I’ve been to Colonel Gaddafi’s house twice.
The first time I was in the company of 25 beauty pageant contestants, and the second time I was with a 19 year old American woman who had just been made the Honorary Libyan Consul to the USA, the first diplomatic link between the two countries in more than 20 years. And I still couldn’t tell you why I was there or what was going on…
The Irish journalist Enda Leahy and myself had somehow got in with the organiser of the pageant and were meant to be doing a ‘behind-the-scenes’ story for the Sunday Times Magazine, but it became apparent fairly quickly that there were no scenes – or more accurately, we were the scenes. The whole thing seemed to be a publicity stunt, although I’m still not sure what for. It was pleasingly surreal though. Here are some photos of the contestants before and during the show.
Every day we were told that we were going to visit Colonel G, or the Brother Leader as we were told to address him, and every day it didn’t happen – until the day it did happen. First though, we were taken on a tour around Gaddafi’s old house, the one that was bombed in ‘86 by the Reagan administration. The house has been untouched since the bombing and visitors to Libya are often taken there to witness what the Libyans call “evidence of American terrorism”.
Then it was off to the new, unbombed Casa Gaddafi. We rolled up in a bus – the girls, myself and Enda, a couple of other journalists and a film crew. Nervous looking, moustachioed Libyans in shiny suits were running around fretting about things. Just as we were going in we were told that we couldn’t take in any pens, paper or cameras – something of a style-cramper when you’re a photographer… So a few minutes later I found myself, without camera, in Gaddafi’s tent in the grounds of his compound watching him schmoozing the ladies. When he saw us, the aesthetically-challenged media types, standing in a small huddle looking a bit out of place, he asked one of the moustache dudes who we were.
- “Some media” he was told.
- “So why don’t they have cameras and pens?” he quite reasonably asked. The moustache apparently replied:
- “I don’t know, maybe they forgot them…”
The organisers steered Tecca Zendik, the American girl, next to Colonel G who was perched in a very unstatesmanlike plastic lawn chair. He started ranting about the ‘great Satan’ – America and Reagan. Tecca, who was 19 years old and had never been out of America found it all a bit emotional and started crying. This photo was taken by Gaddafi’s official photographer and given to us a couple of days later.
The next time we went to Gadaffi’s house was a few months later. Tecca was invited back by the Libyans in another bizarre PR stunt (for what?) and was made the Honorary Libyan Consul to the USA. She was also made a Libyan citizen and given a passport. They had a ceremony to mark this, which was a little weird – especially as the only people present were myself and Enda.
An hour or two after the ceremony wild-eyed Libyans were running around the place freaking out because Tecca had been wearing a USA t-shirt. This was not a good thing apparently, so she was immediately issued with this Che Gaddafi t-shirt and another ceremony was performed – again with just Enda and I shuffling around, smiling politely.
Tecca’s first diplomatic meeting was with the head of the Libyan Women’s Military Academy.
I’ve rarely been witness to a more awkward social exchange. No-one in the room knew why they were there or what they were meant to say… Eventually someone broke out the Academy’s photo albums to show Tecca.
Then it was back to Camp Gaddafi. This is the gate going into Gaddafi’s compound.
We were taken to the tent again and, after I was warned not to address the Brother Leader directly, out comes Colonel Gaddafi. Here he is shaking hands with Enda.
The translator on the left is helpfully pointing out that the guy in the hat is indeed Colonel G.
I can’t really remember what he and Enda talked about. I had about two minutes to photographically hose him down as he stood there ranting with his eyes rolling around in his head. The next thing I knew Gaddafi was wafting back into his tent to do whatever it is he does in there and Enda and I were in the backseat of the Merc looking at each other and wondering what the fuck that had all been about…
You can see some more photos here: http://www.muirvidler.com/projects/libyan-beauty-pageantNextPrevious