WCBE

Andy Carvin

They have assembled in front of the hospital by the dozens: church groups, families, even a motorcycle club, their engines revving at full throttle. Mothers encouraged their shy children to squeeze through the crowd and place a bouquet of flowers at the base of a makeshift shrine. A member of the crowd conducted an impromptu choir, inviting others to join in and sing a hymn together.

For more than a month now, throngs of well-wishers have gathered outside the Mediclinic Heart Hospital in Pretoria, South Africa, praying for the health of former President Nelson Mandela.

As protests against the Turkish government enter their third week, activists are taking increasingly creative measures to maintain their momentum.

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has shown no sympathy for the tens of thousands of protesters who've taken to the streets across the country. In fact, he seems to have energized the protesters by calling them capulcu, or "looters" in Turkish.

Demonstrators have gleefully embraced the label, spreading it far and wide on social media and turning a local protest into an event that has attracted international attention.

As news broke about the NSA collecting telephone records through Verizon, people took to Twitter to voice their opinions. As an experiment, NPR senior strategist Andy Carvin asked his followers to respond to the hashtag #CallsTheNSAKnowsAbout. Their responses ranged from the hilarious to the poignant.

The Arab world was aflame in March 2011. Longtime rulers in Tunisia and Egypt had been toppled. NATO was poised to attack Libyan government forces. The Syrian uprising was just beginning. And on the small island nation of Bahrain, the government was cracking down on pro-democracy protesters.

Across Bahrain, protest leaders were rounded up and some were quickly tried, convicted and sentenced to prison. The writing was on the wall for the leaders of the movement, including Ali Abdulemam.

(Andy Carvin, NPR's senior strategist for social media, sends us this dispatch about a Twitter account that may hold clues in understanding the surviving Boston bombing suspect.)

According to activists inside and outside Syria, the government's 27-day siege against the opposition stronghold of Baba Amr has now succeeded. Initial reports suggest that forces are entering this neighborhood in the city of Homs, but details are sketchy at best because most of the reporters and citizen journalists covering the story have either fled or died.

Our car pulled over along a deserted traffic circle in a small Jordanian village. An old man freshly covered in thick, wet sleet climbed into the back seat, his cold breath reeking of cigarettes.

"This is Khaled," my Syrian contact said. "He will show us to the border."

"I don't know why the traffic is like this," he said. "It's Friday just before prayers; where are all these people going?"

My friend Emad and I had been driving around the perimeter of Bab al-Azizia, Gadhafi's notorious compound just outside downtown Tripoli. It was here that NATO concentrated many of its bombing runs, as did President Reagan in the 1980s. Now the outer walls are a crumbling mess, covered with anti-Gadhafi graffiti.

We arrived nearly an hour late, our taxi drivers lost in the potholed, half-flooded streets of Tripoli. Our Libyan host, who would never have fathomed an on-time start anyway, invited us upstairs, where he had managed to arrange an impressive array of hors d'oeuvres and beverages on such short notice.

People arrived in groups of three or four at a time. Everyone knew almost everyone else. They hugged each other as if it could be their last time, struggled to hold back the tears, occasionally finding a way to evince a smile from each other.

A lanky Libyan man leans hard against the railing, looking out at the waves of the Mediterranean crashing below us on the seafront in Benghazi. He's lost in thought for a moment, then shakes his head and takes a long drag from his cigarette.

"They were dropping like flies," he says. "I knew I was going to die next."

A light mist of cold rain started falling on us from the moment we reached the cemetery. If I hadn't felt it on my face, I probably wouldn't have even noticed it, as the hardscrabble stretching throughout the grave yard appeared just as parched as one might expect in a desert country.

Stepping out of my hotel on Friday evening, I could see cars backed up for miles, stretching all the way around the Benghazi's biggest lake, not far from the shores of the Mediterranean.

Horns blared in every direction, but not just car horns: bull horns, oo-gahhorns, vuvuzelas, aerosol-powered horns, even a bagpipe or two. The air smelled of exhaust, gasoline and the occasional whiff of hash. It was a cacophonous mess, overwhelming, painful to the ears, joyful, extraordinary.

I've spent the day in the company of Malik L, a Benghazi-based hip hop artist who seems to get stopped every 100 feet by either a friend or a fan. In between these conversations, I asked Malik about what celebrations were scheduled for tonight.

"I have no idea," he replied. "No one does. Libya has never done this before. We don't know how to celebrate an anniversary."

While pretty much any corner of Benghazi is a fine place to celebrate this week, the heart of the celebrations are taking place at the courthouse and its public square, where some of the revolution's first protests took place.

The streets of Benghazi have turned into the world's most joyous parking lot.

Every single vehicle, moving slower than a toddler walking, is honking its horn in a variety of patterns to celebrate the first anniversary of the revolution.

The plane landed at Benghazi airport, about an hour late, which seemed just about right to most people on board. Elderly women sported tattoos from their bottom lip to the tip of their chin; several men carefully removed plants that somehow survived being crushed in the overhead luggage bins.

With Twitter and other social media, NPR's Andy Carvin monitored immediate, on-the-ground developments during the upheavals of the Arab Spring from Washington, D.C., through thousands of tweets and an army of followers that numbers in the tens of thousands. Now, he is in Libya, meeting face-to-face with some of those activists. He'll be sending us periodic updates on his journey.