Here’s another thing they don’t tell you about war; it’s not a phenomenon with a linearly ascending timeline of bad to good, or bad to worse. Instead it follows a pattern similar to the line you see on an EKG monitor. Things seem to be picking up, and everyone’s thinking ‘this is it, the war is nearly over!’ But then something happens which brings down morale, and this cycle continues in varying degrees. It’s an emotional rollercoaster which leaves you mentally exhausted.
Fighting had stopped in Benghazi for the past few weeks. We usually get these periods of calm once in a while in between the clashes. Death and destruction is a tiring business, and both sides need a break every so often. During this lull, a video was posted on Facebook depicting the Engineering Faculty of Benghazi University, up in flames. The video then jumps to a later scene, where the flames have died out and the burned hulk of the building is visible; broken windows, blackened twisted metal, roofs caving in.
I’m going to skip over the part here where I’d normally try to articulate my feelings upon seeing the video, because the internet doesn’t need any more human bleakness. Instead, I’ll tell you that I avoided social media for the rest of the night, and went to class today in the school our Faculty is using temporarily. Although after the video, the term ‘temporarily’ might not be very accurate anymore. No one knows when exactly the fire happened, but we’ve all taken it as indication that the end is still very far off.
To say that people in Benghazi are fed up with this nightmare is an understatement. The highs and lows of the war, the unexpected shortages and missiles, and the prolonged waiting has all been very agonizing. Even the latest announcement of a new (newer?) unity government and the signing of the UNSMIL peace agreement has been met with almost complete indifference. Keesh square is empty except for children playing in the park and student drivers practicing in the parking lot. Social media posts range from “well, let’s hope it works out this time” to “meh, whatever”.
Elementary schools have resumed in Benghazi, which has brought some small measure of happiness. But the reopening of schools has meant horrible traffic congestions, which kind of negates the happiness.
Civil society is around too, trying to fill in the gaps left by the government, which has proven to be a difficult task after the recent threats made by government officials accusing civil society activists of treachery, implementing foreign agendas and other equally ridiculous claims. What’s not ridiculous is having an intelligence officer calling you out of nowhere and demanding documents and other details about your work. That shit is scary. It doesn’t matter which MENA country you live in, when mukhabarat call, you panic. No one wants a file with their name on it sitting in one of their file cabinets.
A year ago I was fueled mainly by anger, indignation and vitriol. I hated everyone who ignored Benghazi or, worse, people who judged us from afar and stole our narrative online. It felt so good to rage, breathing self-righteous flames of fury on anyone who crossed my path. Being in Benghazi felt like a badge of honour that shielded me from blame for my destructive behaviour. Today I’m mostly numb. I don’t have any feelings, just because it’s given me peace of mind. I think the same can be said for most people here. Unlike the soldiers and fighters on the front lines, we can’t just take a break from the war.
There’s a military checkpoint that was set up somewhere near to where we’re living temporarily (the same ‘temporary’ stay as the university). This checkpoint had two kiosks on either side of the road for the soldiers to sit in when they switch shifts. The road was divided by old tires and empty ammunition boxes, to control car movement. The grass nearby was littered with debris from the soldiers; old fire pits, a small chicken coop, sofas with upholstery that had seen better days. Needless to say, it was not exactly a sight for sore eyes. One days, as we were driving past, we noticed that everything was gone. The kiosks, the tires, the chickens, everything. It was as if there was never a checkpoint there at all. I don’t know why they left, but we took it as a sign that, when the war is over, all the artifacts and debris will be taken away over night, and it’ll be like there was never a war to begin with.