Kahului resident Bejo Ali Elburki literally gets goosebumps thinking about his upcoming trip home to Libya - the land he fled as a teenager in 1979 and hasn't seen since.
"It gives me goosebumps just thinking about it," Elburki, 54, says as a visible shiver runs down his arms. "I'm going to the country where I was born, but it's the unknown. It's just been so long."
The Libyan-American has been planning a visit home for himself and his older brother, Ahmed, since the fall of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, who was captured and killed in October.
Kahului resident and Libyan exile Bejo Ali Elburki is planning a trip to his home country for himself and his older brother, Ahmed. The brothers have not been back to Libya in more than three decades. Elburki hosted a small fundraiser Sunday at the Hawaiian Canoe Club in Hoaloha Park to help raise money for the trip.
The Maui News / NANEA KALANI photo
"I thought my time would come before his time," Elburki said of Gadhafi's death. "I want to see it one more time. I never thought I'd see it. I thought the day would never come."
"To see Libya liberated - that was the greatest feeling," he says with a big smile.
Elburki grew up in Benghazi and went into exile to the United States in 1979 because his family name put him at risk in Libya. He shares the same last name as Ahmed, who opposed Gadhafi's regime.
"He fled Gadhafi in 1976 as one of the first oppositions," Elburki said of his brother. "He needs to go back home. He always thinks something's after him."
Elburki said Ahmed had been working on crab fishing boats in Alaska, Saipan and Hawaii before making the islands his home in the early 1990s.
Elburki had been living in Texas and in the Midwest before moving to Maui four years ago to care for Ahmed, who he said is ill.
The brothers have lost their mother, two brothers and a sister since their exile to the U.S.
Still, Elburki says he wants to make the most of his trip home, where he has more than 100 immediate family members, including nieces and nephews he's never met.
"I want to see all the places I went to as a kid. . . . Go camping, see the house I was born in, see how everything has changed," he said.
He also wants to be a positive influence for his family and friends.
"I'm really pumped up. I want to go and be an advocate and make people aware that it's nice to have a democracy," he said. But at the same time, he knows he has to be cautious because of the lingering unrest in his home country.
"Libya has been closed off for so long because of the way Gadhafi ran the country," Elburki said. "I'd like to open it."
He envisions being able to share Hawaii with his home country, including his passion for canoe paddling. He paddles recreationally as a member of the Hawaiian Canoe Club in Kahului.
"The weather is just like this in Libya. Identical," he said. "I want to introduce them to canoes and surfing. I want to show the Libyan people how to plant things like papayas."
Elburki hopes to leave in early September and stay for about three weeks before returning to Maui.
"My home is the United States, and Hawaii is number one," he said.
Getting there won't be cheap.
Elburki estimates it will cost between $1,800 and $2,000 each way for him and Ahmed to fly the more than 8,000 miles to Libya.
"It's one-third of the world from here," he said.
Elburki organized a small fundraiser Sunday to help raise money for the trip. He prepared a spread of Mediterranean food - including roasted lamb, Greek salad, hummus, falafel and pita bread - for the event.
Elburki works part-time building custom furniture out of scrap wood, helping with home repairs and making sea-glass sculptures.
He also is an English student at the University of Hawaii Maui College and is considering enrolling in the school's three-year degree program for Sustainable Construction Technology.
He hopes to build a name for himself with his carpentry skills and do more creative work with his hands.
"In the future, I'd like to perhaps keep doing what I'm doing, creating original pieces," he said. "Maybe even serve food several times a week to Maui's people because they deserve good ingredients and food made with love."
Some day, Elburki plans to write a biography.
"I would like to write my life story. A kid who came from Libya - speaking no English, being brave and coming to a new place and teaching myself to survive," he said. "It wasn't all easy, but it was fun. It's been an interesting journey."
Anyone interested in assisting the brothers with their upcoming trip can contact Elburki at 633-0250.
* Nanea Kalani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.