Khalid Saad brought his family to see what all the fuss was about. His three sons, aged 18, 14 and 11, sucked on prickly artichokes as somewhere down the road – not too far away – Libya’s rebel movement probed government positions around the town of Ajdabiya.
“Don’t worry, we just came to have a look,” he said. “Nothing bad will happen insh’Allah.”
This is daily life at the rebel checkpoint about 10 miles up the road from Ajdabiya. Sightseers arrive in taxis and volunteers cram themselves into pick-ups, arriving without weapons to join the fight. Journalists ask one another if they know what’s going on, rebels hand out cartons of juice and there’s a sort of fete-like atmosphere as people run into cousins or old friends from school. Occasionally, there are bangs and pops as people fire their weapons in the air. And everyone has a good laugh.
Then, if you’ve brought the kids, you find an assault rifle and have them pose with it for pictures.
There’s a weird and wonderful assortment of weapons too. Old World War Two Sten guns, shotguns and some home-made efforts are to be found among the all-too-predictable AK-47s.
One old boy, happily passing the time sitting against the boot of car had even adapted a harpoon to fire shotgun cartridges. I made the mistake of getting my camera out to take a shot of his odd, metal contraption at which point he leapt to his feet, screwed the whole thing together and fired it in the air. Thankfully it didn’t explode in his face.
All day dust swirled around the couple of hundred people at the checkpoint. A truck arrived carrying a massive plastic reservoir of diesel. The driver was promptly dragged out of the cab, accused of smuggling fuel to Gaddafi soldiers, and his load was commandeered by the rebels. Everyone cheered.
A few miles further up the road, the rebels launched some exploratory patrols towards Ajdabiya but failed to win any ground. They’ll take it tomorrow, they told me, insh’Allah.