Taking into consideration my Libyan heritage, one might say | was able to experience the best of both worlds as a first generation Libyan-American. They wouldn’t be wrong, growing up, I was influenced by the cultural aspect of a Libyan as an American citizen. I partook in many common Libyan traditions, for instance, I would eat couscous most nights for dinner and learned how to play the darbuka, a Libyan drum held sideways and played with the fingers. I was convinced that everyone lived this way, and I knew nothing outside of my bubble of comfort.
It wasn’t until my first trip to Libya, during the reign of Dictator Mummar Gadafi, that I realized not everything in the world was perfect and that my childhood was more Americanized than | had originally perceived it to be, and how fortunate I am that it was. An American childhood, where at school the teachers never laid a finger on me, and at home, I was not left neglected. Quite a difference from what I witnessed first hand in Libya… something needed to be done. I was 11 years old when I first became cognizant of the, mistreatment my Libyan-American family-friends were to inflict upon their children as a form of conditioning.
I did witness on several occasions my friends getting punished with Libyan styled punishments. We have laws against this kind of abuse in the United States. Child abuse is broadly defined in many states as any type of cruelty inflicted upon a child, including: mental abuse, physical harm, neglect, and sexual abuse or exploitation. Living my entire life in America with somewhat Americanized parents, I had never been exposed to this type of relationship between caregiver and care recipient. It looked like more than the necessary force was used, and it instilled fear within me.
Although the U. S’ child abuse laws also state that one is supposed to report any incidents, even those suspected number of times, abuser’s are never called in front of a jury of their peers and put on trial. These were family-friends who were ignorant of the traumatizing effect their “punishments” would leave on their children once they were of age, in other words, my family and I didn’t notify the authorities. I’m not justifying their actions, simply stating the obvious: They were unaware of the negative effects it would later have on their victim.
I wanted to change that- no, I needed to change that. I was sympathetic towards my playmates, and still young at the time of my decision, so like any scared child would do, I ran to my parents. I asked them, “Why do their parents hit them? ” referring to our family-friends. My father replied nonchalantly, “Eh, it’s a part of our culture ibne “, using the term ibne, meaning son in our native tongue, like he usually did when speaking to me. After the first incident I witnessed, the following months were torturous, I began to notice the mistreatment of LibyanAmerican children everywhere.
The events stood out to me, drawing me in like a beacon. This caused my curiosity to grow as well. If this was happening in America, behind closed doors, even with laws in place, what was it like in Libya? How corrupt was my home country? This led me to ask my parents even more que ons, this time about their experience back on our homeland. My mom recalled a time when one of her teachers had forcefully made her swallow nearly a dozen ‘Filfils’, a Libyan hot pepper, simply for whispering in class.
This statement left me shocked. I’ve been to three schools for primary, intermediate and secondary education, those attending the same classes as me would have side conversations, but I never witnessed anyone receive a punishment as terrible as being forced to eat hot peppers. The worse punishment I’ve seen for talking is simply being asked to leave the classroom and wait outside for a few short minutes. I really sympathize with my mother, I don’t think she deserved that. My father’s story wasn’t much better.
My dad says he has experienced countless beatings with a Kisheq-al-Lauh, or wooden spoon, serving as the price to pay for minimal classroom disruptions. This type of treatment sickened me and now seeing my parents had experienced this when they were kids, realization dawned on me, this treatment hadn’t just recently started, it had been going on for years. Years of abuse. Years of corruption. This needed to end To reemphasize, in the summer of 2010, during my first trip to Libya, the first-hand torment and abuse I witnessed was far worse than anything I could have ever imagined.
In the midst of my visit, my cousin came home with a bright-red slash right across his left cheek. When asked about the wound, he said that his teacher had struck him with a wooden ruler. What killed me inside was hearing him tell me that his wasn’t the first time something like this had happened. In America, that teacher would be facing serious consequences, including law enforcement officials and enraged parents would be suing the school board. While there, I had to keep reminding myself that it was different here. The people had no rights and there were no child labor or abuse laws.
I hated feeling useless, but there was really nothing I could do-wrong, there is always something one can do. As I toured Libya for the first time, I witnessed firsthand, kids getting brutally punished by their parents. I was a bystander to the abuse these parents inflicted on the children of this country, and it was heartbreaking, but one day, I would change all of this. My first experience visiting my heritage land was definitely a traumatic one, to say the very least; however, the only way for me to overcome the way I sympathized for my peers, in Libya, is to do something about it.
From the day I returned home to America, I had made it my goal to start a non-profit organization to help these children, the children of Libya, my brothers and sisters. The first step that needs to be taken is: awareness. I continually encourage my parents to help put together informative gatherings, where we educate and inform LibyanAmericans about the effects child mistreatment can have on the youth. We also plan on creating videos to raise awareness of international child abuse.
In addition, whenever a family-friend is over, and they happen to mistreat their child, my mother and I intervene and are more conscientious, trying to talk sense into the parents. My father and I have been taking road trips to Libyan-gatherings all across California, and collaborate with presenters who speak freely of their experiences dealing with child abuse and the effects it has had upon their lives. My next move is, to study corporate management to fulfil my ideals for this new movement against the child mistreatment in Libya.
The following steps to come are still in the process of being worked out, but I’d eventually like to open non-profit parent-teacher workshops all across Libya. It is my goal to change the customary Libyan lifestyle of raising juveniles. I hope to enlighten Libyan parents of the injustice they are a part of and the trauma they are engraving in the souls of their offspring. I’m determined to even one day open these workshops world-wide to give Libyan kids a childhood like the one I am grateful to have had.