Desert Found Faith– The Demonstration
By Tammi Chang
Our sedan came to halt in the dark Sahara desert amidst a crowd of angry people. Some men carried torches while others carried signs with anti-American slogans. The shrieks and chants of women and children mixed with the men’s curses against the United States made my head pound.
"Please God, not another demonstration," I prayed silently, but it became apparent that I had never encountered a demonstration like this. Before, I had always been able to fade back and disappear. This time I had nowhere to hide. The protests I had experienced previously paled to the event I now witnessed. My heart was racing with fear, breathing was difficult.
I looked out the window of the sedan, captivated by an ancient Bedouin woman in a ragged, dirty black abaya. Her eyes reflected anger beneath her tattered long brown scarf. She carried a sign covered in scrawling Arabic, denouncing the sanctions of the United States against Libya. The disheveled woman screamed curses and lit the corner of an American flag. My heart burned as though consumed by the flames destroying the symbol of my freedom.
The crowd, fanned by the burning flag, increased their frenzied chanting. The crowd surged closer to the car, their hate-filled mantra seeming to rock the car of its own accord. The Bedouin woman waved the burning flag. As reflections of red, white and blue perished into ashes, the flicker of flames reflected off the chrome inside the car and bounced off the tears that formed in my eyes. I squelched the urge to roll down the window and defend my country. It would be suicide to reveal my identity to this fanatical crowd.
"Curse Amriki," my husband, Ali, muttered. As he stared at me from the front seat, his eyes filled with detest. He ran his well manicured hands through his curly, black hair.
The demonstration took a nasty twist as men brandished machine guns. I covered my nose and mouth with my silk scarf as my stomach convulsed with apprehension.
"Madame," Nassar, my guard, whispered. "Please back away from the window."
"Okay," I replied in Arabic. Nassar had been quiet for the last several hours, even my husband’s outbursts had yielded no response from my sentinel. I looked at Nassar out of the corner of my eye, noticing his face was filled with apprehension. His dark brown eyes scanned the increasing violence, the border, and the final checkpoint from Libya into Egypt. His hand rested on the 9mm gun under his Polo jacket. I had watched the violence outside with apprehension, but my guard’s stealth-like motions made me more anxious.
"Amriki, Amriki." The blood-curling screams reverberated around the car.
"This is your fault." My husband mumbled something to the driver in Arabic, and they both snorted and chuckled. I knew it was about me, but I no longer cared. I had grown accustomed to being insulted and tormented.
"Leave her alone." Nassar stared straight at Ali.
"She is my wife, not yours," Ali replied, his lip curling in disdain. Nassar remained silent and continued to scan the horizon. Ali began to twitch back and forth against the seat wrinkling his Armani clothes. "She is always the cause of my problems, she…"
"Uskut," Nassar’s voice was very low and stern. "Shut up."
I sat silently and watched as the men and women surrounding the car become more violent. My heart was flooded with emotion; my mind was dazed and confused. The danger of the situation was real, but there was no turning back. I had promised myself that if I ever got the chance to leave Libya again I would never return, even if it meant dying in the attempt. Libya was not my home; Allah was not my God.
Blood throbbed in my temples, and it became even harder to breathe. As the car inched through the crowd, I was not sure whether the emotions I was feeling were hopeful anticipation that my year long entrapment in Libya was finally over, fear of the demonstrators, or dread of being caught and punished. I strove to keep my emotions under control for the sake of my children, 8-year-old Alexandria, 7-year-old Anthony and 4-year-old Kali. They had been hidden under a blanket in the back of the sedan since we started this trip. Oh how I longed to be back in the United States. Thanksgiving was just a week away. My mind lingered for several short moments on the thought of turkey, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie and gathering around the table with my family.
"Allah," my guard whispered and pointed out my window careful not to touch me, indicating a crude mannequin representing an American being strung up and beaten. For the first time I found myself glad there were no streetlights in this godforsaken land, as the darkness hid my tears and fear.
"Dear God," I softly uttered. Men doused fuel on the mannequin and it ignited into flames. The iridescent fire and grey smoke contrasted eerily with the black desert background.
"Momma," a small voice moaned from the back of the sedan as machine gun fire filled the air. I quickly turned to check on my children, "Don’t be afraid, please be brave." I whispered, hoping that I sounded more confident than I felt.
"Leave those children alone," Ali turned and grabbed my arm.
"She is my wife," Ali turned to challenge Nassar and pointed at me, "she does what I say."
"Quiet," Nassar waved his hand at Ali.
"She is responsible for this," Ali pointed outside the window towards the mannequin.
Nassar animatedly gestured with both hands. "They," he pointed to the crowd, "are protesting against America, her country. How can she be responsible?"
Ali cleared his throat. "Maybe they are protesting against her; after all she is a foreigner…"
"What did you say?" Nassar was becoming upset.
Ali laughed cruelly. "What?"
"Do they know that she is inside this car?"
Instead of answering, Ali lit another cigarette and avoided eye contact with Nassar.
"Ali, answer me. Do they know?" Nassar discreetly slid his gun out.
Ali pretended to be preoccupied with his lighter. "No, no," he said and flicked his gold lighter on and off. "They do not know that she is inside the car but…"
Nassar’s dark eyes pierced the darkness. "Ali, if they know that she is an American, she will be killed."
"So," Ali said maliciously.
"Your precious life will be in danger as well," Nassar snarled, "or did you forget?"
The reality hit Ali. "Curse you woman. Just give her to the crowd. That is what they…" Ali’s voice petered out as he saw the look on Nassar’s face.
"Shut up." Nassar stared directly into Ali’s eyes; danger flashed from within my guard’s eyes. I watched as Nassar’s body tensed every muscle; I could hear my guard control his breathing. I buried my face into my blue, silk scarf; I had never seen my guard act like this before.
"Give her to them," Ali said with a casual wave of his hand. "Just hand her over and then we will be free…she is cursed anyways."
"She is my wife," Ali flicked his lighter in Nassar’s face. "I can do whatever I want with her."
"I can’t … I won’t go back to Libya." I said, choking on my words.
"No," Nassar assured me, "I won’t turn you over."
Nassar moved to the edge of his seat and brought his face within an inch of Ali’s eyes. "Leave Madame alone or else I will speak with your father."
"My father doesn’t pay you enough to die for her. But how much is she worth to you, my friend?" Ali’s voice dripped sarcasm.
"Uskut," Nassar snapped again.
"Okay, okay." Ali pretended compliance with Nassar. "My friend, my friend, you are worth everything my father pays you and more." Ali smiled at Nassar; his smile reminded me of a jackal defending his dinner.
"I’ve had enough," Nassar dismissed Ali, "enough of you."
"How dare you talk to me like that?" Ali snarled. "My father pays…"
The discussion between Ali and Nassar was becoming heated again and I tried to tune them out. I noticed that the intensity of the demonstration seemed to be diminishing slightly. Some of the crowds were being allowed to pass through the border and appeared to be calming down.
Nervously, I watched the curious men and children try and look into the sedan. I fought back tears of frustration and fear as I self-consciously and nervously inspected the scarf that covered my hair. I took the ends of my scarf and covered my nose and face again. I prayed that the scarf and Libyan garment would mask my true heritage. I knew the consequences if I was caught, but I couldn’t allow myself to contemplate the danger of the situation. The one thing I knew for sure, it was either deliverance or death. Either way, it was in my God’s hands to decide the outcome.
Tammi Chang is the mother of three beautiful teenagers and works part time for the State of Missouri with youths who have been incarcerated. She is completing her Master’s of Education Degree and writes because she is driven and passionate about the subjects. Tammi is grateful to live in a country where Jesus can be worshiped freely and knows that with Him, she cannot fall – only stumble to her knees in prayer.
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