While pretty much any corner of Benghazi is a fine place to celebrate this week, the heart of the celebrations are taking place at the courthouse and its public square, where some of the revolution’s first protests took place.
As a brutally chilly rain peppered us from the Mediterranean, I wandered down there for a few hours, where at least one thousand men had begun their own celebrations. The crowd was awash in Libyan independence flags as young men in the middle pounded drums to punctuate each revolutionary chant. I think I met about half of the Libyans there, generally in one of three scenarios:
They came over to shake my hand just to say “Welcome;”
They insisted on having their picture taken, either with a friend or with me;
They wanted to know if I worked for Al Jazeera.
It was a raucous crowd, jumping and singing and chanting as if they were at a soccer championship match. Rather than having posters of their favorite players on signs, though, they displayed pictures of young men killed in the revolution.
They all looked so, so young.
As I got ready to leave the square, a group of men tried to get my attention, pointing at an adorable little boy, no older than two. “He would like to shake your hand,” someone said. “You are his first American.”
I squatted down and offered my hand. “Merhaben!” I said, greeting him. He just looked back at me and wonder, squeezing my index finger and moving it up and down. As we were about to depart, the father said something in Arabic.
“The little one now wants to give you a kiss.” I leaned forward, and he toddled back over to me, giving me a sloppy kiss on each cheek.
If he could only remember this night when he’s older. I certainly will.
With Twitter and other social media, NPR’s Andy Carvin monitored immediate, on-the-ground developments during the upheavals of the Arab Spring from Washington, D.C., throughthousands of tweets and an army of followers that numbers in the tens of thousands. Now, he is in Libya, meeting face-to-face with some of those activists. He’ll be sending us periodic updates on his journey.