“It was the first time I ever heard gunfire. It’s not really a situation you except to be in, even while living in Libya,” Ed told me when he recalled what it was like during the turmoil in Tripoli, the capital of Libya.
Eduardo Bezerra has been a good friend of mine for roughly 20 years and currently works for Odebrecht, a Brazilian engineering company responsible for building large scale constructions throughout the world, including some of the stadiums for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Ed had been living in Tripoli since June of last year, and was getting used to being there, despite the many cultural differences, which included a six-day work week, a legal ban on eating pork and, worst of all, a ban on alcohol.
On the Feb. 20, a rumour went around his office of conflicts going on between rebels and dictator Moammar Gadhafi’s men on the outskirts of the city. His Libyan coworkers were allowed to go to their hometowns, but the foreigners were assured that it would be fine and that they should keep working and continue with their routine. For Ed this included working out, smoking some hookah and watching TV until it was time for bed.
The next day, when he woke up, his roommates told him that they were not supposed to go to the office, but that everything was alright. Ed went to the local market, surprised to see it open, and bought enough food to last him the week. Soon after, one of his bosses called to tell him that the unrest would soon end and he would be required to show up for work the next day.
That afternoon, the same boss was due to show up to a job site just outside Tripoli. He was sitting in a car with one of Ed’s roommates waiting at the toll booth. They looked out the windows and saw four men with AK-47s kneeling 20 yards away. Suddenly, three men in the car in front of them got out and began to walk away from the toll. The men with the AKs immediately opened fire and gunned them down. His boss and roommate had to put their heads down to best avoid any stray bullets.
The incident at the toll booth led Odebrecht to speed up the process of extracting their employees, and on the following day the foreign employees were sent to their office because a plane was being arranged to get them out of the country. After waiting in the office for about three hours, they were informed that no planes were allowed to land anywhere in the country at that time, so they went back home.
Luckily, Ed had gone to the market the day before and there was plenty of food for him and his three roommates. They sat around, mostly in silence, and watched one of the few movies they hadn’t all seen, Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers â€” not exactly what one would call relaxing.
That night, Ed realized he had left his only black suit at the tailor’s 50 km away – he knew he would never see it again. He had bought it a few months before as a gift to himself when he received a generous bonus from his company. “That hurt a lot, but I just wanted to get out of there, to be honest. It was a nice suit, though,” he said.
He woke up around 8 a.m. to a call from his boss telling him a plane should arrive at 3 p.m. to pick them up. They were told that they were allowed to pack only two bags, but by then, everyone was already packed from the day before. When the bus arrived at 11 a.m., the driver told them that they were allowed to take only one bag, not two. Having both a large suitcase and a small carry-on luggage, everyone figured they would leave the smaller one behind until the driver informed them that their bags were way too big and they could only take the carry-on bags.
“We were a bit shocked because we had our entire lives in those suitcases, but we didn’t really hesitate. Everyone just threw their large bags into the house and got into the bus as fast as we could,” Ed recalled.
The drive to the airport was tense, but they arrived without any encounters with the rebels or Gadhafi’s men. It did however, take roughly four hours to make what was supposed to be only a 30-minute ride. Ed described the airport as “madness.” They stayed at the large tent-camp that had been setup a few kilometers away from the actual airport while they waited for their flight. The plane was supposed to leave Tripoli at 3 p.m. but by 10 p.m., it had yet to even leave Greece.
At around midnight, three buses departed from the tent-camp to the airport, taking only single men, including Ed, because these passengers would have to wait outdoors for the longest. With an average nightly temperature of 2 to 3 degrees in Tripoli during this time of year, spending all night outdoors is not exactly comfortable.
“It was the longest night of my life, no doubt. I figured I would never leave,” Ed told me, clearly still shaken about the events that happened that night. He explained how all night there was a buzz that the plane was about to arrive, but it never did. Ed didn’t sleep at all that night. At 9 a.m. the plane was finally there. An hour and a half later, they boarded. Ed said that despite what one might think, there was not a sense of relief, everyone was too tired.
The plane left soon after they boarded, and they arrived in Malta, an island just south of Sicily several hours later. They slept and went out for a much deserved celebration, hitting up a local bar.
February 25, 26
The next morning, they went to Lisbon, where many of his former coworkers from his time in Brazil were waiting for him. Finally, 24 hours later, he had landed in Brazil and was free from all of it.
“Hey, want to come with me to buy a new suit?” he called me up and asked after arriving home. “Sure, how come?” I replied. “Long story. Tell you later.” And with that, life slowly seemed to be getting back to normal for Ed.