A column of smoke is rising on the horizon, separated from us by a stretch of the monotonous Libyan desert. We have passed through the vast checkpoints of Ajdabiya and Brega, guarded by groups of heavy machine guns and anti-aircraft guns, mounted onto the back of pick-up trucks. The Libyans seem to have taken lead from technicals that are ubiquitous from images of Somalia.
But my eyes are fixed on this column of smoke. It is fresh. Everyone in the car has their eyes fixed on the skies. That smoke is from a bomb dropped by Qaddafi aircraft, and our lone vehicle seems like a throbbing target, driving down this long, straight road through the desert.
For a week, I have been covering Libya’s revolution from the safety of Benghazi, focusing on the hospital and the stranded migrants for a couple of French publications.
Now the time has come to submit to my intrigue. How would I fare as a war photographer?
The technicals at the rebel position next to the oil refineries of Ras Lanuf surpass anything I have hitherto seen. The place is throbbing with young Libyans, some dressed in army fatigues, others in jeans and a jacket. They are all carrying Kalashnikovs, or other assault rifles presumably pilfered from the army depots since the revolution.
The source of the smoke kilometres is a just ahead, the shell of a pick-up truck, its glass spread over the road. Twenty metres away, rebels climb into the crater caused by the air-strike. A man is shouting, holding the shoe of a young child. A family were apparently in the car when it was hit.
“This is a war crime” shouts a young Libyan reporter, but the more seasoned heads around me start to analyse the situation. The car was not targeted, they postulate, just an unfortunate victim of a strike on what seems a valid target - the many, armed rebels centred here. And really, was this whole family killed as the angered men suggest? We need evidence.
I have a lot to learn. How easy it is to be subsumed by the shouting and emotions that throng. This is it. A few kilometres separate me from the front-line.
The next few days are going to be quite the education.