Celebration As Improv: In Libya 'We Don't Know How To Celebrate'

Feb 17, 2012
Originally published on February 17, 2012 6:01 pm

I've spent the day in the company of Malik L, a Benghazi-based hip hop artist who seems to get stopped every 100 feet by either a friend or a fan. In between these conversations, I asked Malik about what celebrations were scheduled for tonight.

"I have no idea," he replied. "No one does. Libya has never done this before. We don't know how to celebrate an anniversary."

It's an extraordinary thought. Though Libyans came out by the hundreds of thousands to celebrate the fall of Moammar Gadhafi, today is the first time they've reached an anniversary related to the revolution. During the 42 years of Gadhafi rule, events were tightly controlled. There was no spontaneous outpouring of emotion, except if you were pro-Gadhafi. Everyone else had to keep how they really felt to themselves.

And now here I am in Benghazi, where people — young and old — are simply winging it. Almost every car has a Libyan independence flag perched atop it; if not, no problem: There are plenty of hawkers on the street corners ready to set you up. The honking of car horns is routinely drowned out by ambulance sirens, blaring simply for the pleasure of it. Young men jump into the middle of traffic to dance and sing, grinding everything to a halt, leading to even more honking. Some cars then appear to spin out of control, careening and burning rubber a frightening speed. That's just "drifting," the Benghazi equivalent of American teenagers spinning their cars in doughnuts in parking lots. And yes, there's some celebratory gunfire, but much less than I expected.

The best part of all of this? Right now it's late afternoon, when Libyans typically take a break for a few hours, siesta-style. I can only imagine how the city will erupt later tonight.

With Twitter and other social media, NPR's Andy Carvin monitored immediate, on-the-ground developments during the upheavals of the Arab Spring from Washington, D.C., through thousands of tweets and an army of followers that numbers in the tens of thousands. Now, he is in Libya, meeting face-to-face with some of those activists. He'll be sending us periodic updates on his journey.

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