Ibrahim Elfirjani couldn’t sleep.
The 62-year-old Orland Park resident had trouble focusing on anything, except for actions happening in his old home.
In February, when a rebellion broke out in Libya against Moammar Gadhafi and his dictatorial rule over the country, Elfirjani could think of nothing else but going back and joining the fight.
“It was the easiest decision I made in my life,” Elfirjani said. “My family knew I had to go.”
It was the first time he set foot in his birthplace in 25 years. Elfirjani spent over two years as a war prisoner in Chad before coming to the U.S. in the 1980s. It wasn’t until 2003 that he was reunited with his son Sanad, when the rest of his family came from Libya to Orland Park. With past military experience, he spent much of the last eight months in Libya offering his skills to the rebellion.
“For 25 years I couldn’t even touch the land, but now you could be free to go to Benghazi, to Tripoli or wherever,” Elfirjani said about arriving in Libya in February. “It was a good moment.”
Elfirjani was greeted back to the U.S. Monday night by friends and family at a dinner celebration in Worth, five days after Gadhafi was killed. The night was full of hugs and laughter, but also moments of deep introspection over the price paid by Libyan people during Gadhafi’s 42-year reign.
Elfirjani described men he came to know during his time in Libya that were killed before the fighting ended. Another man described being tortured by Gadhafi’s soldiers.
But several attendees, including Elfirjani, spoke with hope about Libya’s future, and the need for Libyans to come together and rebuild.
“I hope my people get together and look to the future and forget about the past,” Ibrahim Elfirjani said. “Leave the guns out of this now. Now we need to take our hands, hearts and minds, bring in engineers and experts and rebuild.”
When asked whether it was better for Gadhafi to die than be tried in a court for his crimes, Ibrahim Elfirjani said it doesn’t matter.
“What happened has happened. We can’t go back,” Ibrahim Elfirjani said. “Gadhafi is dead. We have to move on.”
For most of the night, friends and family were singing and laughing while sharing a large meal. Sanad Elfirjani circled the adjoined tables, making sure the attendees were adequately fed. Ibrahim Elfirjani was warmly embraced by the friends and family who came.
Peter Makrias, a friend of Ibrahim’s for the last 10 years, was one of the warm embracers.
“This is beyond nationality and religion,” Makrias said during the dinner. “This is humanity.”