Notes From A Libyan Lurker - Benghazi or Bust
Saturday March 26, 2011
Benghazi, Libya -- My friend, who had worked in Iraq and Afghanistan before coming to Libya, freaked out before we left for Benghazi this morning. His eyes went large and he was irritable--he thought everything was "wrong." He stomped outside to haggle with the drivers who were hanging around out front. The older journalist we are traveling with is patient, and I've been following her lead. We finally secured a ride to Benghazi, and the three of us split up into a convoy that included a pickup, a van full of Libyans, and some Greek guy with a car.
“This would be a great place to kidnap journalists,” my friend said as he walked to the pickup. I hopped in the van full of Libyans.
As we shut the doors to the van I got that old feeling: the slow ride to the top of the roller-coaster, everything clacking as you roll slow motion into the heavens. I closed my eyes and didn't look down.
Khealad, our driver, sprayed air freshener in the vents. He laughed and then sprayed it in his nose. He sprayed it on his hands before wiping it around his mouth. The van had a suicide knob on the steering wheel and our tires squealed around every corner as Khealad laughed and sang Sarkozy's praises.
We flew over a bridge crossing a gorge where we could see all the way out to the sea. We narrowly missed a dog staggering through the street. We drove past balled up dead animals in the middle and on the edges of the road. The dogs here are idiots. They sleep on the hot asphalt.
While en route we learned Ajdabaya fell to the rebels overnight. The older journalist and I dropped our stuff at the next hotel in Benghazi and went straight there. It was late in the day, and the main show had ended a while ago. The city was already cleared of loyalists, as well as the roads stretching out another 40km or so. We followed cars full of families with little girls giving us the "V" (for victory) sign from their trucks. We passed burned out cars and tanks. Men jumped up on them and posed triumphantly with AK47s. The place was like Disneyland for revolution enthusiasts, and with all the dead bodies gone it was beautiful.
A tank burned close to the western gates of Ajdabaya. Uniforms and clothes (including a pair of unsoiled underwear) were scattered about by the burned-out shell and crater where the bomb hit. Someone searched through a jacket left behind and found some kind of drug in one of the pockets. On the drive back, one of the rebels walked in front of a checkpoint holding up a water bong. He claimed it was found when the Gadhaffi loyalists left after six nights of airstrikes.
The amount of celebratory gunfire has become annoying. It hurt my ears. Guys who have no clue how to even hold their weapons were discharging them in ecstasy, and I wanted to point out that those bullets will all return to Earth, and that perhaps they’ll be needed in the future.
As I was thinking about the wasted ammunition, deeper whumps sounded close by. I could feel them in my legs. There were tracers in the sky and it was all a little too much fun.
WORDS AND PHOTOS BY JEREMY RELPH
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