It’s almost 8:00 pm, sitting home with no power, no gas in my car, and no cooking gas to eat heated food. The only things that keep my body warm are the four layers of clothes I wear right now. I had exactly 40 percent of battery in my laptop, which motivated me to write this post and to make myself busy — trying to think free of the sounds of clashes and explosions outside.
It all started in mid October 2014, when General Khalifa Hifter decided to free Benghazi from some terrorist organizations who had taken over the city in the last few months. I am not going to write details for most of the people who follow the news know what exactly happened. The everyday debate and political arguments aside, there are ordinary people living everyday a different life in a war zone.
I have to walk most of the mornings to the adjacent bakery to get fresh bread. Getting bread in the morning was as easy as getting a cup of coffee from the nearest coffee shop till not very long ago. But now, I have to stand in lines for 30 to 45 minutes to get it. Why is that happening? According to a government spokesman, there is a shortage of flour. The reason for the shortage is Libya’s financial situation that prevents the government from importing flours more regularly. Also most of the flour stocks are located in Benghazi’s neighborhoods that have turned into war zone, making distribution harder. Bread is the main staple food for 80 percent of Libyan population. It’s like Mexican people depend on tortilla, or Asians on rice. In other wards, I have little choice but to get bread in the morning to eat something during the day.
Food shortage is not the only issue afflicting Benghazi residents. The city’s health delivery system is in crisis too. Many hospitals, located in the war zone, have closed. Those still open, suffer from medical supplies shortage. The reasons are the same as for the food shortages. It’s not the only issue. Functioning hospitals also suffer from staff shortages. Most of the medical staff in the city hospitals are foreigners and have fled because of the unrest. In addition, many of Libyan medical staff also had to leave Benghazi as their homes are located in the war zone. This situation has become a nightmare for the residents, especially those who need regular healthcare. The nephrology department at one such hospital, which offered dialysis services to kidney patients, was recently closed due to clashes in its vicinity, endangering the life of many patients who need regular dialysis.
Many Gas stations have also shut down, because of supply disruptions. If one gas station opens, I would wait in lines for no less than 5 hours to fill my car. I see people making BBQ while they are waiting to fill up their tanks. I spend my wait time reading books. Gas Shortages started with the closing of the main commercial port in Benghazi due to clashes inside the port. Therefore, ships loaded with gas now have to go to Tobruk to offload their cargo and transport it to Benghazi. The main problem is that Tobruk port cannot handle this amount of operation as it was designed to deal with particular number of ships. Production and supply disruptions are not just making the common Libyans’ life miserable. Coupled with falling oil prices and instability, the situation is raising fears of a complete collapse of Libya’s economy.
Cooking gas has become a luxury in the last four months. It is impossible to get a compressed natural gas cylinder. Again, reasons are similar. Ships loaded with CNG have to dock at Tobruk port, which has limited capacity to handle this extra cargo for a big city such as Benghazi. Many Benghazi residents have been forced to use small electric stoves for cooking. But that does not keep us away from problems either due constant power outages.
Temperatures plummet during winter months in Benghazi, necessitating home heating. But gas shortages and power outages are adding to our miseries. We face frequent outages that could last from two hours to 48 hours.
Prices of daily-use items have also soared because of the port closure. All the goods now have to be shipped from other ports in Libya, resulting in extra transportation costs. In addition, the Libyan Dinar has also lost its value to dollar, increasing landing cost of imported goods. Price rises obviously force people to spend more, which means more visits to the banks.
Many banks within the city are closed due to the security issues. Only a few are open outside Benghazi. You can imagine when people go to get their money. Yes, again you have to stand in lines no less than two hours to withdraw money.
Schools are closed because of the precarious security environment. A few schools are open in areas where refugees families escaping war are residing. These families suffer as much or even more than an average Benghazi resident because besides facing food, fuel and power shortages, they are forced to live a difficult life away from their homes.
I have became used to the sounds of clashes, gunfights, shelling and loud explosions. These horrors have became part of my life in the middle of a war. My biggest anxiety is to be hit by random gunshots or falling mortars while I move around. The other day, while I was home playing with my five-month old daughter, I heard huge explosions near my house. A mortar had fallen in front of my house. Fragmented pieces of metal and shrapnels seriously damaged my house. Thankfully no one was injured. This is the biggest fear of everyday life in a war zone.
People often ask me to leave, to find another life away from this chaos. The truth is that I never stop thinking of leaving. But something inside me keeps telling me that all this is going to end soon. Telling me the future will be much better. This war will end soon, and we will live a normal life again. Optimistic! Oh yes! I have no doubt, no worry, it’s only dark could and will go away, and the sun will rise and shine again. This is what I can see in people’s eyes here in Benghazi. When I talk to them, they show optimism about the future. It always turns out that the same optimism inside them keeps telling them it is going to be all right. We all trust in Allah.
Mutaz Gedalla is an architect at Assarh Engineering Consultancy and a Lecturer at Benghazi University’s Architectural Department. He runs a blog wakeupbenghazi.com. An unedited version of this article first appeared onwakeupbenghazi.com. He can be followed on Twitter at @mutaz20042000