The sun-baked streets of Misrata have a semblance of normality these days. The city's main drag, Tripoli Street, the site of weeks of brutal urban warfare a year ago, is still broken and bullet-scarred, but below the pocked facades of the buildings are shops and fast food joints. There are carloads of families on the roads and a gentle hum of activity amid the summer heat.
But at the center of town, there's an eerie exhibit, a makeshift museum to the days of war. Televisions bombard visitors with a continuous montage of the worst horrors of the conflict: Young men cut down by bullets on wobbly phone camera footage, the bodies of wounded children and babies shown in gruesome close-ups. The walls are papered with passport-style photos of the 1,500 people who died inside the city or fighting for it on the frontlines nearby. The man at the desk doesn't ask for tickets; instead he shows visitors the goriest pictures he can find of the wounded and dying in last year's war.
It's a reminder of the ghosts that continue to haunt Libya even as it struggles to move into a new era. Earlier this month, many of the country's citizens drew hope from their first free elections in over four decades. Yet painful memories are reverberating. Many Libyans appear to be caught between a desire to forget and an obsessive need to remember and revisit the bloodshed of the past year. For some, there is little choice.
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"Imagine a ten-year-old who can tell the difference between a bullet from an AK, a tank, and a sniper," says Ali Shenaba, the founder and manager of the museum. He points to a photograph showing four small children, two boys and two girls. They were his neighbors' children, killed by tank fire as the family tried to flee the fighting raging around their home on this street. "Every time you see the house, you remember those kids," he says.
Dr. Mustafa Al Shagmani, a clinical psychologist educated at Rennes University in France, leads a team of 24 mental health specialists in the city. In the past three months they have treated around 700 patients, ages two to eighty.
He says that a recent World Health Organization (WHO) study found that 21,000 out of the city's population of 250,000 were suffering from psychological trauma. Misrata is believed to be one of the worst affected areas in the country.
"We have neurosis, anxiety, OCD [obsessive compulsive disorder], physical symptoms like diarrhea. Children are some of the worst affected," he said. Al Shagmani explains that young people, especially those who have lost parents, are struggling at school, fighting with classmates, or showing listlessness or an inability to concentrate.