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Father and Son ... A Reunion

Ever since the idea of challenging the odds by traveling to meet with some of my family in Tunis, Tunisia was born, the thoughts of what to expect, what to do and what emotional display we will have occupied my mind and took almost everything else. The years of disconnect have taken a toll on me and the time has come to, at least, ease the heat of alienation ... It has been long time since I last saw of them; very abrasive time indeed and unforgiving for bringing so many changes. Sixteen long years; in them, there were births and deaths, growing-up and aging, there were schooling and marriages, and, to top it all, changes in looks. Years that deposited with me a collection of scattered letters, few pictures and a small number of telephone calls, all have to be dug and brought out, rehearsed and memorized –a must companion for telling who's who...It was in the spring of 1998, under the umbrella of medical care for my father-in-law, arrangements for my only child, my son, to tag along with his grandpa were made.

I looked forward to the trip...I was like a child on the E'ids eve, filled with tremendous excitement and hardly can wait for the next day sunrise. Time and date were set, came and on the airplane I hopped.

First leg of my flight was to cross the Atlantic Ocean..."Business or pleasure?" Asked the lady sitting next to me..."Yes," I quickly answered..."I am going to see my son for the first time in nearly 16 years"..."O'my...which one of you was jailed?" She asked again...I was ready and prepared to answer and talk about anything including why so long but never expected “jail" to be thrown in...a bit stumbling for me! Was it I being jailed out or was it the family jailed in..."No Ma'm, I am originally from Libya and I have been away for that long" I replied.

The Swissair air buss landed in Tunis the capital; the passengers lined up and started the walk to the arrival quarters of the airport. After clearing the customs, a quick scan into the big waiting hall, I spotted my brother-in-law, and next to him, there he was, a well-built and handsome young man who reminded me of my younger days. My boy looks just like me. He was standing in the crowd waving. We sped toward each other. We firmly hugged each other and when we let go, we both found our faces were soaking wet -tears of joy I never felt before.

My son was few weeks old when I last saw of him. I doubt he remembers but I sure do. I remember his cries and his messy diapers. I remember my young and beautiful wife and how much she adored her little baby. I remember well the disastrous time that whacked my people and put many, including I, on the run. I remember all that: at times, it seemed that I don't have good excuse for failing to fulfill my duty as a father. My son, on the other hand, missed so much growing up. He missed a father figure, missed the support and the encouragement in the up and down cycles of his early childhood. Sixteen years on the run are continuing to haunt me and they may never stop. I often thought what would be the turnout had I took other alternative, and because of that, indescribable state of guilt was clouding me in the gathering. Comforting words, if were found, were not enough, emotions were difficult to hide, and pretending could easily be called.

Questions with flashes of regret often molested me throughout these sixteen years. Was it a mistake I have taken or was it a life-turn I could have easily avoided? I kept asking...was it an escape from my responsibilities as a father and a husband or was it a small attempt to fulfill and meet much bigger responsibilities? Was it a slice of circumstances that wrapped me with the predicament I am in? Questions of the like remained unanswered until this trip. In this trip: I learned the people I belong to have virgin and good intentions. I learned they have the resilience to adapt to anything and everything. I learned they are true survivors where hardships pass-by like that of an afternoon Qebli storm –they simply fleck the dust off themselves and go-on. I learned that they are sensitive to the needy and often extend their hands and share what they can afford. I saw hopes and dreams in their eyes. I saw the well-seasoned wood to fuel the change and its readiness for the igniting spark. I learned and got plenty of answers that comforted me. Answers gave me solace and reassured me that my little speck of sacrifice did not go in vain. The proof was in their collective efforts in turning my boy the he is. I am thankful to God, to my wife and to all of Libya!

All of the thirteen days and twelve nights were joyful. A single roof united us. I sat, laughed, ate and conversed with my boy. I didn't have much to talk about but he sure did. His first words magically turned me into all ears. He told me about the endless nights when his mother used to tell him stories and later read to him to sleep. He told me about the excellent grades he pulled throughout his schooling and how much he credits his success to his mother. He told me she often tells him “this is what your father would say if he was here". He told me about the engorgements his mother showers him and the pride she feels when he pulls it through. He told me the endless help he received from his teachers; “all of these teachers know you and have nothing but good things to say about you, dad." He told me about the sadness he reads on the faces of my parents, his grandparents, in all occasions ...We talked and talked and got much closer in knowing one another.

While I was in Tunisia, I came to know constructions of medical clinics were on the rise and couldn't be built fast enough, some of these clinics have operational wings while they are still laying bricks in the other end. I witnessed the waves of sick and weak from my home flocking in the area. I witnessed a family from Tarhoona grieving the loss of one of their members. I met a father who brought his little girl to remedy her from spilled acid on her angelic face. I saw cars with green license plates hovering around like a beehive -some of these cars belong no-where but the junkyard in other parts of the world. I met people who traveled to accompany their loved ones and hope to take them home healthier. Sights reminded me of the seventies when migrate workers from our poor southern neighbors used to congregate under bridges; I fear we “Libyans" may become just like that...May the heavenly curse land on the source!

The moment to end the visit had come – a moment of good-byes no body wanted-. My son and his uncle accompanied me to the airport. Gloomy and unpleasant colors clouded me on the way and throughout the road and showered me with painful acid drops once we reached the gates. Sadness and hurt were very noticeable. I turned around to climb the stairs and board the airplane, only then my true self came right out; I cried like a baby!

-The above story, my friends, was experienced and told by a very dear friend. All I did was to put it on paper. This friend was fortunate to have had a gathering opportunity with some of his loved ones; I sure, and likely you, know of others who are not as lucky.

-I feel the winds of change are starting to gust...Planning to go back to your profession upon return? I asked..."My top priority is to make-up time lost with my son and, hopefully, to bring a bundle of healing to a wife who endured the patience of Ayoob" he answered..."If we have to live on only tanoor's bread dipped in olive oil and palm tree leaves for sun cover, so be it" he added.

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