I had no intention of coming to Libya, more less Misrata, a place I followed in the news nearly all of April and May. I associated Misrata with vicious street battles, journalist’s deaths, and an apocalyptic downtown. But after becoming friends with so many Misratans in the hospital in Tunis I began to associate it with something else: unparalleled bravery, warmth and generosity.
One thing I heard over & over again from my friends in hospital was that they would gladly die for Misrata. They were not full of hot air or bravado. Many had already paid with their lives and limbs. One man I met with lost both legs. He kissed his fingers & pointed to the sky, “Allahu Akbar. I love Misrata.” I was shown a cell phone video of him just moments after his amputations, still under anesthesia; he moaned “Misrataaa… Misrataaaa… Allah.. Misrata…” Damn, I thought: I could care less about San Francisco. What is it about this Misrata that so many would die for? And not just anyone would die for, but these men, who i have grown to think of some of the kindest people I’ve ever met in my life. Growing up in America I don’t feel that sort of passion about nearly anything. I wanted to get closer to it, to understand it & inshallah maybe even experience it for a moment.
Misratans in hospital told me “Welcome anytime” over & over. I had over a dozen families who would take me in, including some of my favorite patients who had since returned to Misrata after 2 months of recovering in Tunis. Everyday a hospital I grilled Libyans with questions about Misrata. Sure it’s not 100% safe but many assured me that the city center for the most part is, minus the occasional randomly falling rocket. I wanted to hear what I wanted to hear… and, when I dug deeper, the news backed this up.
The frontline is now more than 30 kilometers outside of the city – though the city is surrounded by fronts on three sides. The fourth side is the Mediterranean Sea — the only way to reach Misrata these days is by boat. I met men who made the sea journey “all the time,” they invited me to go with them. It began appearing more and more viable and safe. I reached out to an NGO & made potential arrangements to volunteer in a field hospital to have some some semblance of purpose and safety.
It took a week rather than 24 hours to get here, but after a few taxis, planes and boats, I eventually made it…