By Huda A. Ahmed
It has been my personal experience that Libyans of all walks of life share a special, nostalgic feeling toward their homeland.
The reminder of home is prompted by things like red tea with floating mint leaves, or the sound of drumbeats and bagpipes playing to the traditional beat that perform in Libyan streets every day. And, no matter how many years spent away, Libya will always remain to be these people’s North, the navigation point, and the magnet pulling them back home.
Many families, whom have established themselves in countries abroad, have had children and raised them to be proud first-generation immigrants. While returning to the homeland seems to be on all of their agendas “one day”, one can’t help but wonder why that is never today.
More than two years after the start of the 2011 revolution in Libya, a large percentage of Libyans who settled abroad due to political exile decades before remain to live out of the country today. And, people continue to leave Libya every day in pursuit of new lives in Europe or North America for the same reasons that keep others out.
While there is no longer the apparent risk of interrogation, imprisonment, or execution, there are other aspects that force reality to outweigh nostalgia besides security and political stability concerns.
The struggle of finding employment that can provide the financial support to live comfortably as well as independently is an issue many people face. For others, it is simply the complex amalgamation of having to live up to societal expectations, and struggling to find time to accomplish personal aspirations while keeping up with societal responsibilities.
Considering that a large number, if not the majority, of Libyans travel abroad for the purposes of furthering their studies in their respective fields, one cannot help but feel that the difficulties of living in Libya repel many brains of the society.
As of yet, the Libyan government has not formulated an apparent strategy to attract these individuals or compete for their expertise.
While expertise is recognized and compensated in many countries, the same cannot always be said in Libya. The harsh reality is that Libya does not provide adequate incentives to those who attained degrees and experience abroad, specifically within the public sector.
From security issues to the struggles of cultural assimilation, there are a number of factors that need to be thoroughly examined before making the big leap to return to Libya.
The first and most obvious factor to take into account is housing. The dynamics of an average household in Libya includes extended family rather than simply the nuclear family. While it is common for nuclear families to branch out to live independently when it can be backed-up financially, it is uncommon to resort to leasing. Because of this, many families coming from abroad find difficulty in identifying available lease and justifying the inflated cost.
Another important issue is primary education. Many heads of households who moved with their families to Libya in hopes of becoming a part of the country’s transition feel that in their attempt to help their country, they have sacrificed some of their children’s opportunities, including a stable education.
Private education in Libya is both limited as well as costly. Public school faculty cannot adequately communicate bilingually, nor do they have the means to provide the special attention needed by assimilating students. Hence, children who live out of Libya stand out in Libya, complicating their chances at adapting.
Though some Libyans in the country believe that qualified individuals abroad have an obligation to return to serve their country, the fact of the matter is that it is an individual choice; one that should be respected and valued. No doubt, these individuals would be willing to sacrifice the luxuries of life in the West but should not be asked to risk their careers or sacrifice their children’s futures.
Finally, there is the reality that despite the best of intentions, the decision to move to the homeland can, and is often interpreted by Libyans in the country to derive from a political agenda. And, this perhaps is the most unfortunate realities of them all.
Making the decision to move to Libya remains to be a distant dream for many, one that will live on in people’s hearts until it can be justified to match up with ‘today’s options’.
Huda A. Ahmed, a full-blooded Libyan who is experiencing what it means to live in Libya for the first time