Monday, May 20, 2013

The Boyz From Misrata

I'm a huge Anthony Bourdain fan. His new show Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown is about the same format as his older shows on The Travel Channel - he goes, he eats, he talks to locals.

Last night's show on Libya is a must-see.

Libyan hip-hop, Italian restaurants, tribal allegiances and post-war uncertainty in Libya. Bourdain looks at the country through personal stories, food--and the music of anti-Qaddafi rapper expats who returned to fight.

The fountains across from the corniche are working, geysering water into the man-made lake outside the medina walls. Inside the old part of the city, kids are setting off fireworks, and the sharp reports echo through the narrow streets. It's the Prophet Mohammed's birthday tomorrow. Martyrs' Square is filled with families, skater boys, and hotshots on motorcycles. They're doing donuts and popping wheelies between exploding cherry bombs, Roman candles and bottle rockets. The mood is chaotic, exuberant.

If anything, the week I spent in Libya made me appreciate how difficult it must be to report hard news from places like this. The obstacles and the perils are enormous. And I came at it from a place of relative luxury. Unlike the many journalists who've reported for years from Iraq and Afghanistan, nobody is currently shooting in my direction. While Libya may be a "high risk environment," according to the security people, it is not a war zone. Simply put: Compared to the people who work in places like this for a living, my crew and I are pussies.

In Misrata, the site of a major battle in the revolution that overthrew Gadhafi, the young man and one woman who looked after us were, until recently, medical students, garage mechanics, truck drivers, shopkeepers. They'd been turned, in the space of a few months, into battle-hardened fighters and field medics, and they were incredible. They were proud, generous, funny as shit. They enjoy a barbecue by the beach just like you and me. They were welcoming and hospitable, just like the people I've met in Montana and Missouri, only younger and somehow sweeter. Those who fought against Gadhafi -- from whatever city, in whatever group -- seem to know and recognize each other on sight, even if they're total strangers.

If they speak English, they speak it with an American accent, as they've learned from television. They carry pistols and hand grenades and have AK-47s in their cars. When things go bad (as they did around the country a number of times while I was there), they look pained and embarrassed. They would say, heartbreakingly, "We have money. We have oil. We only want security. Peace. We want to be like everybody else. We want to be like Europe." As they're painfully aware, achieving that desire is not going to be smooth or easy. When I asked how long it would take, most shrugged and smiled and said, "Five years." Others, less optimistic, said, "Ten."

I wish them the very, very best.
So do I. I couldn't snag one for embed, but there are videos at the "Libya" link or links to the other episodes at the other link. Go.


Managed to snag this one by a heretofore unimagined back-door route! Hey, whatever works...

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