I was going to post this yesterday but I was sick in bed and stuck out in the outskirts of town so I really had no personal feel for the celebrations. Now though, while still not terribly well, I am downtown, next to the courthouses where the Revolution was proclaimed and some of the first serious fighting started. Men, women and children are waving the new flag, cars are honking rhythmically, fireworks are going off and everyone seems to be having a great time.
Apparently the National Transitional Government had not intended to have a formal holiday in memory of the thousands who died but popular opinion nixed that idea, as anyone could have foretold, so today was indeed a holiday making up for the fact that the actual anniversary fell on a Friday.
This will not be a long or comprehensive post since I am still under the weather and have to get up early. Below the orange croissant I'll give you some of the impressions of the city that I jotted down over the first month for friends and family, edited of course for a public forum.
"Libyans make the Greeks look organized and fully European and their driving makes Athenians seem like Londoners. The weather is also London-like. It has been raining almost every day. Sidewalks are almost unheard of in my neck of the woods and drainage non-existent so the area looks like the Lake district. Walking around is almost as hazardous as driving in consequence. It is also cold in the flat since heating is not something that Libyans have had to pay too much attention too."
"The local street food is excellent. The most expensive meat is lamb and beef is both cheaper and has a single price. Filet costs the same as shank."
"I had my first scary incident on Wednesday. I was walking down a road in my neighborhood that seemed really rundown and was taking some pictures to give you guys an idea of what it looks like when a man in a pick-up truck drove up and stopped next to me. I thought he was going to ask for directions but he started hassling me about taking photographs, asking me where I was from, talking on his mobile, making motions for me to get into the car. I showed him that the pics I was taking were harmless and offered to delete them, told him I was new to Libya and that nobody had said anything about not taking photos. He kept on saying, “No photos, no photos in Libya” to which I agreed and promised not to take any more. I kept trying to call my boss but my phone had stopped working. Every time I called someone, a recorded voice in Arabic started babbling on. I later found out that the SIM card I had been given was one of a batch stolen during the war and that the phone company had decided to switch them off that day. Fortunately the man tired of me and left with another injunction to not take pictures in Libya.
When I was relating this story to a local friend, he said “Every one is a wise guy in the new Libya but you are lucky you came out of than neighborhood alive. It is one of the worst in Benghazi.” It does have a ‘projects’ feel about it and I won’t go there again though nobody, apart from the probably fake secret policeman, paid any attention to me at all."
"Some of you may have seen this article in the New York Times.
I want to reassure you that even though I do hear quite a bit of gunfire at night, (and it is increasing as we approach the anniversary of February 17 when it all began) it is all celebratory, though the young idiots do not seem to realize that what goes up must come down. A Libyan friend, told me the story of a friend of his who suddenly felt a draft while driving. He looked up and saw a new hole over the passenger seat, which was fortunately unoccupied at the time.
Benghazi has been largely peaceful since the French stopped Gaddafi's tanks on the outskirts of the city just in time last March. The incidents of violence here have been few. .... Everyone I meet is thrilled that I am here teaching their children English and they never fail to point out that America, Britain and France are good and Russia is not."
"The one product that seems to be selling better than hot cakes in the new Libya is second-hand cars from Europe and even America. Seeing their old ones, it is understandable. Think of the worst jalopies that you've seen on Greek roads, age them another decade or two and put them through a couple of battles and you get the idea. The price of gas is ridiculous. We filled the tank of car for 5 dinars or about 3 euros. So there are a lot of cars being driven very enthusiastically and impatiently on roads that have not been maintained for years and which have seen more rain in the past few months than over Gaddafi's entire reign. It is not a good combination. I have seen one brilliant innovation regarding traffic lights. They come with a countdown timer for both green and red."
OK, that's all for now. Next update from Benghazi will probably have pictures and more political analysis. But one thing does strike you immediately. This is a country that has been held down and it really wants to blossom.