touch those odds, it’s not like we’ve got a spare country to retreat to.

So, yeah, basically, vote smart. If you don’t, and our country regresses further into a lawless jungle, I’ll be the first to raid your house.

(For the arabic version of the candidates article, you can find it here)

The Graduation Gauntlet | Part 4

If you’ve been keeping up with our higher-education memoir series, this is the final installment, where we ruminate on life after graduation. As always, this is Ali’s POV, while mine is over at Ali’s blog.

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Postgrad Blues

While I had chosen to completely numb my expectations of life after graduation, the initial ‘reality ensues’ kick remained quite painful. I suddenly had an abundance of free time in which I had nothing to do in except laze around, play video games, watch movies and look for jobs. Moreover, what social life and human contact I had were completely thrown out of the window. Being the only child not only worsened that, but it also put more pressure on me to get a job and move to the ‘next level’ in life.

What you don’t learn in university is that life really can be tough. That, and graduation is really not worth it – it doesn’t lead to anything unless you have ‘the connections’ to secure a decent job. Doubly so in a small, oversaturated labor market such as Bahrain: plenty of graduates and skilled candidates to go around, not enough jobs to actually accommodate them.

The only job opportunities that are open to a fresh graduate tend to be quite banal: aggressive cold-calling salespeople or outdoor sales, vehicle drivers, waiters or hotel receptionists, and graphic design. I tried the sales thing for a month and I hated it with every atom in my being. What university also doesn’t teach you is that sales jobs are like chameleons: they come under many names but they are all the same. Here’s some of them: business development executive, marketing executive, sales executive, client account manager, and client services executive. They also all work the same way: cold-call someone, set up a meeting, attempt to convince them to purchase your company’s services, meet a bazillion times, hope that the deal actually goes through.

Not my thing whatsoever.

But I digress. What makes post-graduation life difficult is not the inability to find a job but how your dreams, future plans and self-worth get crushed into a fine thin paste, assuming they are not outright evaporated. How? Allow me to elaborate:

A. Jobs

There’s a good chance that the job you actually want and is really an entry-level position has some very stringent experience requirements. Usually something such as 3 years in an equivalent position. The problem with this is that it reeks of fuzzy, catch-22 logic. You can’t get the job unless you have experience in it, but you can’t get experience unless you get the job. It’s like the chicken or the egg, but very, very real. By the way, scientists say the egg came first.

B. Dreams

Not having a job can put a damper on your dreams. It’s either because you can’t get a job which will make you eligible for your dream job, scholarship or career plan or alternatively, because you can’t get any money with which to work towards your dreams. While some people might have very broad or vague dreams which they will bend or claim flexibility on (that’s me), there are people who do have very specific plans or dreams for the future. The result is the biggest depression-inducing shock of their life as I have witnessed in many a friend.

C. Your self-worth

Oftentimes, post-graduation quickly devolves into a very routine existence of wake up, eat, sleep. This routine, coupled with things such as family pressure, an overabundance of time and having your dreams crushed can make a person feel extremely useless or worse, think themselves as a burden on those around them. If you’re not careful, it’s easy to lock yourself into a cyclic trap of depression.

Finally, if you thought university was full of incompetence or disorganization and how you’ll be leaving all of that behind, don’t hold your breath going into the ‘real’ world. It is the exact same. You have those who have it figured out, and those who don’t. Even the biggest of companies harbour complete messes within their walls.

As you can see, without the right mindset or support, graduation is an abrupt, sudden shock in the life of a student. This is why I pretty much tell all of my still-students friends to not rush towards graduation. The suckerpunch will come – no need to ask for it in advance.

Is university the best time of your life? I would say no, not in the Middle East. Rather, university is more akin to ‘Life-Lite™’. You get a nice little sandbox to play in, discover how society functions and understand yourself and your peers better. It fills in most of your time with things to do and manage. In essence, university manages your life for you while you learn the ropes of society.

What it doesn’t teach you is how to manage your life completely on your own. It also doesn’t teach you crucial skills such as navigating workplace politics or how things really do happen in the real world. You’ll have to learn those on your own time, my fellow graduate or graduate-to-be.

That brings us to the grand question: are you kind of screwed coming out of university? Was it all a waste?

Well no.

University probably helped refine and temper you as a person, simply think back from when you first entered and where you are today: I’m sure you’ll find a lot to be proud of or at the very least, some things you may not be so-proud of but can rest easily that you have experienced or tried them.

So what can you do? Well, I would say that you should stay hopeful, continue to pursue your dreams and interests and not give up so easily. Surround yourself with good advice and supportive allies. Cultivate a hobby or two. Set up gatherings. Stay in touch with people. Use your newfound time to learn something, do something or join something. Create activity in your day-to-day life. If you don’t do it now, you’ll do it later: most people with jobs or marriages almost always get horribly bored a year or two into their job or marriage without any of the aforementioned in their life.

Remember, a job, marriage and kids are not the only valid moves to play in life. The trick is to find out what you can and want to play.

You can almost say that’s the beauty of life.

So go ahead. Try living.

The Graduation Gauntlet | Part 3

This is third installment of our education series. If you’ve been keeping up, you’ll know that I’m featuring the voice of Ali here, while my own is over at his blog. Enjoy!

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The Drop

By 2011, the administration in my university was more or less nuked as a direct result of the ‘Arab Spring’. After some two months or so of university being put on pause, classes started up again, but this time around almost everything that was fun in university was removed.

A good deal of tutors had packed up and left while others started packing up. Moreover, the summer scholarship abroad became history remembered by few and building 24 was put down: it got stripped of everything it contained and turned into a boring empty space. Classes also started becoming more vague and aimless.

But more importantly, it was time for me to pick a major in business. I had a choice between banking and finance, accounting, management or marketing. Against every bit of my parents’ wishes (or my dad’s more specifically), I picked management because I was informed that it would have tones of psychology in it and that was that; not that I regret my decision whatsoever. It turned out to be the jack-of-all-trade’s degree: the perfect companion to a person with far too broad of an attention span and a finger in every pie, so to speak; something I found out later in life.

Sadly, having to choose a major also caused a split in my group of my friends as each went on his or her own way and we couldn’t meet up as frequently as before thanks to scheduling differences. Over the coming years, the split got bigger until I was spending most of my time with one or two people at the most, assuming I wasn’t alone to begin with.

Overall, the quality of education continued to drop sharply over time. It also didn’t help that I was the guinea pig of my university due to my status as a student of ‘the first batch’. The only thing that kept me sane was my relationships with my tutors as mentors and friends in addition to my student friends. Other than that I was mostly zoned out in class, with only half a grip on what’s going on. Luckily, I didn’t miss out on much so my grades weren’t affected.

By the time my graduation project rolled around, I was completely burnt out in regards to university. I completely stopped caring at this point. I just wanted it all to be done with, to hell with grades. I want to go and experience the real world. The real-real world that is; my graduation project was to work for a company on a ‘real’ project, but it was so disorganized and chaotic, I was convinced that this cannot be the way companies operate in the real world.

On the bright side however, my character and personality was vastly improved after 2012 thanks to a refreshing summer exchange program and a more balanced view on life. I realized a year later that not only had I matured a great deal throughout my university years, but I also built up an almost inhuman resistance to whatever adversity that came through my way thanks to all the downers I encountered until then. Losing some 25 kilograms did wonders to my self-confidence as well, now that I was ‘in shape’.

Come June 2013, I had submitted my final project report and completed all things university. For all practical intents and purposes, I had graduated, minus the actual certificate and a fancy party. It was time to roll out.

The Graduation Gauntlet | Part 2

Alright, here’s part deux of The Graduation Gauntlet, a look at university education in the MENA,through the eyes of Ali. For my perspective, you can check it out on his blog here.

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The Carefree Years

By the time year 2 and 3 rolled around, I had settled into a bit of a comfortable rhythm at university: I had found a core group of friends with which to hang with 24/7 and could identify with to some extent as ‘my people’. A typical day would consist of going to class, meeting with my group, enduring class and then going out with the group, usually visiting the recreational area or carpooling outside of university and over to a restaurant or something.

I had also started to build a relationship with most of my tutors through after-class chit-chats, usually about completely irrelevant topics in comparison to class. Most of my classes weren’t very interesting in and out of themselves, but the class conversations and tutor personalities often made up for that. The interesting classes were my elective ones, such as music composition, music around the world and general law. Other fun ones included theater and journalism, but alas, one could only take one or two electives at any given time.

It was also at this time that university really was a lot of fun. I had great tutors, a good group of friends and easy access to entertainment. As an example, the recreational building in my university (henceforth dubbed building 24) was a nice place to be during year 1 and 2 of university. It contained generous amounts of sofas, satellite TV as well as a TV connected with a Playstation 3. Students would either ‘rent’ one of the available games or bring their own games and set up a ‘king of the hill’ style getup where the winner gets to continue playing as challengers rotate. I had sunk many hours into Street Fighter 4, Soul Calibur 4 and Mortal Kombat 9 in that building.

If you weren’t the video-gaming type, building 24 still had other fun for you: miniature football, table tennis, billiards and for some strange reason, a leg-press machine in the middle of the building which later paved the way for a full gym. The building itself quickly gained status as the place to be in-between classes. It got so popular, some students would come before classes just to get a couple of games in the morning.

But of course, there had to be someone to ruin it for everyone else. During year 1 and 2, there was no such thing as an attendance policy in my university. You were expected to be an adult and attend your classes or skip them if you felt you didn’t need them. I think it was a good system that should’ve lasted. But who am I kidding? Of course it was abused.

Students would skip their classes and spend their entire day in building 24, then complain and moan once they get an assignment and realize that they can’t do any parts of it. It got worse when some students got the bright idea of coming in first thing in the morning simply to hide behind sofas and make out.

A year after, the free attendance policy was revoked and turned into a ‘20% absence and you’re out’ policy. More amusingly however, students were actually given a chance to prevent this from happening: an open ‘forum’ was set up for a whole day where any student could come and argue in favor of keeping the free attendance policy. Unfortunately, most visitors did not present a reasonable viewpoint as much as they merely went to grumble and complain about the coming change.

Like all good things, building 24 didn’t last for long either. By year 2 it had gained a reputation as either ‘Africa’ due to its overpopulation and dirtiness or as a ‘seedy underbelly of immorality’, depending on who you asked. Either way, it would soon become a place that no ‘self-respecting student’ would enter or spend time at. Boo.

Things were still pretty good otherwise. However, I remained a cynical bastard; I figured that next year would probably get worse and lucky for me, turns out I wasn’t so wrong. Not that remaining cynical did any good to my popularity or character, of course.

The Graduation Gauntlet

I wanted to do something a little different this time. A friend of mine (the awesome Ali) suggested we could to a collaboration piece. Instead of the typical rant on politics, society, or the other headline-making problems that plague our part of the world, we decided to focus on something that never seems to get much attention; education. Specifically, university education, and our own personal experiences.

To mix things up a little, this is Ali’s point of view, and you can catch mine over on his blog here. We divided up our work into four parts, each focusing on a different part of the journey. We’ll upload each part once a day.

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Year 1| The Reset

I think I am on the complete opposite side of Nada on university. Fresh out of a school of ‘hard knocks’ so to speak, I was completely nonchalant about the idea of enrolling into university. I knew it was supposed to be a big decision that sets in motion the direction of your coming years, but I had trouble imagining that for two reasons.

The first is that I’ve always been the one kid who never knew what they wanted to be. When other kids were busy enthusiastically saying ‘I want to be an astronaut!’, I was the child who would look at you in total, genuine confusion.

The second is that I was both glad to be out of school and yet fully convinced that university would be a lot like school while simultaneously hoping that it isn’t, if that makes any sense. Moreover, I had actually entered university with a completely broken spirit.

School consisted of three terrible years of survivalism so to speak. It was full of bullying, freeloading and delinquency, starting with exchanging insults and vulgarities in the morning all the way to sabotaging the teacher or classroom in some way as to cancel class. In a class full of people who would (and did) take a piss in the class’ cupboard, I felt like the only sane person. In retrospect, this sounds very melodramatic, but I honestly cannot describe it any other way.

But I digress, that was just one half of why I had a broken spirit. The other half was being limited by my choice of university: I could have gone to a university with many fields and disciplines, but incredibly terrible teaching and student life versus going to a university that has just opened its doors. It told tales of a student-teacher relationship based on respect and a vibrant, active student life. It didn’t take long for me to take a chance by going with the new one, but it came at the cost of only having four fields to select from: business, ICT, engineering or logistics. None of which I was particularly interested in.

Combine having no idea of what to pursue with that of a broken spirit and you get complete nonchalance about entering university. Furthermore, my school experience had turned me into a shut-in cynic so I couldn’t hold the skepticism about university being different. The only difference I had a guarantee on is that university would 100% contain the alien species known as ‘girls’.

I chose business as my field based on a very pragmatic line of thinking: business is the broadest field. I might be able to decide on a path within it once it’s time to select a major. Furthermore, it’s the most likely to get me employed. Employment equals money and money means I can pursue my hobbies and interests once they are de-mystified!

Yep, that was pretty much it.

Thus started my university journey. While I was by all accounts and means, an incredibly bright student, I also had the manners, emotional intelligence and social skills of a neanderthal. School had conditioned me to be defensive, introverted and extremely bitter and blunt. I had all the grace of a slug.

I was fond of provoking or opposing authority figures and I was absolutely incapable of getting along with most people because of how much I voiced disagreement or ‘called’ their ‘stupidity’ in my opinion. The next two years of university would prove to be a very intense crash course in learning how to deal with people. I’m still amazed to this day how my tutors actually put up with me, nay, they even engaged with me. If I was teaching myself, I would either ignore or kick myself out of class for being an asinine little shit – but I guess they saw there was something beyond that crusty, hard exterior.

Oh the drama.

University was otherwise a strange hybrid of great times and bad times. Bad times would be the boring classes I had to endure and generally stumbling about this ‘socializing’ thing. Great times however, were finding out that university is different.

For the first time in my life, I was actually treated with respect by my tutors who also would level with you personally. Student life had multiple activities and fun events, my tutors were from all over the world and being a student at university felt like a privilege or perk due to how much help was available to me during the initial two years. There was even a summer scholarship to go abroad with no requirements save for proving you have decent English!

That one was a funny one however: I got rejected because I have too high a level of English and the scholarship’s purpose was to learn English. Ouch.

Still, times were looking up and I eased up over the two years, yet I remained a cynical bastard nonetheless. One that complained too often and too vocally for his own good.