Saturday, June 11, 2011
Pizza Man Joins Revolution
Pizza Man Joins Revolution
by Sarah Boesveld
Ehab Sherif was serving customers at his St. John’s, N.L., pizzeria when rebels made their first strikes against Libya’s reigning regime this year. Friends in his home country started dying. His brother, who is also in Canada, went overseas to help. On the last week of April, 33-year-old Ehab put pizza-making on hold and jumped a plane to support rebels fighting Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s troops. Before returning to St. John’s 11 days ago, he saw mass graves, people riddled with bullets and other harrowing sights. By phone from Colossal Pizza and Donair, Mr. Sherif spoke to The Post’s Sarah Boesveld.
Q You left Libya 15 years ago. Why return at such a volatile time?
A It was pretty hard to watch from a distance and to see the news. The phone lines in Libya were cut off for a couple of months, so I couldn’t get in touch with my brothers and friends over there. I just wanted to be there next to everybody and see everything with my own eyes and just try to help any way I could.
Q And what exactly did you do to help?
A Me and some high school friends from Libya who had been living out of the country got some money together and tried to supply the people on the front line with anything we could. We would go buy water for them, buy food. I went through 10 days of training for how to use the weapons and how to defend yourself. Not just anyone can go to the front lines, but my friends were with the rebels. It’s hard to get anybody to trust you so easily, because Gaddafi has people everywhere and they want to go get information from anybody so they can plot their bombings. There were so many people there to help — people who had no connection to Libya. When we got there, we didn’t know what to do. I was going to use my language skills to translate — that was the plan at first. I also wanted to help in honour of my high school friend Mohammed Nobese, who was killed by a sniper on March 19. He was a computer tech so he used to go in the field and take images and post them live on the Internet. He was in the back of the truck taking pictures when he got shot underneath his eye. His wife was expecting a baby.
Q How different was the Libya you saw when you arrived versus the Libya you once knew?
A I go to Libya every year and this time when I went it was totally different. I felt the taste of freedom. It was a nice feeling.
Q There’s been a lot of shooting, bombing and violence in Benghazi. Did it still feel better there, despite the violence?
A It feels better because people are closer, people are supporting one another. Before, when Gaddafi was controlling everything, people were scared, no one talked to anyone else, people were always watching what they were doing. If you do anything out of line, they just take you and lock you up and torture you.
Q What’s the most disturbing thing you saw?
A The most disturbing thing was the raping. If anyone we saw had a video, we’d tell them to delete it. I saw one video in which they were raping the girl in front of her father who they’d tied up. The Gaddafi soldiers were doing this. They record it on their own phones and they were laughing and joking about it, slapping the women, tearing off their clothes. In some cases, they surround houses and tell the women to come out bare naked and they tell them to go on top of the tank and they take pictures of them while they’re naked. They are doing really terrible things.
Q And you saw people killed right in front of you?
A When you’re there, it’s not an option that you want to see it or don’t want to see it. Gaddafi’s regime doesn’t keep anybody alive. They’ll ask their hostages questions and if they don’t answer, they’ll just kill them. When you get closer to the front line you see bodies that have been there for days.
Q Did you ever feel your life was in danger?
A Whenever you hear of someone getting killed or shot, of course you’re going to get scared. But when I was there, it never crossed my mind, even though I saw guns all the time and I heard and saw gunshots all the time and I would see people killed and I’d go to their funeral.
Q What’s life like for you back at the pizza place?
A It feels like a dream to me sometimes because of what I went through. People don’t know how good they’ve got it here.
Q And you say you’re going back?
A Yes, in about 20 days or so, to get married, and I will bring Aman back here with me. In the meantime, I know the rebels on the frontline are feeling more optimistic. They feel like they’re going to win this war. They’re sticking with the saying in Libya, ‘We do not surrender — either we die, or we win.’ ”