LOUIS ABELMAN

Archive for August, 2013

Haitham Bashir Darrat

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(September 12 1983-August 12 2013)

We lost a friend in Libya yesterday, in a car accident in Benghazi early morning Monday. He had just returned from Switzerland where he’d undergone months of surgery to repair his hand, which had been mangled in a grenade explosion.

I met Haitham when he was volunteering for the Benghazi media center during the revolution in 2011. He was assigned to be our guide and protector and became a friend. On the night the no-fly zone was declared I was feeling particularly stymied and nervous in the hot-house environment of the hotel Uzo. Haitham saw my face and said to jump in his beat-up old car. It was after midnight but the city was gripped by insomnia, preparing for the invasion forces which vowed to fulfill the mad dictator’s “zenga zenga” rant: to clear the revolutionary vermin of Benghazi house by house. Haitham was not nervous. We passed through neighborhood checkpoints where keyed-up young men nodded: they all knew him. And he knew that by showing me that everyone was in it together that I’d feel better.

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Haitham (top left) with me, Marwan, and Brian, messing around in the hotel Uzo.

With the warm night breeze on our faces we talked about our lives, about faith. Haitham gave me the sense that the revolution had granted him renewed purpose after a long period of searching. He had drifted in his early twenties, haunted by self-doubt and the feeling that he was not fulfilling his family’s expectations. In a stagnant country under the oppressive mismanagement of that Qadaffi clique of criminals and fools, opportunity was limited and life was dreary, which served only to enhance his personal alienation. He escaped on road trips across the desert into the hinterlands, speaking with a sly smile of great, secret places—like a certain small village lost in the Sahara, where he discovered “the real Libya.” For even in that airless pre-revolutionary time, he had an abiding love of his country and a respect for the goodness of its ordinary people.

The revolution was the event that liberated his ambitions and self-respect. For many young Libyans it was just such a catalyst. But while the complicated and in many ways disappointing aftermath has led to much cynicism, Haitham was never party to that attitude. In place of complaints he had steely resolution. He was not romantic about his goals, but narrow-eyed and hardheaded. He knew there was work to be done and he intended to give his all to do it—to build his business, to mentor his brothers, and to contribute whatever he could to keeping the ongoing recovery of Libya on the right track.

On the day when we fled from Benghazi, Haitham stayed with us until we were safely on the road east. It really was unclear what was happening that morning, and how badly things could go; we could only assume the worst. Most of the local volunteers and fixers had already fled home to protect their families. We urged Haitham to do the same but he refused. As he saw it he had made a commitment to ensure our safety and that superseded even his own family; besides, he would return to them immediately after he got us on the road. That display of friendship and loyalty was extremely moving and comforting, and it solidified my admiration for this man.

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My last photo from Benghazi in 2011: Haitham in his beloved car, filming us from the driver’s seat as he tails us to the city limits and makes sure we’re in the clear.

Each time we spoke after that he was further developing his business savvy and deepening plans for the future. He seemed set on not only finding a comfortable situation for himself and his family, but achieving great things. He was a good man and will be dearly, dearly missed.

الله يرحمه ويسامحه عزانا واحد

Written by louis

August 13th, 2013 at 6:32 pm

Posted in Blog