News / Africa

Teenage Journalist Portrays 'Normal' Libya

Journalist Atem, who wants to keep her identity obscure, writes of Libyan life without Moammar Gadhafi, Benghazi, April 13, 2011
Journalist Atem, who wants to keep her identity obscure, writes of Libyan life without Moammar Gadhafi, Benghazi, April 13, 2011
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Atem is 17 years old.  Before the uprising began, she was finishing her last year in high school and acting very much her age.

Teen life

"I just like hanging with my friends. We all go out, like, every Thursday night, every weekend," Atem said. "I like movies.  I like music.  I'm addicted to Facebook. I love the Internet. It was normal."

Her English, learned in school and honed through those movies and music, helped her strike up Internet friendships around the world. And that's when she began to realize how far from normal the perception of her country was.

"When I talk to people, they all think we're just simple people - and they don't know it's normal here," Atem said. "They're like, you say "Libya."  "Oh, Gadhafi" and that's it. And he's like moving around with his tent everywhere and so they think there are tents everywhere here."

Perceived image

Atem, whose deep blue nail polish would seem out of place in a desert encampment, argues that projecting the image of a helpless people was part of leader Moammar Gadhafi's goal.

"He was trying to put that image because he didn't want people to see," Atem said. "He, like, blurred us out.  He's the only thing he wanted people to think of when you say Libya. And it actually worked."

That perceived arrogance drove her to help anyway she could when the rebellion broke out. She began writing for a start-up newspaper, but her youthful enthusiasm, as yet unburdened by repression and its consequences, soon led to frustration with her editors.

"When I got more into it, I found that they were so scared to go into certain issues, they were like "No, don't talk about this or that" so I was like "if we don't speak now, when are we going to speak?" Atem asked.

Weekly journal

So she and some friends decided to go it alone, producing a free-wheeling and outspoken weekly journal. They printed the first issue of the Bereniche Post themselves. It caught the eye of a local development bank, and the budding journalists, ranging in age from 17 to 25, had a backer.

Atem, who wishes to keep her identity somewhat private, is the pen name she adopted for her work.

While she spends most of her days working for a Libya without the specter of Colonel Gadhafi, Atem doesn't let politics and journalism overwhelm her. She finds time for novels - she's a fan of Jane Austen - and movies - she loves the horror movie Saw. And her musical taste is, up to a point, quite broad.

"I like rap. But I also like jazz. I like classical music. I like everything, except for Country. I don't like Country [music]," Atem added, laughing.

She calls herself "your average Libyan girl."

4/18 - corrected spelling of weekly journal

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