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NOTES FROM A LIBYAN LURKER XII - THE PALACE AND THE PRISON

April 11, 2011, 6:11pm

Today we went to one of the training facilities the rebels have set up on the edge of Benghazi. They gave me an hour of "free time," during which I was able to walk around, take photos, and talk to people. Nobody paid much attention to me.

Some of the kids at the facility were as young as 14. The men in charge didn't want me taking pictures of them. I was assured that they were only there to get an understanding of what might await them, and that they are not headed to the front. I have no idea whether that's true or not. There were also old and out of shape men running around in formation chanting "Allahu Akbar" like Islamic marines. The men were more enthusiastic than the Afghan National Police at Camp Nathan Smith in Kandahar, Afghanistan. They also made the ANP look polished and professional—no small feat.

I skipped breakfast because I think I'll die if I eat another dinner roll with canned tuna. As a result I got light-headed taking photos of Libyans ready to fight for the cause. In an effort to rejuvenate myself I went for cappuccino at Mondo on Venecia Street. They do espresso based-beverages right.

We cruised by Gaddafi’s palace and a few prisons that can be seen from the city. The buildings were ominous. I kept thinking of them as black holes. If you're unlucky enough to find yourself inside of them the chances of coming out again are slim. It was hard to imagine any life there. Those buildings were once the epicenter of fear in Benghazi, and now most of them have been bombed and looted and the grass is out of control. The walls are littered with graffiti, and someone wrote "House for Sale" on the gate outside the palace.

While the ghosts have been burned out and the innocents set free, fear still lingers. Nobody wants their full names quoted. Everyone with family in Tripoli is still worried and hoping for the best.

I ran into the Frenchman from Ra's Lanuf at the hotel. He had been back and forth from the front lines numerous times in the past few days. Well, "front lines" sounds like there is a definitive line. There isn’t. The front is in disarray. Pickups sit idly, and when they get shelled they retreat.

"It's always the same picture," the Frenchman said. I didn't ask him why he keeps going back. We both agreed that we will come back for Tripoli.

PHOTOS AND WORDS BY JEREMY RELPH

Also by Jeremy Relph:

GIMMIE BACK MY BULLETS

ON THE ROAD AGAIN

PRESS CONFERENCES ARE FOR SUCKERS

PICNICKING IN BENGHAZI

FAST TIMES IN BENGHAZI

A FULL RETREAT

BLOOD AND MONOTONY IN AJDABIYA

TAILGATING IN BEN JAWAD

THE PRISONERS

BENGHAZI OR BUST

THE BORDER