Barcelona- I finally was able to upload this Libya mash-up video I had been working on in NYC from here in Catalunya. For technical reasons beyond my knowledge or control, I was having a devil of a time getting the thing onto Youtube before. I had wanted to get this online before the Friends of Anton benefit event at Christies in Manhattan on May 15. Not that I had anything to do with the event of course, but I was one human degree of separation from Anton Hammerl and I simply thought it would be something nice to do. I’m off to the next conflagration in the shattered Republic of Mali and wanted to get this up beforehand.
This project is obviously not a documentary or scripted television package. These are memories from Libya in total upheaval in 2011. This is my Libya mash-up, dedicated to those photographers that arrived in Libya to tell its story and never made it out. I want to reiterate how grateful I am to the people of both eastern and western Libya. Without their immense hospitality this project would never have been possible. War throws people together in such an odd way who would otherwise likely never have met.
Djerba- I have a photo essay in today’s edition of Asia Times Online on my week spent covering the war in western Libya, arguably the least covered of Libya’s three primary fronts. I was a fascinating time spent amongst a gracious, hearty group of men (there were virtually no women to be seen). In particular I want to thanks Khalid at the Nalut Media Center without whose help I could not have done much of this, and Salah who patiently ran the journo flophouse, whose constant battles to keep the electricity going with that problematic generator will be remembered at least by me. I am grateful for the access the Nalutis afforded me to their under reported side of the Libyan war. It is amazing how cut off one could feel there from the outside world when it was just an hour’s drive from relative normalcy in southeastern Tunisia. The talk of things dramatically tapering off during ramadan does not appear to be the case just a half a day in as Al Jazeera English tweets from a still active frontline.
Qaddafists are still heavily dug in around the town of Tiji and several other places north and east of Ghazaya and Takut. There is much fighting left to do in Libya as Qaddafi still controls much if not most of the Saharan state’s vast territory. One positive (though maybe premature development) I forgot to note the other day was the return of thousands of refugees from Tunisia following the success of the rebels NATO-backed offensive against the GRAD-firing Qaddafists that had previously turned Nalut into a ghost town. When I crossed the border, about 500 cars and trucks filled with women and children, a sight I had quickly become unaccustomed to seeing, were queueing up to cross back into Libya. A couple of men from this massive line helped me get a ride with some oil smugglers all the way to Tatouine for which I am very thankful. That border was the one place in the world where I actually wish there had been a scrum of taxi touts after what seemed like the longest day of my life.
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.
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.
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.
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….
New York- I have become increasingly interested in the gradual opening up of large swaths of western Libya in the peaks and valleys of the Nafusa Mountains. Until recently, this Berber populated area was one of the more under reported parts of the war there. The rebels must be controlling a particular border crossing with Tunisia that I have been looking into as journalists have begun to trickle into the region. The rebels have been making some bit of progress toward Tripoli but there is still a long way to go. The Leader still controls the key Saharan towns of Ghadames and Sebha as well as obviously Tripoli itself and the coastal border with Tunisia. I’m toying with the idea of heading to Nalut, the main town of the Nafusa, which from some of the reports I’m seeing is fairly accessible from the border. Below is a report from Al Jazeera English: