His Share: A Libyan Canadian leaves behind university life to join the revolution
TAREK EATS A CROISSANT with a sweet, nutty filling. He is lying almost flat in a bed at Polyclinique Errachid in Sfax, Tunisia, some 500 kilometres northwest of Tripoli, where he and other young fighters (known as the shabab) are resting and healing, and pre-Gadhafi flags hang over each bed. Flakes of pastry fall into Tarek’s chest hair. One of his guests, a fellow former rebel fighter, leans over and picks them out. With a smile, he says, “Grads,” referring to the rockets that used to drop on them in Dafniya, the western front in Misrata, Libya, and mimicking the movement with his hands. There, shrapnel took chunks out of young bodies. The soldiers who flooded into the regional field hospital looked less frightened than surprised by the possibility of death.
Tarek is a twenty-two-year-old Libyan Canadian. Born in Quebec, he grew up in Libya with dreams of returning, which he did after high school. Last February, when Libyans rose up to fight Moammar Gadhafi, he was a second-year business student at Bishop’s University in Sherbrooke, having previously worked part time at a Montreal Quiznos. He watched, alone in his apartment, as the revolution unfolded on television: “It seemed like a dream.” Soon afterward, he started attending protests in Montreal, where he found camaraderie and solace. A photo on Facebook shows him standing with other young Libyans, holding a white placard, bubble letters spelling out MR. HARPER PLEASE RECOGNIZE TRUE LIBYA. Despite the misgivings of his forty-year-old brother, Hatem, he decided to drop out of school and join the fight.
“I didn’t want to be the one who comes later,” he told me last April, when I met him for the first time at a mutual acquaintance’s home in Benghazi, Libya. He had just arrived, willing to die for his country, and was frustrated to find that engagement wasn’t as easy as showing up. Lounging on the cushions lining the guest room floor, he didn’t appear built for war. His two friends, fellow Libyan Canadians Adem and Qays, were lean and animated, but Tarek’s rotund frame, easy smile, and quiet, self-deprecating manner gave him a Winnie-the-Pooh-like presence. Adem and Qays talked about girls they would miss, girls who would miss them; Tarek talked about Montreal, and how much he missed his favourite spots. Between prayer breaks, they ate pizza and admired a friend’s AK-47 and FM light machine gun. “I want to get my share,” Tarek said.
Four and a half months later, a loyalist’s bullet pierced his spine. A second one caught his right thigh. For fifteen days, he languished near death, and when his wounds finally healed he couldn’t feel anything below his navel. Today he has regained feeling down to his upper thighs. “The doctors, they say it’s a good sign,” he says, as he brushes his hands over a baseball-sized rock, a stand-in for water in cleansing before prayers. His catheter hasn’t been working properly, so he buzzes for a nurse. A pretty Tunisian enters and rubs his lower stomach to encourage the flow.