Even after following the news of Libya's civil war for months, Bejo Ali Elburki said he was shocked and elated when he learned Thursday that dictator Moammar Gadhafi was finally dead.
The Kahului resident has not been back to his home country or seen any of his nearly 100 immediate family members since he fled Libya as a teenager in 1979. On Thursday, he said he had no pity for the man who tortured and killed uncounted numbers of his countrymen, drove him and his brother into exile, and plundered the nation's oil wealth to leave its citizens destitute.
"It feels good. It feels really good," Elburki said. "I'm sorry - I hate say that I hear another human being dies and feel good about it, but Gadhafi is one of them."
Kahului resident and Libyan exile Bejo Ali Elburki said he hopes to return home for the first time in 30 years, now that Moammar Gadhafi is dead.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
Kahului resident and Libyan exile Bejo Ali Elburki celebrates Thursday afternoon while displaying a Libyan flag he made from T-shirt remnants. He said the flag has been identified as a rebel flag but really represents the flag used by the Libyan monarchy before dictator Moammar Gadhafi seized power.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
He said his greatest hope now is to raise enough money to travel home early next year and bring with him his older brother, Ahmed Ali Elburki, who has a serious medical condition that makes it difficult for him to leave the apartment they share in Kahului.
"Now I can go home and see my family," he said.
Bejo Elburki, who grew up in Benghazi on the Mediterranean Sea, was 9 years old when Gadhafi came to power.
He said he was too young to realize the significance of the events around him at the time but started to become aware of Gadhafi's abuses as a teenager.
He vividly remembers the day at age 17 when, walking home from a Boy Scout meeting, he came upon a gallows standing in the street. As Elburki watched, a van pulled up, and policemen pulled out two men who were bound by their hands and feet.
"They picked them up and put them on stools and put the nooses on top of their neck," he recalled. "Then they pulled the stools out."
His brother Ahmed later got in trouble for participating in student protests of the regime. Ahmed was able to flee the country before he could be arrested, but many of his friends were imprisoned and executed, Bejo Elburki said.
He followed his brother to the United State a few years later. After returning to Libya briefly in 1978, he came back to the U.S. for what would become a 30-year exile.
Bejo Elburki said that as long as Gadhafi was in power, he knew that if he set foot in the country again he could be arrested - or worse.
"If I went back, I don't know what they will do to me," he said.
Over the years, it became harder and harder to keep in touch with the nine brothers and sisters and their families he had left behind in Libya.
He said he was able to send letters until Gadhafi abolished street names and addresses a few years ago - a tactic to make it more difficult for citizens to communicate with the outside world.
He said government officials listened in on phone calls, so that even when a call went through to family members, censors would cut the line as soon as they heard who was calling.
"They don't want no contact whatsoever outside the country," he said. "I just gave up."
Even in his dreams, Elburki was in exile.
He said he often dreams at night about returning to Libya; he could see the harbor and walk the streets toward his old neighborhood. But the dream always ends before he catches sight of his family.
"I never get home," he said.
Elburki said he had been following news of the "Arab Spring" and the uprising and civil war in Libya. But he said even though he knew Gadhafi was on the run, he was still surprised when he learned he had been killed.
Elburki said he always believed the fallen dictator would manage to slip away at the last minute, perhaps finding safe haven in another rogue nation in Africa.
Even though he had no pity for the man who "set people on fire, shot people, massacred people," Elburki said he was sorry Gadhafi had been killed.
"I wish they jailed him and put him to justice," he said. "Let everyone tell him how much bad he did . . . and then execute him if they want to. I'm sorry, but he's just a bad person."
Now Elburki is looking to the future - not just making his own plans to return to the country where he was born, but "praying" that his countrymen are able to replace dictatorship with democracy.
"I hope they have a great system," he said. "I hope they have a constitution. That way, we won't have another Gadhafi again. I hope the Libyan people do it right."
But while he can't wait to be reunited with his family and visit the place where he grew up, Elburki said he will return to the United States, where his two sons and a granddaughter were born. He is an artist and carpenter.
"This is my home," he said. "I planted my roots a long time ago, and I want to let them blossom and grow in this nation."
* Ilima Loomis can be reached at email@example.com.