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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.
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.