Archive for July, 2011
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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….