The adrenaline started to ebb already. My legs felt a bit stiff, my hands were clumsy and my fingers felt numb, but I was safe and the situation had stabilized.
A week of accident-free “unrest observation” had made me overconfident.
I cursed my cockiness as I and the last of the crowd squeezed frantically between car bumpers to get away from the water jets and the onslaught of eager, armed and armored policemen.
The people in the car looked at us bemused, thinking themselves safe from the water and tear-gas.
It had started friendly enough between the police and the—mostly—young protesters. The usual slogans and songs were performed, the national flag was hung on the riot trucks and some unflattering comments to the prime minister was written in tape on their plow and sides.
But the status quo was not desired. A youngster decided to spray paint the front window of a riot truck. That was the beginning of a long night.
Throughout the night a myriad of small dramas would unfold, characters would emerge out of the night to be swallowed again. It was a strange ballet; all the actors on the stage, everyone with their role, their mask, their spotlight.
The police provided the background, a thin line of spartans huddled behind their riot shields on each side of a water spewing leviathan.
All night the mass surged forth to break repeatedly on this plastic shore. The brave up front, the courageous in the middle and those who came for the show sitting on the hill in the far back.
A tall pine tree in the adjacent palace garden caught fire from a tear gas projectile. Someone thought it would be a good idea to climb it and somehow extinguish the fire. As he climbed, branches below him caught on fire.
Obviously some people did not belong here. The old man going home, crossing from behind the police line into the protesters and their projectiles. The new couple and their friends who came to see and smell the tear gas. People who came after work, tie around the neck, briefcase in hand...
The nearby football stadium—under construction—would provide the behemoth: a digger. The behemoth would provide the pyrrhic victory, charging against the police line who turned and left.
This was when my body and my phone battery decided that 7 hours of “unrest observation” was enough. I left following the coastline until I found a tea garden profiting from the late night crowd.
His shirt was perfectly neat, sleeves rolled up, which gave him an air of ruggedness, stability. His hair trimmed short, he seemed very calm. He was a photojournalist, and I could not help thinking of James Nachtwey. He knew some english, so I was able to borrow his phone charger. Extensions where plugged into extensions and a small jungle of electronics was growing in the corner. Returning to our round plastic table, I asked him if tonight meant things would change in the country.
The trickle of people was rising, small groups were arriving, asking for tea and try to find room to plug their phone in. They had more fear in their faces than tiredness.