Shades of Darkness
Abtihal K. A. Saed
© Copyright 2022 by Abtihal K. A. Saed
Photo property of the author (in pink).
“What hurts you, blesses you. Darkness is your candle.”
“Now I’m 10-years old kid, I’ll never be afraid of darkness again!” this is a promise which I gave to mama one day so that she could sleep on peace of mind without me leaking under her arms whenever I see darkness...
Back in time, my mother thought that the way I see darkness will always be the same, anything that looks physically black can be implied as darkness, she didn’t expect everything could change in no time, the traditional meanings of some terms in our life are included too!
Though for me, the contrary meanings of everything in life started to get revealed after 2010, so how could she know?
Darkness after 2010 became a follower, stalker, and almost a fate but not only in the physical term…
-February/2011, the beginning of real darkness
The city of Benghazi/ Libya is my hometown, where I was born and literally survived darkness, I can’t remember very well how this city was before 2011, but all I can say that it was a silent city not too crowded and mostly boring!
I used to beg my parents to take me to “Al Jmil” which is another city in Libya, situated on the most west side of the country.
“Why don’t we just move there mama!?, there’s much fun more than Benghazi!” I would say.
Al Jmil is a small city where my great grandparents are from, my mother was born there too, my dad brought her upon marriage to Benghazi city, and he promised to take her there each year for a visit and short stay with my grandparents and the rest of her big family.
We were enjoying our time there –me and my four sisters-
There were too many farms and cheeps!
People from there were so kind to us, they took us to parties, adventures, and beaches! and more commonly is the beach of “Zwarah city” which is famous to be one of the most magnificent places in the country!
On contrary, life in Benghazi city was completely different, ordinary, and typical.
“it’s like a prison here!” I used to yell repeatedly. I couldn’t handle the idea of us being always trapped in a “closed square” called “save home” whereas everyone out there is jamming and having a real life!
Move from room to room, playing in the backyard of the house with my little sister and cousins, but it wasn’t allowed for us to step out of the door, otherwise, we’ll be punished, “street isn’t for girls!”, “neighbors don’t show girls!” they told us, warning us!
I got sick of this situation, I wished I have a different life, in a different country with different traditions and rules, instead of this dark life! with nothing new to see or express.
Once upon a time, the 15th of February, and I will always remember this day, while we were in school having the 5th class of a casual school day, the teacher had announced to us the following statement with a big smile in his face:
“Today you will leave the school a bit earlier than the usual time! And you’ll not have school tomorrow!”
One of my classmates had asked with a curiosity: “why is that for, Mister?!”
“For the revolution kids! we are uprising!” he said.
‘revolution and uprising’ too big words for young kids to understand, but we were certain of one thing! That there’s something dramatic is about to change our life!
After leaving school that day, like any other child, I was super glad about this unexpected open holiday! no classes! no waking up early!
All we do is playing, watching TV cartoons, and just having fun!
Initially, I thought it’ll be just for a few days, but those few days turned to be weeks! then those weeks turned to be months!
We ended up with almost a year without schools! In each time we watch TV news, they keep saying “schools remain closed!”
That situation all of sudden turned to be so suffocating! We didn’t achieve anything meaningful but staring at each other all the time, no clear vision for the future days, the whole country became under a state of fear and uncertainty, what will happen next? who will win this revolution?
I do remember that I had learnt so many political terms and “revolutional anthems”
The streets are almost empty! many young citizens went to participate in that war! We were just waiting for the end, although we didn’t understand the real situation! We just wanted to get out of this darkness!
The whole city entered a state of “partial lock-down”
Which starts from 7:00 pm, “stay indoors!!, that’s for your safety! “they kept warning due to the tremendous and dangerous random bombing outside!
And above all this, electricity was severely affected too, power was absent several hours in the day! No TV, no entertainment, no lights! only darkness! We were stuck at home all day; while others are protesting in the streets, we were stuck in darkness!
-Life after February/ 2011
People during that time had split into two groups: some supporting the original regime system of the country which was led by “colonel Muammar Gaddafi” –the previous ruler of “Libyan Jamahiriya”. On the other side, those who upraised against the country government and to fight for a new system of the ruling, they were seeking change and sustainable life for every citizen, I was hearing phrases such these: “We are fed up with this dictatorial power!”, “We want freedom for Libya!”, “People need to overthrow the regime!” and many more that were repeated continuously from the media.
“Gunshots, and dead bodies images” were what I had remembered the most from those dark days, pathways between cities were closed, so we couldn’t manage it to go to ‘AL Jimil’ that summer!
I truly cried real tears when my father announced that bad news to me! I got sad and angry! I cried the pain and penalties of that damned war!
To me, ‘AL Jimil’ was the only place where I could find my own pleasure, love, and freedom, the place I used to recharge myself with positive reflects whenever I am there. I used to wait and look forward to the summer break each year of my past life for a journey there, but now it’s impossible! “Accept it or not, you have nothing but darkness now poor girl!” I used to tell myself.
Ramadan is the holy month for each Muslim all around the world, the time of the year when we fast the whole day until the sunset, and it’s greatly famous for its lighting and colorful nights, as we call them ‘ Layali Ramadan’ where people stay up all the night until sunrise time commonly known as ‘ Sohor time’, we used to gather up, chat, play games, eat diverse types of sweets and candy ‘Basbousa, Qatayef, Balah El Sham, Luqmat El-Qadi, Baklava and the most famous one is Kunafeh’ we also drink a lot of Arabian coffee, and yeah! Pour some more of Mahalabia with nuts and cinnamon! That was kind of sacred ceremony we never get enough of.
Unfortunately, those light nights have been stolen! And replaced with scary darkness!
With electricity being off most of the day, at the time ‘Al Maghreb’ when we should finally sit and start breaking our ‘Iftar’ unexpectedly, the lights go off!
“Really? you couldn’t find a better time than this Darkness?” I used to grumble.
Just eat! Put whatever piece of food you touch in your month! And the second it meets your taste buds of your tongue, you’ll know what it really is! Sometimes we used our phones' flashlights during eating to see where our spoons should land on, and the funniest thing that when you try to sip the soup or ‘Sharbah’ which is the main dish for Iftar, while the filled spoon is on its way to your mouth it pours before reaching its final destination.
Life wasn’t easy at that time, we spent most of our ‘Iftars’ with hand holding a phone for the flashlight, and the other is busy with eating! Furthermore, the sensations of terror, instability, and insecurity were felt instead of what we call it ‘Rouhaniyat Ramadan’ which implies the condition when you are in Peace of Mind and calm, you feel no fear, you only feel blessed with the protection of Allah.
-(October/2011) finally end of darkness?
After about eight months in total darkness, boredom and solitude, we got back to our schools again!
Although the war was still carrying on, both groups refused to shut down the firings, neither of them chooses to give up for the other.
“We do not surrender; we win or die,” they said. Which is a famous quote, they had adopted from one of the greatest men in the Libyan history, if not in the world history, this hero is ‘Omar Bin Mukhtar’ a Libyan revolutionary who led the resistance move against the Italian occupation in Libya back in history.
Getting back to school under those risky circumstances was a real challenge to us! But we did it anyway, we thought that education was the only weapon we were allowed to use to get through this situation.
“Whatever they say about politics, just ignore it honey!” my parents used to warn me over and over before I leave to school every morning during the whole period of revolution. They were scared if someone of the revolutionary group finds out that I belong to a family who’s still supporting the ‘colonel Muammar Gaddafi’ which can get them into serious deadly troubles with one of the contradicting groups.
A few days later, after our school return, taking our last class of the day, one of the teaching staff entered our classroom hastily and yelled with a victorious tone: “Sirte is completely free! We got Muammar Gaddafi down!”
20 October 2011, was the decisive day, we got back to our homes crossing the loud streets that were filled up with people celebrating the winning of ‘Sirte Battle’ and the end of Muammar’s era.
Everyone was waiting for the historical moment, the end of Gaddafi’s government, after months of resisting and fighting, ‘we want him dead!’ the rebels demanded.
the afternoon of the exact mentioned day, the TV breaking news had
announced, Muammar Gaddafi, ousted in a revolt and later
Three days after the death of Muammar Gaddafi, The Libyan National Transition Council deems the Libyan Civil War over and announced officially that Libya is comprehensively free of the old regime, coincidentally, that day was my birthday too! -Oct-23-2011
Which is, later on became known as the darkest day of Libyan history yet!
“great! Even my birthday now is related to darkness in somehow!” I cheered myself sarcastically!
So each year when I must celebrate the brightest day of my life! The rest of my country is crying over the darkest day of their history, “Youm Al Nakbah” they called it, which in the English language means “the day of the tragedy”.
-Three years later, May/2014, the darkness of “Al-Karama”
“Get high grades in secondary school, and I’ll come to bring you there” my oldest sister had told me when she was packing her things to leave the country, she was going to study medicine in Britain, she had been awarded a scholarship to study abroad for ranking the 4th over the whole country in the last year of high school, I truly envied her! And wished to be the one who will leave the country! “congratulations! you’ll get out of this hell!” I used to tell her, she traveled with my dad, who decided to be with her until she settles on.
Even though life without a dad was extremely difficult, my mother was taking care of us as possible as she could, aside of her job as a teacher, she used to drive us to school and then back to home, doing all the housework on her own, and above all that, she was pregnant!
Unluckily, the country back then wasn’t in its finest state, as the “revolutionaries of 2011 civil war” had aimed to!
The circumstances of life in that time turned out to be miserable, and even worse than before! Vandalism, a proliferation of weapons, sectarian violence, murders, lawlessness, and battles over authorities.
More specifically, the region where I live, “Benghazi city”, or as they call it “the spark of the revolution”
The city became considered one of the most dangerous places in the world in that time, people started to feel overwhelmed and frustrated. It has been as if we’re in the face of new black giant cloud! But at this time, it’s predicted to be more threatening!
And yes! You guessed right, the electricity started to go off again! For hours and hours!
So here we are back to the same old annoying scenario! I spent nights studying and doing my homework in the darkness, suffering all disabilities to achieve that task under such conditions, and I remember one night! In which I felt obliged towards darkness, yes! Darkness finally did something good to me, it showed up in the right time I just needed, my mother at that night had asked me to bring my results of the recent assessments in school, which I didn’t do well on them! But suddenly lights go off, and my mother started to complain over the situation until she forgot about my grades at that moment! giving me additional time to cover up for myself!
At one of those nights, here comes the saddest, my mother had miscarried her fourth attempt to give birth to a male baby, and the boy was born dead.
That kept happening to mom over and over, in each time she got pregnant, and the doctor tells her the baby’s gender is a male, she waits few more weeks and eventually, the baby dies before birth!
Some experts told her that it must be a genetic problem, hence that we can’t have a brother! and it was fine actually for us! A house filled with girls only! We loved it. but my mother? I don’t know!
May, was the month I finished the 8th grade in school, and one morning ’may-16-2014’, 6:00am while I was enjoying my sleep without school to interrupt it, big bombs and bullets firings had broken out the morning silence causing me to jump hastily of bed! What was that?
The horrible massive bombs sounds kept rising without termination!
The city’s sky is overwhelmed!
I had been told later, that it was Khalifa Haftar, who’s a Libyan-American soldier and the commander of the Tobruk-based Libyan National Army started his Operation Dignity or as it’s known by ‘Al-Karama’.
A few months later, my father decided to come back from Britain to finish my sister’s visa requirements, and that took a lot of time, it was truly an exhaustive process!
As soon as the required procedures had finished, my sister was ready to leave again to Britain, but at this time, on her own, Dad is unable to travel with her, his visa-extension request was rejected! She’s 18, she doesn’t need a guardian anymore.
Since there were not any flights from Libya to Britain during that time, she had to travel from another foreign country, and that country was Jordan, we went all with her to ‘Amman’ it was planned for her to leave the next day to Britain, alone.
However, she didn’t take that flight, something out of the plan occurred, it changed the whole situation, I still feel the pain we suffered that day! It was one of the saddest moment in our life!
my dad’s family called from Libya the night before the flight day to express their disagreement and firm disapproval over my father’s decision in letting my sister travel alone to Britain… anger and agitation were overlapped in their voice!
“Don’t let her go alone!” they shouted, “we’re conservative society! You forget? We don’t let women travel alone!” they had said more of words that I can barely remember, they were furious! Mean! And determined to prevent my sister from leaving. They were too powerful that my dad lost his words to defend my sister ‘s dream.
I was not surprised honestly! Because that was the price that every female who belongs to a conservative society should pay!
My dad couldn’t convince them with her choice, he was confused, and had nothing to do but cancel the whole arrangements!
My sister was traumatized at the beginning, but then she let it go for the sake of the conservative society and said “I’ll accept my fate! Whatever it is.”
Nevertheless, we returned to Libya, with the feeling of losing, and I welcomed the dark days as usual again.
Since ‘Al-Karama’ was yet to finish, we were forced to stay out of our homes, because it was risky to get back there!
We stayed for six months in a city called ‘Ajdabiya’ near Benghazi, where my uncle and his family are living.
I and my little sister had enrolled in a primary school; we had been called ‘the refugees’ so the school working staff members can distinguish us.
But honestly, they were treating me and my sister in a very good manner.
After a few months later, we moved to ‘Amman city/Jordan’ and at that time, we chose to stay there for one year, until the ‘Karama war’ ends. We engaged in the new culture and environment easily, we experienced the different quality of life in ‘Amman’ we had a great and unforgettable time, for one year, each one of us forgot how the feeling of boredom is like! For one year I forgot how darkness is like! And without darkness chasing me in that year, I felt optimistic for my future fate!
-End of Karama, life is normal again in Benghazi, 2016-2017
Everyone was extremely happy about this victory, now our city is free from militias, and we can finally live in peace of mind. We were able to get back to our homes and start a new life all over again.-The dream of 2018 was a candle in the darkness!
Before this year got started, I committed to myself to do all the effort needed to achieve my ‘life dream’ which is to be one of the top students over the nation and get a scholarship to study international law at the university of my dreams ‘Harvard’
I studied days and nights, I did all it takes to get high marks in each exam, I worked hard to reach that goal. Then indeed! I got what I exactly wanted!
I ranked the 1st over my school and the 8th over the east nation, it was the biggest win in my life, and the greatest feeling I’ve ever felt.
The national government then organized a ceremony honoring the outstanding students all over the nation on the 17th of November of the same year, in a city called ‘Al Qubbah’ located in eastern Libya.
I was tremendously excited, sitting on a chair carrying my name card, wearing my honoring banner the governors and the education minister had arrived, sequentially initiating the honoring ceremonies!
Everything was going nice and straight! we were cheerful and enjoying our time, me and my other colleagues, then when we were about to get into the honoring stage to take our rewards and the trophies of appreciation, the electricity went off, and the entire place was nothing but complete darkness all of sudden!
“Not today please!” I muttered. It was unbelievable! I have not imagined such a thing to happen to me in my life! Not today!
mates complained about their fortunes too, although, we continued the
ceremonies in darkness, with our phones' flashlights, or more
sincerely with our ambitious spirits! And a bright vision for the
future.…… ( See the photo at the top. I’m the girl wearing the pink coat!)
-2020, when I finally light up my candle!
Things had changed, I didn’t reach Harvard, nor joined a law school, I found myself taking different drift in my life, the country couldn’t pay for my scholarship due to the unstable political situation of the country, and I remained in Benghazi city, my family wasn’t able to pay for my studying abroad too! Although they said “you can’t go even if you got the money, you’ll face the same thing your sister had faced before”
Conservative society, you can’t run away from it! unless you are planning to live the rest of your life running!
So I desperately changed my plans, I went to medical school instead! And it was fine to me if you want the truth, I started the first year with enthusiasm, and obligation to achieve high marks.
However, the year was paused due to the coronavirus pandemic, we stayed at home for months, and I was truly worried about my future!
The university didn’t release any successful plans to save that academic year! Distance learning was impossible, and you must know why!
Electricity wasn’t available all the time, people started to complain about this problem again, I nearly lost my tolerance over this situation.
Furthermore, the university decided to resume the rest of the exams that were delayed due to ‘Covid-19’ instead of giving new lectures
I had one exam to do, that was in ‘Biochemistry’, so I started preparing for it in the hardest circumstances you will ever imagine! I studied in total darkness, my laptop which has all the materials I need for the exam kept going off for hours with no electricity to recharge it, my phone as well, I felt anxious, angry, and trapped! In a fate, I don’t deserve it! I honestly don’t…
I went to the exam anyway, hopeful and confidant, leaving all the dark days’ memories behind me.
During the exam, everyone was trying to focus, putting their best, and ignoring the irritating feeling from the masks! Only for the sake of success.
Lights got off, air conditioners stopped working, and we knew it! We knew it’ll happen!
Thank god the place where I was having my exam has windows! But even though, I got upset because of the hot atmosphere and the suffocating masks! Moreover, the tricky challenging exam that I had barely solved it!
I finished my exam, I was complaining to myself, that wasn’t a
proper environment for a student to have an exam in it! But minutes
later, I saw something which broke my heart, I saw a photo that made
me feel selfish!
the time I was whining over my bad fortune, my other colleagues were
having their exams in this conditions!! A hand holding a
for light and the other hand was writing the answers of the exam.
This picture had fired something within me too, something I was missing!
wasn’t only after me! It was chasing them too, like me, they
survived it, and found a way to get out through it! it’s a fate
and we decided to accept it…
used to walk in darkness, eat in darkness, laugh and love in
darkness, enjoy your aging in darkness! it’s here and
everywhere, you opened your eyes first time in your life to see
darkness so you’ll shut them again to darkness…
“Excuse me! do you have a power bank?”
Photo property of the author.
I love to write creative stories, poems, and journals.
Writing taught me to be an active person to serve my community by bringing the real stories into existing, it helps me to treat myself kindly, and convert all my feelings into words.
goal is to write
outstanding stories that will be transformed into movies and win
great prizes in the future.