Israeli-Tunisian artist Rafram Chaddad traveled to Libya in March 2010 to photograph the synagogues and cemeteries of Libya's vanished 2,500-year-old Jewish community. Libyan secret police arrested him and accused him of spying for Israel. Chaddad withstood electrocution, ten days with no sleep, and savage beatings with a lead pipe before spending months alone in a tiny cell. He was released five months later through back-channel negotiations. Today, what he remembers most is every dish his wardens served him, from cinnamon-stewed camel to stuffed tripe served over turmeric-saturated rice. His prison term sheds light on the brutality and curious generosity of jail under the deposed Muammar Qaddafi.
Chaddad's survival strategy revolved around food. Three times a day Chaddad would ask the prison guards for cooking advice as they delivered hot-foil meal trays to his cell. He marked time with tinfoil squares he ripped off the wrapping of grilled chicken. And he rejoiced in the small details of the food, such as dill on macaroni or dried mint in sorba, a tomato, meat, and lentil stew. In Chaddad's case, being a bon vivant was the best defense when all he had was a rotting gray mattress in a tiny room.