VICE Presents: Libya is a WarTorn Country with Serious Problems, and Were Pretty Fucking Cool for Going There

As we speed away from the Benina International Airport in the Libyan city of Benghazi, our cab driver, Ahmed, points out the sites of recent terrorist attacks.  Hint, he's doing a lot of pointing. "The rebels blew up that post office last week and the government retaliated by burning down the hospital," says Ahmed as he calmly blows through a rebel checkpoint. "That's super fucked up," replies Lars, the German ex-pat photojournalist/performance artist that is accompanying me on assignment.

The streets of Benghazi are empty except for the occasional convoy of child soldiers that roll through the city in customized Toyota Land Cruisers. The child rebels blast a bizarre style of ultra-fast Benghazi techno called Urkwar through homemade speakers on their cars. Ahmed explains that the music is popular among young soldiers who are forced to fight in holy wars. "That is both very sad and very cool," says Lars, who is in the back of the cab rolling a fat spliff topped with Moroccan hashish.


When Ahmed arrives at the Al-Wahat hotel in central Benghazi (which one TripAdvisor review calls "far from satisfactory"), I know that things are about to get crazy. The street in front of the hotel is packed with burning cars, one of which is somehow still operational and being driven by a 12-year-old boy. And when we get inside the lobby, we discover that the elevator isn't even working. Lars has to carry his Leica camera gear and 27" iMac up ten flights of stairs because the bellboy lost his arm in a bombing earlier in the day. When we arrive at the room and look out of the window, we find that most of the city is obscured by a thick cloud of black smoke.

As we stare out at the post-apocalyptic landscape, the wind shifts and reveals a human sea of anti-American protestors flowing through the labyrinthine streets of the city below. The smoke that hid them from view before is emanating from the thousands of burning American flags that they carry. I ask Ahmed, who will never be able to return to his family because he let an American ride in his cab, why the people are protesting. He explains that it is not a protest, but is in fact a celebration for a child's birthday. I spot a group of women mercilessly kicking a dog with an Obama mask taped to its face. "This is the happiest you will ever see the Libyan people nowadays," says Ahmed. Lars shakes his head slowly as he rolls another spliff on top of his iPad.


Lars is cleaning his lenses and putting on his keffiyeh when I tell him that I want to wait for the demonstration to die down before leaving the hotel room. "Don't be a pussy," says Lars, "You're a journalist! It's your job to put yourself in dangerous situations so that you can expose the complacent masses to the injustices that are being committed in the third world. Without you, they are BLIND!" As Lars delivers his impassioned monologue he gestures towards the seething mass of rioters outside of our hotel. We both look down in time to see a gang of bearded militants burning a large German flag and tearing the head off of a David Hasslehoff effigy. Lars and I decide to wait for things to calm down before we venture outside.


As the riot continues late into the night, we begin to get bored in our hotel room, which only has four channels.  Lars begins telling me about a traditional Libyan liquor called Gorak, which is made out of fermented camel milk and is rumored to have hallucinogenic properties. We ask Ahmed if he can get us some of this narcotic camel booze and he informs us that, although alcohol is prohibited in Libya, and that he could be killed if he is caught trying to buy Gorak, he might be able to get us some if we really need it. We give him ten dollars and he asks to borrow Lars's iPhone to make a call.


If you want to get alcohol in Benghazi, you have to get in touch with one of the many youth dirt-bike gangs that rule the city's underground. Luckily, Ahmed's son was forced to join one of these gangs when the police stopped protecting his neighborhood from rebel raids. Within minutes, a gang member named Ajeeb is at our door with two bottles of the pungent yellow liquor. We invite Ajeeb in to drink with us and notice that he is wearing a Sex Pistols T-shirt. He explains to us that before the coup he was in a band that was a part of Libya's burgeoning hardcore punk scene. I ask him why he stopped playing music and he tells me that his band had to sell all of their instruments to buy antibiotics to treat shrapnel wounds. Lars gives Ajeed a high five and tells him that Iggy Pop had to do that once.


We stay up late into the night getting tanked on the gross camel liquor and Lars and me get into a heated debate over whether New Order is better than Joy Division. Suddenly, the haunting sound of a grown man's sobs stops our argument. Ahmed, pushed to his breaking point, is weeping in the corner. "You bastards!" he screams, "I will never see my family again because I gave you a ride in my cab. I though you would expose the plight of the Libyan people to the world, but instead you sit around your hotel room getting drunk and speaking of bullshit!" Ahmed resumes weeping and no one speaks for what seems like an eternity.


Then Lars begins chuckling uncontrollably (the gorak is starting to kick in), and says "Ahmed, I'm sorry, but your country is a total shit hole! Its so bad that all I can do is laugh!" Ahmed begins laughing and crying at the same time and pours everyone some more moonshine. As we all get piss-pants drunk, I stare out over a doomed city illuminated by oil well fires and tracer rounds, and imagine how much the hung-over flight back to New York tomorrow is going to suck.