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Libya

Leaving Libya

  Leaving Libya 

 Today I will leave Libya. I will leave behind the revolution, for a couple of weeks of working in an office in Nairobi. I feel like I am letting people down here, the Libyans who have helped me, and befriended me along the way. Leaving the story that has defined the last two months of my life. 

 Sixteen hours of driving through desolate desert awaits me. I will arrive in Cairo, and from there I will board a plane back to East Africa, leaving behind the “Arab Spring”. I hope to come back. I feel an affinity to the region, and have done so long before Mohamed Bouazizi immolated himself in Tunisia, sparking off a chain of revolutions that will mark history. 

 It has been exhilarating. It has been tragic. It has been painful. But I feel privileged to have witnessed a small part of it, and have played my own small part in relaying it to the rest of the world. 

 And I have had the luck to have met some incredible people along the way. So thank you to the new friends, and to the unknown rebels who helped me along the way, and to the editors who gave me the opportunity to work here.

Leaving Libya

Today I will leave Libya. I will leave behind the revolution, for a couple of weeks of working in an office in Nairobi. I feel like I am letting people down here, the Libyans who have helped me, and befriended me along the way. Leaving the story that has defined the last two months of my life.

Sixteen hours of driving through desolate desert awaits me. I will arrive in Cairo, and from there I will board a plane back to East Africa, leaving behind the “Arab Spring”. I hope to come back. I feel an affinity to the region, and have done so long before Mohamed Bouazizi immolated himself in Tunisia, sparking off a chain of revolutions that will mark history.

It has been exhilarating. It has been tragic. It has been painful. But I feel privileged to have witnessed a small part of it, and have played my own small part in relaying it to the rest of the world.

And I have had the luck to have met some incredible people along the way. So thank you to the new friends, and to the unknown rebels who helped me along the way, and to the editors who gave me the opportunity to work here.

Two photographers died here today

  Two photographers died here today 

 I had first met Tim Hetherington in Ajdabiya, nine days previously. An incredibly respected photographer, that day in the desert he was affable and personable. He was set apart from the other photographers that day, who were there for “the news”; he was doing his own thing, and doing it well. 

 In Misrata that day, he was a league apart. As we rushed into a burning building,  bullets hitting the wall behind me , unbeknownst to me, Tim was already a floor ahead. 

 As I ran out of the building with the scattering rebels into the street, I caught sight of Tim climbing out of a a shell hole in the wall of the first floor. He was at the front. 

 I had already committed to leaving Misrata that day, and so this day I clocked off early from the action. It was as I reached the port that I got word that a photographer had been killed in mortar fire in the city, and that photographer was Tim. 

 Chris Hondros was admitted to the hospital with a severe head wound at the same time. “He is alive, but he will die” a hysterical voice crackled over the satellite phone. As the boat was ready to sail that night, he passed away. 

 The head of mission from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) did a laudable job in holding the boat, ensuring that their bodies could make the first leg of a very difficult journey of repatriation. 

 Probably the two most experienced photographers in Misrata were killed that day, setting in motion a large amount of soul-searching amid the international journalistic community. For me, in the immediacy of it all, I was questioning whether I could do this again. Having been with those guys less than three hours previously, questions of “what if” ran through my head, and rather selfishly, “that could have been me”. 

 It was a solemn sail onboard the ship charted by IOM that night, carrying Tim & Chris’ bodies back to Benghazi, along with over a thousand people, stranded and injured in Misrata. 

 To those who knew Chris and Tim, and to their family, my sincerest condolences. But from what I witnessed that day, and from what I known of them, they were pursuing what impassioned them. They were at the forefront of it all, and at the top of their game.

Two photographers died here today

I had first met Tim Hetherington in Ajdabiya, nine days previously. An incredibly respected photographer, that day in the desert he was affable and personable. He was set apart from the other photographers that day, who were there for “the news”; he was doing his own thing, and doing it well.

In Misrata that day, he was a league apart. As we rushed into a burning building, bullets hitting the wall behind me, unbeknownst to me, Tim was already a floor ahead.

As I ran out of the building with the scattering rebels into the street, I caught sight of Tim climbing out of a a shell hole in the wall of the first floor. He was at the front.

I had already committed to leaving Misrata that day, and so this day I clocked off early from the action. It was as I reached the port that I got word that a photographer had been killed in mortar fire in the city, and that photographer was Tim.

Chris Hondros was admitted to the hospital with a severe head wound at the same time. “He is alive, but he will die” a hysterical voice crackled over the satellite phone. As the boat was ready to sail that night, he passed away.

The head of mission from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) did a laudable job in holding the boat, ensuring that their bodies could make the first leg of a very difficult journey of repatriation.

Probably the two most experienced photographers in Misrata were killed that day, setting in motion a large amount of soul-searching amid the international journalistic community. For me, in the immediacy of it all, I was questioning whether I could do this again. Having been with those guys less than three hours previously, questions of “what if” ran through my head, and rather selfishly, “that could have been me”.

It was a solemn sail onboard the ship charted by IOM that night, carrying Tim & Chris’ bodies back to Benghazi, along with over a thousand people, stranded and injured in Misrata.

To those who knew Chris and Tim, and to their family, my sincerest condolences. But from what I witnessed that day, and from what I known of them, they were pursuing what impassioned them. They were at the forefront of it all, and at the top of their game.

Getting Closer, Pushing Luck

There had been explosions and heavy gunfire throughout the night, and it seemed to be getting closer. I was exhausted after a week here in this war-zone, but I was not ready to leave. But I had work to finish in Nairobi; a boat was coming today, and I would have to leave on-board.

Part of me was glad that I would be leaving, despite feelings of “letting down” some of the people I had met here. I had been pushing my luck here. I had been to the front line almost every day, I had no flak jacket nor helmet, and I was pushing myself further each time.

As I packed up, ready to move to the port, I was told of heavy fighting around the bridge on Tripoli Street. The rebels had made large advances. I wanted more images. But “just one more time” was never the thing to say.

I was happy with several of my images from Misrata, but they lacked something. Robert Capa’s famous advice rang through my head:

“If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough”

When I arrived at Tripoli Street, groups of rebels stood around, their sights trained on one building. They had pummelled the building, and were moving in to clear it. And I followed. “Get closer.”

On the staircase inside, a fire was blazing from a rocket propelled grenade. As rebels pushed through it, a shot rang out over my shoulder. I felt the plaster from the wall behind me hit me in the back. It wasn’t until several hours later that it struck me how close I was to being shot.

Running back down the staircase, a rebel looked panicked as he pointed his rifle at a doorway. As everybody spilled out onto the streets, shots rang out from inside the building. A wounded rebel was dragged out, put in the back of a pick-up and sped off to hospital. Moments later, everybody was running for cover as bullets sprayed at our feet.

At times, I envied the text reporters. I had worked with a couple throughout the week, and as the battles erupted, they would take cover in a doorway as the gunfire cracked through the streets. They could describe the situation from the relative safety of a concealed arch. I felt the need to edge closer, to fill my frame, to try and capture these moments. But it also afforded me a greater intimacy with the fighters, standing there with them, running with them. The envy was short lived.

Today, though, I have taken too many risks. Today was crazy. Today was stupid. Today was close.

God and Muammar and Libya

  “God and Muammar [Qaddafi] and Libya, and that’s all” 

 Graffiti scrawled on the wall of a building in Misrata just captured by rebel fighters from Qaddafi troops.

“God and Muammar [Qaddafi] and Libya, and that’s all”

Graffiti scrawled on the wall of a building in Misrata just captured by rebel fighters from Qaddafi troops.

The atrocities of war

I have never seen so many injured, so much blood, and so many dead. Misrata was a killing field. Based at a hospital in Misrata, when out of the front-line I was still surrounded by it all.

I felt helpless, useless even. Medics rushed around as porters dragged in more of the injured and the dying. Wounds were cleaned, drips were inserted, and doctors tried in vain to resuscitate a man. And all I could do was stand there, taking pictures.

The Libyans I have met have been almost universally grateful that we, the foreign press, were there. They thanked us, telling us that we were risking our lives for their struggle. But we had the choice to be there. We could leave, we could jump on the next boat out. But this was their city, and their lives. They had been suffering this for weeks, and the situation showed no sign of changing in the weeks to come.

In Benghazi, graffiti praised Al-Jazeera, CNN, the BBC, for internationalising their struggle, for coming to their aid and telling the world what was happening. But here in Misrata, as body parts hung from shredded limbs, as blood poured from lethal head-wounds, documenting all this seemed superfluous to me at times. There was so much suffering. And people would ask “where are Nato, what are they doing?” And I had no answer for them.