LOUIS ABELMAN

First Aid Training, Benghazi

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I visited the Libyan International Medical University to see what preparations are being made to face the impact of attacks on Benghazi. A young doctor showed me a free first aid training program and shared some thoughts about Libya’s situation. Video

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March 17th, 2011 at 5:07 pm

Posted in Videos

What We’re Doing: Bootstrapping Alive in Libya

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[Cross-posted at Small World News]

Since March 11, Small World News has been in Benghazi, Libya, with a generous grant from Access getting Alive.in/Libya off the ground. We’ve been training a team of citizen video journalists recruited among local youth. In a short week, we led participants through the basics of video production and overcame the technological limitations (very low bandwidth) imposed by Libya’s current crisis to open a citizen-sourced channel of communication to the international community that we hope will only widen in the days to come.

A primary motivation for our journey here was an intense curiosity about the nature of the young people who are remaking the face of the Middle East under a banner of the universal values of freedom, dignity, and self-determination. What we were hearing seemed too good to be true. And yet, from the experience that we have had here so far, it seems to be a reality.

In our travels to countries afflicted by violent conflict we have always been able to meet good friends who defy the strange and noxious preconceptions we seem to carry about the people who live in the “dangerous” places of the world. Libya has been no exception. Our partners are doctors, engineers, teachers, retail workers and computer technicians whose lives have changed radically in a few short weeks. The uprising has been an unprecedented social transformation.

The civic spirit unleashed by the February 17th revolution has been humbling to witness. The spontaneity of the uprising coupled with subsequent self-organizing efforts has restored to many a sense of ownership of their own country. It has released a long frustrated desire among ordinary citizens to correct the impressions that they fear are widely held about them, which derive from their long association with the rule of Muammar Qadaffi. What many express is the desire to now show what they consider to be their true face to the world. They play the bass, appreciate modern Italian design, and watch the latest films over hacked Chinese satellite streams; they don’t live in desert tents, ride camels, or belong to Al Qaeda.

Our aim was to facilitate this desire for self-expression by organizing a production team; training in the use of inexpensive, lightweight, and versatile media tools; developing an effective method for uploading content given local conditions; and building a platform on the web and its social media arms for publishing internationally.

Despite the Benghazi-based opposition authorities representing a radically more open system and promising further reforms, it’s been a tricky situation to negotiate given widespread suspicions about secret regime agents and saboteurs. The most powerful motivation to overcome what’s been a difficult situation has been the kindness, enthusiasm, and potential of the friends we’ve made. No matter what happens next, that alone makes this worthwhile.

Written by louis

March 17th, 2011 at 12:34 pm

Posted in Blog

Security Update 3.16

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Since the last update, there have been many incidents, rumors, waves of paranoia, dread, elation, and other drops on the emotional roller coaster. What there have not been, either from the international press, the Revolutionary authorities, or the Qadaffi regime, are many hard and verifiable facts.

From my position, much of what is being reported is worded in a fashion that is either misleading or overblown.

I can mention as some bit of reassurance that all the professional security consultants that are within our reach do not seem concerned at all that Benghazi will fall to Qadaffi, for 36 hours at the very least (and that was a worst case scenario). Benghazi is safe, for now. It is neither “under siege” or about to be, by all eyewitness reports that I have heard today.

I believe that our exit is quite close at hand, however, as we are fast approaching the threshold of sensible cost/benefit analysis that I set for myself mentally. What’s difficult is that at the very moment when Brian has pulled a team together and they are starting to fire on all cylinders, I am pulling him to leave. The young men and women on the team are just starting to put out some amazing material. And since the pool of global media is smaller on the ground, opportunities for us are growing.

That said, I reaffirm that our ride into Egypt is on call 24 hours and we are ready to go.

Written by louis

March 16th, 2011 at 8:08 pm

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Girl Scouts in the Line of Fire

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From today: A Benghazi Girl Scout speaks. Girl Scouts of America, do you hear this?

Written by louis

March 15th, 2011 at 6:14 pm

Posted in Blog,Videos

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

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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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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

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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