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.
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.”