Walking down Tripoli Street in Misrata and you can see the scars of Libya’s war everywhere.
Wrecked shells of buildings compete with burned-out tank wrecks for your attention. On Tripoli Street everything is magnified. It’s like someone decided all of Libya’s problems should be encapsulated in a one kilometer-long stretch.
And what a kilometer-long strip it is: bullet holes pockmark everything and artillery rounds have punched through entire buildings.
(It’s a bit odd to look into a building and see straight out the other side through a shell hole.)
At one end of the street stands a grand building. Marble steps lead up to a palatial entrance and chandeliers hang from its vaulted ceilings.
At least that’s what used to be there. Now, the steps are battle bruised and the inside of the building is a husk. A solitary chandelier hangs by a thread, gently swaying. As the light catches it, it looks like a ghost of a bygone age which, of course, is exactly what it is.
The ravaged building, known to locals as the “People’s Place”, is a Muammar Gaddafi-era testament to the dictator’s power and might. In the past, it was a sort of community hall, where the strongman’s stooges controlled the city before the revolution.
In Arabic someone has sprayed the equivalent of the old saying: “How the mighty have fallen”. That could well be the theme of the new “People’s Place”.
At the opposite end of street, young children sing as adults take pictures. Other locals smile and as they inspect a former grocery store that’s been turned into an ad hoc museum to commemorate the war.
Housing bullets and bombs, tanks and rockets, it has become quite the tourist attraction. From all over Libya spectators come some to their pay respects to pictures of the dead and missing, others to ogle at the captured booty from Gaddafi’s palace.
Among the displayed items is a silver-plated AK-47, the weapon of choice for the poor revolutionaries, gangsters and terrorists everywhere. Gaddafi seems to have grotesquely re-imagined it as a fashion accessory.
Visitor marvel at the weapons used in the victory over Gaddafi forces. It’s not just the rebels that are celebrated, though. Members of the media adorn the walls, Including Al Jazeera’s cameraman Ali Jabber who was tragically slain in Benghazi.
Perhaps most curious of all are the pictures of Barack Obama, Nicolas Sarkozy, David Cameron and Angela Merkel. Here they are called the “Fantastic Four” and celebrated for their role in getting NATO to act on the rebels’ behalf.
It’s the first time, in living memory, in the Arab world, that I have seen Western leaders held in such high esteem. In fact, there’s not a single “Death to America” slogan anywhere on Tripoli Street.
As the tourists gather at the makeshift museum, I overhear two men talk of rebuilding their homes. I don’t catch quite what they say, but they strike some sort of deal, and walk away happy.
In the past, I imagine, they would have had to lodge their plans at Gaddafi’s “People’s Place” at the other end of the street.
Instead, that building lies burned out and empty. The war museum is now the real place for the people of Tripoli Street.