From Taormina to Benghazi. Thirty miracles across the sea

Two nations geographically close, but distant in relationship, the story of a humanitarian mission in Libya, 30 children returned to life

from Matteo Arrigo

“Canceled”. Departures board at the airport of Tunis Carthage he is merciless, we look at him inconsolably, the flight to Benghazi has been canceled. A storm of wind and sand sweeps over the Libyan coasts, the only available aircraft from the company Afryquia, whose flight conditions we prefer not to stay in, has been stuck in the Ryad, and therefore it is impossible to reach Tunis and take us to Benghazi. The hope of being able to reach Libya in a single day was shattered on the very last stage. A country so close to Italy, less than an hour away by plane, but so hard to reach.

It looks like the plot of an unknown but already seen movie, full of unexpected events that the last two years have been. It has been 24 months since our last humanitarian mission. Two years of viruses, of isolation, of vaccinations, of fear, of closed borders. Two years with: “Why don’t you come and help us, why?”. The last few days have been complicated, with no guarantee of coping, without a visa, then barred for two days in the Tunisian capital between stamps and cancellations. “But who made it” it appears to be read in the face of Martina, nurse al Baby Jesus of Rome on its first humanitarian mission. Given the “special” destination, he preferred not to tell his entire family about his trip. “But who made it” tell the eyes of Giuseppe, a cardiologist at the center of pediatric cardiac surgery in Taorminaand looking out the window as the car drives down the road out of Benghazi airport, a straight strip of asphalt between fuselages and spherical houses.

The moment you focus on the first images of a foreign country, you smell the air from the hospital, shake hands with mothers, you understand the reason why you “get it done”. For the sleepless nights before departure, for the justified fear of family members at home, “Be careful, please”. To the masks, to the flags hanging on the balconies. To all those who with their donations (schools, associations, parishes) made it possible for us to fill our bags with medical supplies. You do it for those children whose existence has not given time to wait for us, and for those whom we will embrace in the next two weeks of our mission.

The welcome and hospitality is nothing short of incredible. The courtyard of the Benghazi Cardiac Center is a bustle of endless people, fifty children visited alone in the early afternoon. Security personnel were forced to close their doors for a few hours, news of the team’s arrival spread, and hundreds of parents came to meet the Italian medical staff. They are all waiting for visits to their children, for an intervention, for a solution.

A slow reconstruction follows Libya towards the restart. The second floor of the hospital was completely renovated after the war. In Benghazi, many are rebuilding, the light signs are turned on again, the streets are filled up. The new doors still have the labels attached, it’s a confused, awkward, hasty reconstruction, at times improvised. The paint stains on the floors, the smell of clean linen, the plastic on the edges of the new beds. The hotels have reopened and are waiting to host someone. The rubble has been moved to allow cars to park, they say so much that the cars parked in the city center, in the middle of the ruined houses, indicate that someone has returned to live there, perhaps in the only corner of the house that remains. , but has returned. Among the windows with hanging clothes, between the walls marked by mortars, new stories are beginning to come to life.

The mortal of being there

When we arrive at the hospital, Aziz is visibly excited. With an almost tender reprimand, he picks up Dario for not having locked the door to the operating room the night before. Aziz is a perfusionist, his job is to use the heart-lung machine during the operation, an instrument that replaces the heart and allows patients with a stopped heart muscle to operate. He worked in that room even before the war, during the period of ISIS occupation, one morning he found the door smashed and the car disappeared. Everything had been stolen, from that day the hospital activity was interrupted for years. The door still has the marks of the burglary, deep marks that the Libyans carry inside like wounds. Adults will not talk about the war, they prefer to tell how beautiful their city was before the devastation, and they do it every time by following us on a surreal ride among the bomb holes and concrete skeletons. The ruined houses overlook a very blue sea. If we look beyond the horizon, it almost seems to see Italy. This is where Benghazi and the Libyans speak, between the rides overlooking the rubble, the colored flags of the local football team, the elderly sunbathing on the walls, families on tour, children chasing a plastic ball. A normality that means future.

The sun has slipped and left the thoughts of the expectant parents for the night. The hallways are empty again after the chaos of the day. A couple is waiting for their daughter to leave the operating room. Jada is a three-year-old girl with an atrioventricular canal, a training deficit that is usually successfully operated on in the first months of life. No surgeon who arrived in Benghazi within the last two years has taken on the responsibility of bringing the baby to the operating room, Jada was a case that was preferred not to operate, the high risk of failure led to a clear refusal.

The dark tunic envelops the mother in the silence of the night, it is the last intervention of the day, I go in and leave the operating room, I can only answer the father’s questions to wait, the closeness to some of us is fundamental to them. The time is 22.00, when the surgeon leaves the room, the hand movements overcome any language barrier, Sasha announces that the operation has been completed. The mother bursts into a liberating scream, tears running down the veil and dampening the floor as she knelt over. The story that follows is moving in its drama. After failing to operate on their daughter in Libya and not being able to afford a trip abroad, they had decided to sell their house and start the procedures to try everything in Europe. They would be left homeless to “try” to save their only daughter. When they were told that the Italians were coming to Benghazi, they decided to postpone the sale. Fate wanted their lives to cross the path of the Italians, the way to Sasha Agati and his team. A saved life is a set of different combinations, of risks and responsibilities, they are crossroads of destiny, but it is by taking on a mission, to be present, that destiny is given the opportunity to find us.

Italian medical staff in Libya

In addition to trade

A little light filters through the closed curtains. I can not get out of bed, my mind is confused, my muscles and bones hurt. I have been in high fever for two days, the headache makes the room subdued. The only element with which I realize that time outside flows is the voice of the muezzin, at hourly intervals he marked my day where I saw the light of day arrive and walk away from the same window. Like me, other guys in the group also had high fever, everyone had the strength to get up and go back to the hospital. There are many children to be operated on, and the two-week mission is now coming to an end. I manage to get up around 11 pm to go and eat something, in the hall I meet the guys who have just returned. Tired, drawn, exhausted. On a mission, everyone is good at 9 in the morning, it’s from 9 in the evening you can see how you really feel. The only one who could afford to stay in bed without creating imbalances was me, basically I just write. I take pictures and tell. I write because there are stories to be known.

One thing journalists and medical staff on missions have in common: If you are not a good man, you can not do this job, or rather you can not do it the right way. You need to understand others, their intentions, their beliefs, their dramas. In the beginning you are a team of professionals at work, then you become friends and brothers. Before we left, many of us felt an understandable fear. The media has for years talked about Libya with images made only of shots, death and danger, and that is what has come to all of us. We have seen that in Libya today there is above all life, and we have the task of testifying to that.

But why is it necessary to tell stories like this? Sometimes to make people understand how lucky she is, sometimes because the story has its own will, which goes from ear to ear and reaches its destination. Martina will tell that Libya is not alone as we see it in the news, Dario will remember that there is help and understanding among colleagues, Aziz will erase some of his wounds, Mirko will explain to his three children that in addition to The Mediterranean is many children playing balloon, Jada will write that doctors from the other side of the sea have given her a future back. To her as for thirty other children. Sometimes the man takes courageous actions, in order to be effective they must be told. Miracles occur from time to time and we know miracles from stories.

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