Djerba- Took a break from some seriousness and hired a taxi for the afternoon to find the island’s three Star Wars film locales from the shoot back in 1976. I started out on the island’s west coast road heading south from Houmet Souk, the main town. On the seaside, I found a mosque complex called Sidi Jibour that was being cleaned up and whitewashed by local men as I arrived. It is briefly used as a far away exterior for Mos Eisely spaceport in A New Hope but super fans will not it better at the setting for the deleted scene at Toshi/Tosche Station (which can be seen on 0:15 in this Youtube video) where young Luke meets the pilot Biggs Darklighter-which should be included in the long awaited, upcoming Blu Ray complete saga release in September.
Mos Eisley/Toshi Station. Stunning setting on the sea. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood
Next up, a bit further down the Djerban coast was a tiny little structure know on Star Wars fan sites at Ben’s Hermitage (Obi Wan Kenobi’s house). It is in the movie very briefly as a Landspeeder zooms up out front. People here seem to have no notion of what Star Wars is or was. When I arrived at this locale, a group of hijab-clad women were having a pre-ramadan picnic on the front stoop when I come bounding out of the taxi talking about the importance of the place to Star Wars fans. When I finishing taking my pics, which they were sure to step out of, one of them called out to me, “good luck with your movie!” I shouted a ramadan mubarak back and hopped back in the cab.
Not exactly a Landspeeder out front, but nonetheless it's probably been there since 1976. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood
Following the 2nd discovery, it was further down toward the port of Ajim to scour for the exterior of the infamous Mos Eisley Cantina where Luke and Ben rendezvous with Han. Of course I left the hotel forgetting the memorize the French language title (it’s La guerre des étoiles) and the driver and I were asking all sorts of people, men mostly, where the place was. Of course it didn’t help that halfway through the trip I realized the driver didn’t seem to have actually seen the film himself so his frame of reference was nil. He was getting tired of our little goose chase when I insisted we keep driving around a few back streets near the center of Ajim and voila! I saw what I was sure was it and jumped out asking a local man seated across the street if this was the place and sure enough, it was. It can be seen at 2:07 in this Youtube video.
"You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy." Exterior of Mos Eisley Cantina, centre ville de Ajim. ©2011 some nice Tunisian guy
Libya's western rebels launch a full-scale offensive against Qaddafist troops in coordination with long-awaited NATO air strikes in Libya's Jebel Nafusa mountain range along the Tunisian border. The rebels 'liberated' several key towns in the plains below their mountain stronghold which had been the base for weeks of menacing artillery from Qaddafists on civilian areas under rebel control. Here a Soviet era T-60 tank goes on the offensive. I wished I'd had time to eat breakfast. Serious go time! ©2011 Derek Henry Flood
Nalut/Djerba- Well yesterday’s long promised rebel/NATO offensive against the nearby Qaddafists finally got underway and it was hell upon earth. The morning started out in a deadly quiet, still fog that obscured the Q controlled towns down on the plains below Nalut. Within hours it was like a baking hot Stalingrad. I have never heard nor encountered so much artillery in nearly a decade of war coverage. My driver and I visited a martyr’s graveyard in the middle of it all as I needed to make a diverse array of images for an upcoming photo essay when WHAM!!!, Grads starting falling in Nalut’s deserted center. I’ll have to save some of the juicier stuff for articles but what I can say is that I have experienced something like this since Takhar and Kunduz (remember the ‘Daisy Cutters’?) in November 2001. At one point we literally fled the town as rockets rained down, though plenty of aged Amazigh men seemed unfazed as they crouched in the shade, playing the odds, with nowhere to really go and the rest of their families in Tunisian refuge. We in the Nafusa had no clue about the death of Abdel Fattah Younes…and perhaps that was a good thing.
This tank is old enough to be a museum piece...if only it were in better condition. Love the smell of diesel in the morning. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood
Here sits a rebel graveyard for those killed in recent fighting. Even in death there was no peace for these souls as rockets rained down on Nalut. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood
A group of Arab rebels from the town of Zintan prepares to join the fight. Takbir! they yelled. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood
"Yep, that's right. We took Takut!" Rebels relax in the shade after taking a Qaddafist controlled town (with a little help from their NATO friends if you can dig it). ©2011 Derek Henry Flood
Rebels posing in front of a sign that reads "Free Kikla" (another nearby town that is under rebel control). Thanks for the wrong/out dated info guys! ©2011 Derek Henry Flood
Rebel army recruits drill in downtown Zintan. The war in western Libya risks a stalemate as rebels frustration with lack of NATO action in the region grows. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood
Qwaleesh- Spent a strange, somewhat hostile day in Zintan yesterday trying for hours to get this permission paper that you now need as a journo in order to go forward through the main checkpoint to the front. Finally got the damn paper and it turned out to almost be a death sentence. Got some disastrously bad intel from the shabaab checkpoint outside of town and got caught in a hail of high velocity sniper rounds that, cliché as it sounds, came out of nowhere. I crammed all 6’3″ of myself onto the floor of the Toyota Hilux and Adal, this really nice Naluti driver who had been living in Manchester until the revolution/war started floored it and we got the hell out there, horn blaring through said shabaab checkpoint. We blasted down the road all the way to Jadu where we managed to get some drinks and biscuits. If that was not enough we had to run the Grad gauntlet back to Nalut after dark when the volleys of poorly aimed Russian artillery start every night.
This is Adal. If you come to Nalut, hire this guy! He's the best. Nerves of steel he has. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood
This ain't your junior high's hall pass! You need this in order to get out of Zintan and into sniper alley. And it takes hours to get it. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood
Nalut- I have a new commentary available on the Jamestown site on my observations here in western Libya’s war.
An ageing Soviet tank is ensonced near a rebel position on an outcropping on the outskirts of Nalut where it is aimed at a Qaddafist camp in the desert below. The Nalut-based rebels say they are under armed and under funded and must save their munitions until they absolutely must be used to defend the city. The tanks they have have been tagged with the letter N to let NATO warplanes know they are pro-NATO rebel vehicles so as not to accidentally target them. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood
Nalut- Last night a cool wind came sweeping up from the Sahara and brought the temperature here in the western Jebel Nafusa way down. It also was a miraculous night to observe the brilliant cosmos above. Nalut really wasn’t such a bad place it seemed for the first moment. With the power out in town, the lack of light pollution brought out the sky’s qualities that rest deep in one’s imagination. Then the Grad rockets started coming. Thump….thump….thump! The windows of the journo flophouse began to steadily shake. One moment I’m watching an episode from the 22nd season of the Simpsons on my ipod relishing in the forgiving night air for one, the next I’m running around the courtyard in boxers and flip flops trying to figure out what the hell is going on. Just when I was starting to get comfortable. Damn Qaddafi…The Brotherly Leaderly Guide or whatever the hell he calls himself these days is more than just a ranting kook. He is embodying the worst qualities of an African or Arab dictator with lots of cash and weapons. His army which I suppose is teetering somewhere between state and non-state actor as a number of world powers have effectively de-listed his government as they have recognized the TNC.
So I went back to bed. And then the Grad shells came ‘hailing’ down through the gorgeous night sky once again. And again. When the last of the explosions stopped around 8am, I walked out of the flophouse with all my gear only to see that the whole town, well the men of fighting age who have stayed behind, were all huddling outside as if scurrying from the tremors of an earthquake. Hundreds of them lining the winding roads of this forsaken little place. Should I stay or should I go? Well I’ll see what happens tonight I suppose. Most journos blaze past this town looking for some frontline glory perhaps, or the so-called ‘meat of the story’ but if you turn over a few rocks, there is actually a hell of a lot going on here and if bravado is your angle well it has a healthy dose of danger as well. All sorts of interesting machinations with Qataris, Emiratis, rumors beyond Tunisian acquiescence to outright involvement etc. But not a scene one should or can get to relaxed in.
An Amazight fighter truck speeds towards the Wazin border post. Whizzing techincals are about 1/3 of the traffic on a day like today. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood
Nalut- It’s hot as Hades here today but then where is it not that hot? Wilting from the temperatures with the local Nalutis, I am putting up a few snaps from my Blackberry to kill some time and illustrate part of my world. Welcome…
The first sign of Libya while heading southeast toward the Dahiba border was this road sign where the driver happened to stop to get some engine oil. Note that Nalut is spelled "Nalout" in Franco-Arabic Tunisia. I feed off of all those little sorts of nuances in this workaday world. Also note my Blu Buster faux Blu Blockers that I got hosed on on Ebay. NBC's Richard Engel once decried my sun shielding lenses in Afghanistan; asking "Are you a hipster?", I hope he doesn't catch me rocking the bogus Blu Busters! Oh the humanity! ©2011 Derek Henry Flood
One of the first things I noticed when I arrived in Nalut the other day was the glaring absence of Omar al-Mukhtar, the Cyrenaican martyr-hero ubiquitous in Benghazi. This is a visage of Khalifa ben Askar, Nalut's Amazigh martyr-hero who, like al-Muktar, was executed by the Italian colonial regime. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood
This is where I am spending the day/who is so generously hosting me. The rebels took over the nicest building in town, once part of some ill-fated Seif al-Islam project, and turned into their media operations center with an Italian satellite internet link. Generous portions of rice, couscous, macaroni et al are served daily to hungry revolutionaries and starving journos like myself. It is an oasis of cooled communications in a sea of heat and dust. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood
Now this to me was fascinating as I like to analyze everything. The Amazigh national flag, then the Emirati flag, followed by Tunisia, Qatar, and finally the Benghazi/Sanussi tricolor. Quite in contrast to the flags in Benghazi. This fight appears very localized in terms of its physical symbolism. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood
Berber rebels keep watch on Qaddafist forces on the plain below Nalut in the Jebel Nafusa mountain range. They watch for Russian made Grad rocket attacks which intermittently strike Nalut an hour's drive the Tunisian border. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood
Nalut- Spent a very quiet day working in the rebel media center after a long day yesterday. Nalut is a hot, dusty, empty town but in some odd way I feel rather comfortable here. My Amazigh (Berber) hosts are incredibly friendly, supplying spicy spaghetti, spicy couscous, and spicy whatever they can find to cook up. The town is not anywhere nearly as secure as I would have like to have believed. It, and the nearby border with Tunisia, still come under infrequent attack leaving the town vulnerable. I’m sleeping in an abandoned compound that served some kind of purpose under the regime, I still have yet to quite figure out what. Many of the rooms have a hodgepodge of bedding and office furniture.
Today's edition of Asia Times Online reproduced my Terrorism Monitor from last week's edition.
This morning the water cut out. I wet my head with some residual water in the kitchen sink faucet and walked out into the baking midday sun. Walking halfway into town, a fatigue-clad fighter in a beat up pickup refused to let me walk and drove me the short, blustery rest of the way into town. This place was a hive of activity yesterday with the new Minister of Defense, Jalal al-Digheily, along with a Qatari ally, dropping into Nalut for a visit. Today, being Friday, Islam’s Sunday for lack of a better term, and temperatures soaring, was extremely quiet. A good day to work away and somehow ending up in winding conversations talking about other war zones than the one we’re actually in. Strange how the world works that way. Sitting in an all male, all news, all the time environment. Allahu akbar’s quietly hum over the rebel communication radios as Al Jazeera blasts away in the background. Nalut is a ghost town that feels sort of safe now that I’ve been here for a couple days but I could likely be luring myself into delusions of safety where none exists. There are no women or children here. They’re all in Tunisia in relative safety while the western part of Jebel Nafusa swelters and twitches.
Jalal al Digheily, the Libyan rebel Transitional National Council's new Defense Minister of the united rebel command, visits Nalut--one of the key towns in the Jebel Nafusa mountain range. He was flown in from Benghazi with permission from NATO as it otherwise enforces a no fly zone. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood
Nalut- Made it from Djerba all the way to Nalut. One long hot day down the coast and into the Sahara. Incredible Berber hospitality here. Lots of questions though. Not quite as stable as I would have hoped or thought. Needless to say gorgeous, vast scenery. Not too far from where George Lucas filmed Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark once upon a time. Stay tuned or follow me on Twitter at: @DerekHenryFlood….