LOUIS ABELMAN

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Quick Security Update

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Since a lot of people seem to be wondering, I just wanted to give an update about our situation. Currently I’m in the hotel where we’ve been staying in Benghazi along with much of the international press. The news for the past few days has been bad for the revolution, which has fallen back from a few key towns and is now defending Ajdabiya, a city that lies at the crossroads of the highway that leads north to Benghazi and east to Tobruk and the Egyptian border. The concern from our standpoint is that Qadaffi’s forces will break through and either attack Benghazi directly, or cut across to Tobruk and seal off our escape route to Egypt. In that case we would need to get on a boat organized to evacuate internationals, not an enticing scenario.

We are obviously closely monitoring the situation and are ready to leave at a moment’s notice. We feel that the efforts we’ve made so far would be lost if we aren’t able to finish a few more things. Despite the sense of crisis, our exit routes are still assured and all we are able to confirm is that Ajdabiya was shelled, but not that it’s been occupied, and there’s no sense that Qadaffi’s troops are advancing past it.

The short of it is, when the bulk of the media agrees to go, we will go; I am not personally interested in sticking around past a point that is sensible. More soon.

Written by louis

March 15th, 2011 at 6:07 pm

Posted in Blog

The Women at Sunday’s Rally

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A brief peek at the women of the revolution, which I shot and edited as a training exercise for one of Alive in Libya’s new trainee correspondents.

Written by louis

March 15th, 2011 at 4:04 pm

Posted in Blog,Videos

First Videos on Alive.in/Libya

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Working on making quick little video clips small enough to upload. Here’s an attempt, during the March for Ali Hassan Al Jaber, the Al Jazeera cameraman who was killed in an ambush by Qadaffi thugs at the gates of Benghazi.

It’s a subtitled version. Find it and more videos at Alive.in/Libya.

Written by louis

March 15th, 2011 at 10:21 am

Posted in Blog,Videos

A Few Photos from Libya

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Written by louis

March 14th, 2011 at 6:50 pm

Posted in Blog,Photos

The Road to Benghazi

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Due to low bandwidth, I’m still perfecting methods to post photos and videos. More to come.

The capital of the Libyan revolution is an unpretentious seaside city, normally a slightly sleepy one. Today it is sleepless and will not sleep until its work is done.

We arrived on Friday afternoon, having driven since dawn from Burg Al Arab along the coastline where the half-built resort complexes thin out until you reach the town of Salloum, nestled in the fold of a ridge that faces out toward the glimmering sea. The end of the line.

Crossing the border was the beginning of an education. Children pounded on our vehicle chanting “Libya!” Masses of refugee migrant workers, Bangladeshis, Nigerians, lost brothers huddled under blankets against the spring cold, lined up behind Red Crescent trucks to receive donations, seeking entry into Egypt. We presented our papers to a harried official in a hall warmed by the heat of 200 sleeping bodies. We weren’t alone; this border is witness to many migrations, and famous faces of the western press queued behind us.

Further on a soldier of the revolution waved the van aside at the first gate flying the Idris tricolor, the flag of free Libya. “Take my picture! Welcome to Libya!” he said, flourishing a v for victory. Through more checkpoints manned by irregulars, each one waving us through with a smile, we stopped for gas. A pickup idled with six somber and thickly bearded fighters rearranging their cargo: stacked crates of mortars and ant-aircraft ammunition stamped with the initials D.P.R.K.– North Korean supplies liberated from Qadaffi.

The Libyan built environment emerged on the desert road, peppered by shepherds and flocks. In Tobruk eastern bloc monotony, desert-style in tan and mint green, showed no traces of the great battle portrayed in WWII films that made the name familiar to me. The total absence of advertising made revolutionary graffiti a draw for the eye on every roadside mechanic’s shop proudly flying the tricolor. As we rounded the Green Hills, we entered a landscape which I am told is the mirror image of the West Bank. It’s spring and the green fields are scattered with goldenrod.

In Benghazi finally, effigies of Qadaffi hang from lampposts. More graffiti. “We Want Democracy, Not Tyranny. Libyans Are Not Terrorists. Game Over Qadaffi.” There is not widespread devastation; just certain specific official buildings burnt– the sites of victories in the days after February 17th, whose names are by now passing into local legend.

On a leafy street, we were welcomed to the home of our contact. Black marble and Empire-style drawing room chairs, chandeliers. Once more preconceptions crumbled. The journey was entering a new phase.

Written by louis

March 13th, 2011 at 11:47 am

Posted in Blog

Two Scenes from Egypt

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I will venture– with all caveats about the extremely short time I’ve been here– that two scenes I’ve witnessed so far typify the new Egypt. Or at least it is my admittedly naive hope that they do.

The first was at 2am last night driving back to the apartment block where we stayed in Alexandria (soundtrack: Britney, “Barbie Girl,” Backstreet Boys). Coming up an underpass, a group of young men stood barring the road, signaling frantically for us to pull over. As we slowed down a teenager brandished a length of chain while he stared me down, as if to bare his fangs. We felt a surge of panic; such a scene never bodes well, and Brian was taken back to his experiences passing roadblocks during the sectarian civil war in Iraq.

Our friend was not concerned at all. “It’s the neighborhood watch. They are here every night since the police were disbanded on January 28th.” The group, which on closer view was a mixed bag of teenagers and middle aged men in street clothes, examined the car from all angles and asked for our identification. I handed over my American passport, which was looked over carefully and quickly handed back. “Welcome to Egypt!” I was told as we drove off, with wide smiles and some shouts of “Obama!”

Second scene. Today while driving to Burg El Arab, a town to the west of Alexandria, we passed a group boys and girls repainting curb markers on the side of the highway. One girl around 14 years old waved the Egyptian flag at everyone that passed. “This is the new Egypt!” our friend said with pride. “We all have to work together to build it now, work work work.”

As a counterpoint to these glimpses of civic engagement, our conversation during a lunch of fish and pickled eggplant with the elders of our friend’s family. These supremely gracious men, 70 and 65 respectively, are worried about living in a country without a leader. “Your youth will lead you!” I said. “Yes, they may,” the English-speaking uncle said, “but perhaps they will lead us to failure. Chaos.”

I couldn’t help but wonder what their pride, as men whose days of action have passed, is telling them about the new national dispensation. There was hopeful talk about the interconnectedness spawned by Facebook and Twitter. The patriarch spoke of a universal association of youth worldwide working for peace, nuclear disarmament, an end to old conflicts. A wistful note hung in the air nevertheless.

Written by louis

March 10th, 2011 at 5:51 pm

Posted in Blog

Alexandria

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After Egyptian customs waved us through after failing to inspect our bags, which overflow with shady satellite uplinks and various spy gear, we were ferried away in several stages by valiant Egyptians who treated us like the MacGuffin, passed from hand to hand with gilded gloves.

Egypt may have the friendliest people in the world, as you may have heard. An Egyptian professor from a northeastern university recounted his recent meeting with Thomas Friedman in Tahrir square as we discussed the work left to be done. An emerging consensus seems to be that elections in September may be premature and that many laws and institutions must be revised before an election will be meaningful.

Two Mohammeds were the relay to Alexandria. We squeezed out of Cairo traffic and shot through the upper Nile delta at speed, vaulting the great river itself with barely a passing glance. Through palm groves and cement manufactures, we discussed duck hunting in the marshes and the rise of the rule of the Youth.

In Alexandria, we arrived in time to see the sun setting over the stormy Mediterranean and the famous Corniche. The other brother of our Egyptian contact in the states took us into his home, served us chickpea consomme with a dab of butter and kicked his wife and children out to give us beds. After a nap I am smoking shisha in a cafe drinking up precious internet, the lack of which already maddens after a mere 24 hours disconnected.

Not sure when I can update again! My love to all.

Written by louis

March 9th, 2011 at 11:04 pm

Posted in Blog

Bound for Egypt

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After a long and restless night that followed a pleasant fare-thee-well in my native land of Brooklyn, I am packed and ready for a two week trip to Egypt with Brian Conley on behalf of Small World News. We are geared up to the gills and champing, positively champing/chomping at the bit to see for ourselves the great and far-ranging changes that have shaken Egypt and which have resounded around the world. The spring of 2011 is sure to be a memorable one.

While we endeavor to support community journalists with technical tips and gadgetry, I’ll be searching for the answer to a question that has bedeviled me since the eruption of revolutionary fervor in Tunisia just a short time ago. Who are these youth that have overturned their long unassailable national authorities? What kind of world do they want to build now?

My love to friends and family. Check Small World News, Brian’s blog, and this space for updates when bandwidth permits.

Written by louis

March 8th, 2011 at 7:19 pm

Posted in Blog

Herat

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Enchanted by the mysteries of Herat, which I toured for a day and a night leaving my eyes filled with the moon, the citadel,  Gohar Shad the builder queen and other jumbled impressions I’ve yet to decipher. [Sorry to be purple but it’s that kind of place.]

Caught a lovely lullaby along the Pul-i-malan (this is probably a slightly off-color song).

Herat: Boy Singing from Louis Abelman on Vimeo.

Written by louis

September 27th, 2010 at 8:26 pm

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Does it Concern You When Your Taxi Driver Watches Sexy Music Videos While Driving

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Afghanistan September 2010. You can see what I’m up to here, as there’s not much time to write.

Written by louis

September 8th, 2010 at 11:01 am

Posted in Blog