His hands covered in thick bandages, an eye glassed over and with puss oozing from the peeling skin on his severely burned head, Mohamed el-Mahdi looks the archetypal victim of war. He sits in the general hospital of the Egyptian coastal town of Marsa Matrouh, the flag of the Libyan revolution still pinned to his chest trying to explain his stories through intermittent wheezing.
In the adjacent ward, a Libyan housewife huddles under a thick blanket, recovering from a broken leg caused by the panic that ensued following the advance of Qaddafi troops on Benghazi.
Despite Mohamed’s severe burns, he is adamant that he will tell his story.
He has left his home in Ajdabiya not to seek refuge, but to help those injured in the conflict. Having brought 28 people injured in fighting to the small, understaffed hospital in Ras Lanuf, Mohamed and his colleague heard that more people were stranded. Racing off in a pick-up truck, he found nobody at their reported location.
After turning back and driving back to the shell scarred town, his car was hit by a rocket. “I didn’t know what happened” he says, having passed out in the desert. “They just came from nowhere.”
As Mohamed came around, his car had started to burn and he managed to escape, before passing out again in the sand.
The next time he came-to, he had been hauled into an ambulance, and was suffering from first- and second-degree burns. His colleague had been killed in the attack.
Evacuated to Egypt, he is being treated in Marsa Matrouh, two and a half hours from the Egyptian-Libyan border. But as soon as he can travel, he wants to return to Benghazi, despite the danger. “I want to die with my family”, he says.