Arab Spring Break
Credit: Courtesy Chris Jeon
The sun is setting in Benghazi when we touch down in April. I'm already having doubts about the journey. Just before getting on the plane, Jeon asked to put a bottle of vodka in my bag. He said there wasn't room in his.

"Really?" I asked.

"It's spring break," he said. "It'll be fine."

The first thing we encounter is a stern-looking customs official sitting beneath a sign that says alcohol is strictly prohibited in Libya. Every bag is X-rayed. Soon, he locates the bottle and is raging mad. He pours the bottle down a drain in front of us.

That night, we walk to Freedom Square, where the revolution started. The buildings around the square are lined with oversize photos of rebels who died in the war, which ended just five months ago. A group of men approach and ask where we are from. When Jeon introduces himself, they throw their arms up, shout, and embrace him. They had heard the stories of the Asian kid from L.A. who had fought on their behalf.

"He is famous here," Mohammed Al Zawwam tells me, explaining that rebel fighters had spread Jeon's story. Al Zawwam is a 28-year-old youth organizer and gets choked up the more he talks. "I don't have words to describe how I feel about what he did. He was fighting very bravely for us. He is amazing."

The next night, Jeon reunites with five of his rebel friends at a second-floor hookah cafe on the outskirts of Benghazi. It's a fluorescent-lit, smoke-filled room, and soon after we sit down, two guys near the entrance suddenly attack each other. One of the guys lands a series of rapid jabs to the face before he's pulled off by the staff. Things calm down, and Jeon's rebel friends tell him he looks fat. Everybody laughs, and the conversation resumes.

Ebrahem Benamer, a 23-year-old guy with a soul patch, tells me that he initially thought Jeon was a Special Forces commando sent by the U.S. to hunt Al Qaeda. Then he saw that Jeon didn't know where the safety was on a gun, and he concluded that he was just a guy who wanted to help the revolution.

"We thought American people didn't care about Libya," Benamer says. "But after we met Ahmed, we realized we were wrong."

When the hookahs are smoked through, Jeon gets antsy. He's heard there's an informal "drifting" competition in the square, and he wants to check it out. When we arrive, four cars whip past us, skidding sideways. There are no barriers between the 1,000-odd spectators and the cars, which skid perilously close to the crowd. Within an hour, we see two sets of cars crash into each other. A spectator tells me that a few months ago, a car smashed into a pack of people, killing three.

Benamer wants to give it a try in his pickup truck, which is still emblazoned with the spray-painted logo of his brigade. He honks his way through the crowd, stomps on the accelerator, and starts fishtailing across the square. When he comes to a stop near us, Jeon yanks open the back door and leaps in. I follow him.

Benamer peels away before I even shut the door. As I struggle to close it, I notice his AK-47 rattling on the floor. It looks like it's loaded. "Libya drift 2012!" Jeon shouts beside me. He's filming himself with a pocket camera. Benamer spins the wheel, forcing the car into long, semicontrolled skids, and then accelerates, gunning for a dramatic slide. We spin sideways at about 40 mph, heeling up on two wheels before the truck crashes on its side. Ten minutes after we crawl from the wreckage, we are taken hostage.