COLUMBIA — Ahmed El-Tayash said his wife, Fatima Bendardarf, woke him up Thursday morning. "She scared me because she was screaming, 'Gadhafi is dead!' We have been waiting for that news for 42 years."
At first, Ahmed El-Tayash and his younger brother, Osama El-Tayash, said the dictator's demise was "unbelievable." Their T-shirts said the rest: "Free Libya."
Libyans in Columbia woke up Thursday morning to the news that Moammar Gadhafi, the former Libyan leader who fled after the collapse of his regime two months ago, had been killed in his hometown of Sirte.
"I can't believe it's true," Osama El-Tayash said while he welcomed customers at Casablanca Mediterranean Grill. "If you asked anybody a year ago, they would never think that could happen. It's an overwhelming feeling of joy."
Gadhafi controlled the country for decades, and his death let loose a celebration of freedom.
"This morning, my family and I received a bunch of calls from relatives in Libya," Osama El-Tayash said. He was born in Columbia but the majority of his family still lives in Benghazi.
In 2003, when he went to Libya for the first time with his brother, Osama El-Tayash said he could see the fear in people's eyes.
"My family was not comfortable with the idea when I went out at night because people of the regime patrolled the street," Osama El-Tayash said. "There was a kind of paranoia of being kidnapped or imprisoned."
When he applied in Tripoli for Libyan citizenship, authorities who released his passport tried to convince him to bring his parents, who were living in the U.S., back to Libya.
"At that time, Libya tried to open up to the world," he said.
El-Tayash's parents have lived in the U.S. since 1979 and haven't returned to Libya since.
'A new chapter for a new Libya'
The two brothers are optimistic about Libya's future.
"It's going in the right direction," Ahmed El-Tayash said. "Of course, it's gonna take time. But today is a new chapter for a new Libya."
"Libya will surprise the world with what they will accomplish in the future," Osama El-Tayash said.
Mohamed Gumati, owner of the International Cafe, said that Libyans have ideas for their country and now, they have to build it.
"It could be eight months or more just to set down the country, to get new leaders and see how they are going to build a new country," he said. "But right now, there is a mess in the country, between cities."
Gumati had just talked on the phone to a Libyan friend in Germany, peppering his conversation with mabrouk, the Arabic word for congratulations.
Gumati wants to visit his family in Libya to share the happiness, but he doesn't know whether he'd like to live there. "This country went back 50 years because of Gadhafi."
He said that Gadhafi was his original reason for staying in the U.S.
"Gadhafi doesn't want my generation," he said. "He wanted to raise a new generation that was his generation but, the funny thing is that generation was the one who made a revolution."