Your twenties may have been the best years of your life; mine were drowned out by war

Our twenties are the years that everyone raves about – the time between being a carefree kid and a responsible adult. It’s the time one often gets their first taste of independence. You’re figuring out who you are, and everything is uncertain and exciting. Disappointments and failure will most definitely be a part of it all, but you can take it in stride. I always imagined my twenties would be that way, full of life, experiences, and fascinating stories. But, I was wrong.

A month after my 20th birthday, a war broke out in Libya. I’m saying goodbye to my twenties soon, and I don’t know how to feel about it. The 2011 revolution started with hope – people fought for their dreams of a brighter future. But that hope was quickly drowned out by darker notions.

By the end of 2012, a new chapter had begun in Benghazi. A chapter characterized by chaos, kidnapping, murder, bombs, and gunfire. Being alive under those circumstances felt heavy, and things progressively got worse.

I can’t say it’s over, I can’t say it’s still ongoing, I can’t really explain it at all. The last decade has managed to make us people we never thought we could be.

War only brings suffering. For years now, the war has stolen souls, destroyed houses, and broken hearts. Behind each door, a sad story is being told, and the more closely you look around, the more you see the depth and scope of the destruction.

After drowning in uncertainty for years and losing track while the counting days, I finally decided to be the one that writes my story. Letting the war steal what remained of my desire to live wasn’t working anymore – I deserved better than that. I wanted to have a better story to tell in my seventies, if I ever lived that long.

I decided to stop following the news entirely. It wasn’t easy at first, denying that reality, but I knew it had to be done. I found myself feeling more energetic. I started doing some volunteer work and made a point of spreading positivity by any means I could. I could bring hope to people, draw smiles upon their faces, and focus on the sweeter things in life.

Life wasn’t perfect, but it seemed brighter than ever. Brighter than war.

Even when my foreign friends asked me about the political situation in Libya, I smiled and replied: “You know, I’m not the right person to ask, I don’t follow the news.” They thought I was being careless, and maybe I was. But what I knew for certain was that if the war was not ending, then that was my attempt at ending it in my own way.

A couple of weeks ago a friend of mine was talking about a Syrian series, and I wanted to check it out. I could relate to everything about it, in a weird, scary way. The sounds of bombs destroying buildings. The fear, dissipating into an almost gray dullness that painted everyone’s faces.  Knowing that, yes, you are breathing, and you are, in fact, alive, but you’re inhaling the very smoke from the rubble of the war that has stolen years that belonged to you and the people you love.

I realized that as hard as I tried to block it all out, there was no use. You can’t just erase memories and events that made you who you are. So, now, I choose to remember.

War still claims lives, breaks hearts, and overburdens souls. Yet, it taught me one life-changing lesson: we’re not capable of changing what’s forcibly happened, but we can change the way we deal with it. I can’t give life back to those who lost theirs, I can’t rebuild the destroyed souls and houses, I can’t act like nothing has happened or pretend to be someone else. But I absolutely can be the light.

By Rana N. Bushreida

Rana N. Bushreida was born in the UK with Libyan bloods, but deep inside she’s a global citizen, believes no borders or laws can stop this. Rana is a lecturer at UoB majored in economics. Yet, she’s passionate in languages, writing, traveling and discovering cultures.. Meanwhile, you’d find her collecting precious memories with her camera.