From my past year here in Libya, I would have to say that my favorite neighbourhood is in the heart of downtown Benghazi, Independence Street. Named after the place where the official independence of Libya from the Italian occupation was announced by King Idris El-Senussi in 1951, the street begins near the old city and extends south east towards an area called Al-Birka (informally the street outside of the city centre had been called Al-Birka in reference to where it led). Although Gadaffi changed the name of the street to Jamal Abdel Nasser Street in the 1970’s after President Jamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, the original name has resurfaced since the revolution that toppled the regime.
Historically, Independence Street was restricted to the old city, but as the city grew the street was developed by local realtors who invested in the area and built several apartment buildings to provide housing for young families making it both accessible and affordable. Initially, maintenance and upkeep was done by the owners who were paid rent by their tenants.
"The view from the 5th floor balcony of my late uncle's home features a panoramic view of Benghazi"
Unfortunately, the buildings have since been run down due to the government seizing ownership of them in the late 1970’s. The tenants then became tenants of the state, a state which lacked accountability making corruption rampant and naturally led to the deterioration of the neighbourhood. The original owners received little to no compensation. Regardless of the widespread neglect in this neighbourhood and throughout the city, the residents of Benghazi are resilient and continue to hope for the development that their city so desperately needs.
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I have a personal affinity to this neighbourhood as my mother’s childhood home is located here. It is also where the home of my late uncle is situated whom I was never able to meet but have grown close to since arriving in Libya by spending time in his home and around his family.
This neighbourhood is always bustling and is the first place you’d want to check out when there are any sort of celebrations being held. On the annual February 17 celebrations, this street transforms into one big block party where the entire neighbourhood comes down from their homes and takes to the streets to join the festivities.
The view from the 5th floor balcony of my late uncle's home features a panoramic view of Benghazi. I have spent lots of time watching countless beautiful sunsets as the sun descends perfectly between the two domes of the abandoned Greek Orthodox Church by the harbour. It is here where I reflect on this city that I am just beginning to know. Although Benghazi and Libya are riddled with issues of varying complexity, I do wish to see my country and my city flourish and prosper for my generation and the generations to come.
Hoda Emneina is an American-Libyan who had never been able to visit Libya prior the fall of the regime. She has been living in Benghazi – her parents’ hometown – for the past year. Hoda graduated from San Jose State University with a degree in Business Administration and Marketing. She is also one of the founding members of the Libyan Youth Movement, and an active member of the Libyan Youth Forum.