by Aya Burweila
On Monday, September 11, 2023, two dams collapsed in the eastern city of Derna, turning the floods caused by Storm Daniel into a tsunami of death for the city’s residents and grief for all of Libya.
My cherished friend and colleague Angela-Moira Mandalios had just gotten married two days before on September 9 to the love of her life, gathering her friends in a beautiful wedding in Athens with people who loved and admired her from all over the world.
Angela was beautiful, radiant and powerful in her simplicity, a cross between the Amazon and Disney princess that she is.
Angela was Greek-Austrian and grew up in Benghazi, Libya where her family was based. She spoke Greek, English, German, and Arabic – the latter in an accent so perfectly native to Benghazi I would always get cognitive dissonance and tickled to hear her speak.
She had the compassion and courage of Greeks, the toughness and humor of Benghazians, and the stoicism and efficiency of Austrians. If you wanted to get something done, and done well, Angela was your girl. Grass never grew green under her feet and if you were around her, you can be assured it didn’t grow under yours either.
Angela loved her friends, her family, horses, and Libya. A pillar of the community, even during Benghazi’s darkest hours, she and her family never abandoned the city and continued to work to help their adopted hometown of Benghazi and its people.
Angela and her family are not only close to my heart and the heart of my family, but to the entire city of Benghazi, to whom she is a beloved daughter. Angela and her family loved Benghazi and Benghazi loved her back. To us, she wasn’t Greek-Austrian, she was a Benghazian.
And so, Angela being Angela, rather than going on a honeymoon like most women would, immediately sprang into action, coordinating aid to send to Libya, reaching out for translators, rescuers, supplies and humanitarian kits.
This was Angela in her element.
Angela is a force of nature, the type of person who sees a problem and gets to work, rallying everything in her power to help the people she loves no matter what. Never taking no for an answer, Angela was always a champion of those who were weak -a lioness. She was a woman who couldn’t be intimidated and if she was, you would never know it.
She was tall, self-possessed, always serious until you cracked a joke in which case her entire face would light up like a kid, quick to smile, responsible beyond her years, trustworthy, loyal and as endlessly kind as she was strong. Angela was always the mother of the group. She was always above the fray. And while she was younger than me, she looked out for me as if she was the older one.
Angela was brave. It was not enough for Angela to be in Athens helping. She wanted to be on the ground. Of course she did. Angela was a front-line kind of woman. She would never ask of others what she wasn’t willing to do herself.
In this world, there are those who actively endanger others, and then there are those who actively endanger themselves just to help their fellow man. Those who go into the eye of the storm with little thought to themselves to help strangers in need.
In short, in this cruel and senseless world, we have heroes.
On Sunday, September 17, Angela arrived in Benghazi. She did not stay in Benghazi, but joined the Greek rescue mission bus to Derna with her brother Phillip Mandalios to help translate. And it was on this road to Derna that we lost two people so deeply embedded in our hearts.
Angela and her brother, and all those who died and got injured on the rescue mission are all heroes and a symbol of what we must all strive to be -even if we fall short.
Angela would not have wanted her friends and loved ones to grieve like this, because Angela could never bear to see anyone, human or animal, suffer. Knowing Angela she would literally say, “I know but what happened, happened.” But all of us who knew her cannot stop crying because we loved her so much and the cruelty of losing such an angel before her time has shattered us to the core.
Libya is a cruel country to love, and Angela loved Libya without fear or reservation. It was this love that led her to the front lines of a danger zone and heroism and that took her from us with so little mercy. Angela is a sister-friend I will never be able to replace and a martyr. I ask everyone to always keep her memory, the story of her life alive and to follow her example. We are all determined to honor Angela and carry on Angela’s work and Angela’s example in Libya no mater what and nothing would have made her happier than seeing everyone love her country as much as she did.
Rest in peace and love Angela, I wish you could see how much you are loved all over the world.