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Benghazi, Beyond The Headlines: On A City That's Home To Half A Million


Benghazi is more than a political buzzword. Located on the Mediterranean Sea, it's the second-largest city in Libya. More than half a million people call it home. In the three years since the attacks there, Libya has fractured. Two rival governments are fighting for control of the country, and life in Benghazi has become much more difficult.


Omar al-Mosmary was born and raised there. We called him to talk about what daily life is like for people living in Benghazi. Internet access is unreliable and, as you'll hear, the cell phone connection is fuzzy.

OMAR AL-MOSMARY: The city is not the same, literally. Almost half the cities now are hot zones or war zones.

SHAPIRO: Half the city is hot zones or war zones, you say?

AL-MOSMARY: Lots of main commercial streets now are shut down because of the war, and also the main university, it's a war zone. And the main theater of the city, now it's shut down because of the war over there.

SHAPIRO: And so if the university is shut down, if the theater is shut down, if half the city is a war zone, what is daily life like? Are people able to go to work, do their shopping, go through their daily routines?

AL-MOSMARY: Yes. In the beginning, it was frustrating. Not all of the residents of the war zones left the city. Most of them are still living in the city. After a year now you can just walk through streets and find shops are open, and cafes are open 24-7. So it's mixed between life and death. I don't know how to describe it.

SHAPIRO: So some people have left the city, but those who remain are finding ways to continue. Some cafes are open, shops remain open. You have lived your entire life in Benghazi. Are there memories that you specifically think of as you walk through the city today, given the violence and division?

AL-MOSMARY: Well, the big city library.

SHAPIRO: The city library?

AL-MOSMARY: It used to be my haven when I was a child. My father used to take me there for hours and I'd lose myself in it. Now it's in the middle of a flashing (ph) zone, and almost every day I hear about somebody dies near that library. That's a place that meant a lot to me. There's the (unintelligible) of the downtown area, which used to be my childhood playground. Now it's just another road for al-Qaida-affiliated or ISIS to fill up the city with their weapons and the fighters.

It's overwhelming and indescribable what people of Benghazi are living, but most overwhelming that they are still fighting for living. They're still working, they're still operating. That's - how can I describe it?

SHAPIRO: They're still fighting to go on with their lives.


SHAPIRO: Omar al-Mosmary, I am very sorry for everything you've lost, and I appreciate your taking the time to talk with us.

AL-MOSMARY: Thank you for your time too.

SHAPIRO: Omar al-Mosmary is a local journalist in Benghazi, Libya. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.