The “Libyan Girl”

Originally published on The Huffington Post.
Ameni Abida seems reserved, if not a little shy, when you first meet her. But get the Georgetown sophomore talking, and you unearth a spunky, determined young woman with a strong desire to use her education and experiences to educate new generations of Tunisians. Here, she describes spending her life shuffling between six countries, living in Gaddafi’s Libya, fleeing the revolution, and finally, what brought her to Qatar.
While her story begins in Sfax, Tunisia it doesn’t remain there. At the age of 2, she was whisked away to Nigeria, where she remained for four years, before moving to Saudi Arabia for another 3, before arriving at the age of 9 in Libya.
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Downtown Tripoli, Libya. Ameni Abida.
Ameni describes Tripoli as a small but developing city. With new malls popping up everywhere, it was not unlike Doha. “With nicer weather, of course,” she added.
“One thing about Tripoli,” she said, “was that it was always innovating. I remember traffic lights would show the number of seconds left before they would change. Libya was constantly growing and developing.”
“We were living like kings in Tripoli,” she said, “The housing was that cheap.” Surrounded by marble floors, and swimming pools, the 13-year old had no idea a revolution was brewing in the nearby Benghazi.
“I had only one Libyan friend, and she was Libyan-Canadian. Six months before the revolution, I remember one of my classmates asking, ‘But, are you really satisfied with your president?’”
That afternoon Ameni noticed that the wallpaper on her driver’s phone was a photograph of Muammar Gaddafi.
On the Thursday before the revolution, Ameni begun to hear rumours at school, “People were saying, what happened to Tunisia might happen to Libya.”
“I was at a restaurant with my friend at the time; I saw the news about protests in Benghazi. On the way home I asked my driver if the protests would reach Tripoli, and he told me everything would be okay.”
“That night at dinner, my dad asked us to pack a backpack with the necessities just in case we’d need to leave. I didn’t think anything would happen — my driver told me it’s not going to happen, so it’s not going to happen. He’s local.”
Ameni recalls being woken at 6 AM the next day. Classes had been cancelled; the revolution was coming to Tripoli. Her father’s company had managed to secure passage out of Libya for the women and children.
“We thought we’d be coming back eventually. We took the essentials and went to the airport.”
Now safely across the border in Tunisia, Ameni, her mother, and her younger siblings would wait by the phone for news of their father. It was only four days after fleeing Tripoli that they heard from him again. Six years on Ameni’s eyes still water as she recalls those four fateful days. “I thought I would never see him again.”
“Dad, he moved in with a friend at first, before taking a taxi to the airport. The taxi driver was asking him questions. He made up stories so not to seem suspicious. If the driver were a rebel, my dad was safe. If the driver were on Gaddafi’s side, then as a Tunisian, my father would’ve been in trouble.”
When he got to the airport, he managed to make one call to Ameni’s mother before the line was cut again. “He was coming home.”
Once her father was safely in Tunisia, the next task was retrieving their abandoned belongings. Ameni’s father called their driver back in Libya, had him pile all their belongings into their Toyota and cross the border into Tunisia with it.
“Lots of stuff was missing; I’m still mad about this one dress,” she said, “But, we were the luckiest ones, we were allowed to leave, and we were all safe.”
Ameni and her siblings settled into life in Tunisia. In order to continue going to a French school, Ameni lived out of a suitcase, alternating between her aunts in Tunis, and spending weekends with her mother in Nabeul.
“My classmates would call me “the Libyan girl” even though I was Tunisian.” After spending a year in Tunisia, Ameni and her family moved to Dubai. After about a year in Dubai, her father was offered a job back in Libya and the rest of the family moved back to Tunisia.
During this second stint in Tunisia, Ameni, her mother, and her siblings lived in La Marsa, while her father lived in Tripoli.
“My mum is a huge fan of the Turkish show, Hareem Al Sultan, so when dad was in Tripoli, they would watch the show together over Skype!” she said smiling at the thought of her parents.
Around 2013, Ameni’s father begun to hear rumours of the situation in Libya escalating again, he fled to Tunisia, and the family, and their faithful Toyota, moved to Abu Dhabi where they have been since.
Ameni’s experiences have left her in a state of constant alertness. “If a terrorist were to attack, that’s where I’d hide,” she said pointing to her closet. “It’s taught me to adapt, no matter what the circumstances are. I like to think of myself as a turtle carrying everything I need on my back.”
One of the things education teaches you is that “people have different political beliefs; those views alone don’t make them good or bad people.”
Georgetown University – Qatar, a satellite campus in Qatar Foundation
When asked what brought her to Georgetown’s satellite campus in Qatar Foundation (QF), Ameni says “After seeing what I’ve seen, can you just live your life abroad and not do anything about it? I want to go back to Tunisia, do something for my country. Teach students. I’d like to be a professor.”
“QF’s the best decision I’ve ever made — It’s so inspiring that a country that is less than a century old is educating people from every corner of the world,”
Ameni believes that Qatar is on to something. “It realises that education is the basis of everything. You become change. It’s not just knowledge; it’s a different outlook on life, and the ability to inspire change.” One of the things education teaches you is that “people have different political beliefs; those views alone don’t make them good or bad people.”

Present. Ameni Abida.

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