Note: Sorry about the lack of images. I have a ton of video that I’ve been taking in lieu of taking pictures which take a lot longer to sift through and edit. I will have some more concrete visually representations of what things are like soon.
Needless to say the scenery of the city has changed over the last few years. I’ve seen enough of it now from the passenger seat between the traffic jams and night trips to coffee shops. I’ve had plenty of opportunities to go on tours with family members as well. Gasoline is criminally cheap here, something like $5 to fill a whole tank, and even though there are occasional shortages and long lines at the pump, cruising around remains a favorite pastime for many. There is something like one car for every two people in Tripoli, and this is extremely evident during rush hour as cars and trucks pile three vehicles into two lanes and the most aggressive driver is the winner. This is helped in no small part by the lack of organized transportation infrastructure as the roads remain too small to support the number of vehicles and there is a distinct absence of convenient places to park forcing people to improvise by parking anywhere from the sidewalk to the median, even blocking the passage of other cars as I learned on my arrival to the country, and there is no viable alternative transportation besides an inconsistent micro-bus system. At night the crowded roads are populated by motorcycles, dirt-bikes and 4 wheelers all showing off riding on their back tires between traffic seemingly begging to recreate their favorite scenes from Fast and Furious.
The thing that stands out on a leisurely drive, besides the trash being burned in the street or the perilous behavior of other vehicles, are the huge number and variety of expressions of national pride. Nearly every home and shop has the black green and red banner that predates the Gaddaffi regime decorating it somehow. Every wall is covered with revolutionary slogans like “Game Over Gaddaffi,” “Libya is Free,” and the occasional “Allahu Akbar” in mixed English and Arabic. The street art across the city is very prominent and all shares the common theme of the revolution. Whatever shape the Libyan flag can conceivably have it does, whether its a swooping hawk, a tree growing in the sand, or Libya itself producing a fist with which to KO a depiction of the former despot. The crumbling walls of the former compound sport dozens of murals depicting the revolution, reminiscent of what’s left of the wall in Berlin where a variety of artists left peaceful messages in the wake of its destruction. Images of Omar Mukhtar, a famous Libyan patriot whose fight against Mussolini and the fascist occupiers of Libya has become the stuff of legends, gaze wisely from beneath a shawl made of the Revolutionary flag. Beautiful birds burst from the concrete in magnificent color. Caricatures of Gaddaffi and his family are everywhere, depicting him as the fool king that he was, often on the receiving end of a swift kick in the ass or standing beneath the shadow of a noose. Some of the less friendly graphics imply a penchant for intimate relations with farm animals.
NATO didn’t leave much of his former palace behind. Structures half turned to rubble still stand stubbornly like a mountain jaggedly piercing the surface of a sea of garbage and sand. The people have turned the symbol of his regime into what its always really been: a dump. Bottles, boxes, plastic bags, discarded appliances, cans, the rusted frames of cars and torn rags litter the grounds and stand in piles outside the less aesthetic sections of its walls. Where ominous towers once stood manned by armed guards in white uniforms there is only sky now. The guards are instead now concentrated along the road between the Rixos hotel and Congressional building lounging on useless but intimidating antiaircraft guns fixed to the back of trucks, petting their cruel black rifles as if they would lash out if not kept in check by their bored young masters. In a country with with high unemployment and safety concerns, security is a lucrative career choice for the disenfranchised amateur veterans of civil war. Surrounding the wreckage and truthfully throughout the city, buildings display evidence of the revolution. A demolished guard headquarters stands a midst the bustling shops. Some of the piles of rock were clearly pinpointed by NATO rockets and hellfire. The broken concrete slowly turning to dust with age on the sidewalk still has its metal frame uncoiling from between the cracks like an iron blood vessel. Others sport dozens of bullet holes like eerie scars. Some homes are left empty, abandoned by loyalists, immigrants, or those just afraid for their lives.
Closer to the city’s center familiar monoliths pollute the skyline. Unfinished skyscrapers stand hollow, made to look old before they are even new. A country at war does not make for a good investment and so they have been largely untouched since the last time i saw them. What were previously projects to boast about are now nothing more than eyesores, the former pipe dreams of an old and pitiful man and paid for with special favors and the black blood of the earth. Billboards making empty promises still stand erect outside the abandoned frame of a six star hotel, made a ghost before it was born, an unfinished ruin in the city’s center. Surrounding the phantoms of Gaddaffi’s vision for the future are the hordes of cranes left to sway in the wind as they tower over the tourist attractions they were supposed to build. Now the cranes are left erected all over the city, like Wellsian behemoths that face the slow death of rust and disuse rather than alien disease, becoming as much a part of the landscape over the years as the other symbols of the regime they replaced, only waiting for some masters and their money to return. They may be up there for awhile.
What is absurd to me barely seems to register with my cousins, uncles or aunts or whoever is driving me at the time (I’m far too nervous to brave the traffic myself). A personal vehicle is the primary mode of transportation, and people pass these reminders daily. Among the sites condemned by bombs or the vacant constructs, the bored soldiers and reproducing heaps of trash, those reminders of what they have, are the proud flags waving diligently in the wind from every conceivable post and the graphic celebrations of vivid paint filling the empty places with fresh life coupled with doodled phrases both crude and inspiring, expressions from the heart left as reminders of what was earned.