Tom Chesshyre, author of 'A Tourist in the Arab Spring', offers advice on navigating turbulent destinations
When I was in Libya, brigades of soldiers ruled. Many were young, still in their teens. During the day, there was order; after dark, even locals were fearful of what might happen – particularly of imposters pretending to be soldiers in order to rob people. Stay put and wait till dawn.
It’s a good way to disarm those who might take against you. At roadblock checkpoints in Libya and the Sinai, I smiled a great deal. Body language and small gestures mean a lot, especially when language is an obstacle.
Get the word on the street by making contact with useful locals via Twitter. Follow foreign correspondents, local news agencies and consulates. Then follow the people they follow. Create a web of information. You never know who might help answer a question or provide a handy nugget of news.
Hanging about will draw attention. In Tripoli, when I jumped out of my car to take pictures of graffiti (of Gaddaffi with a noose round his neck), my driver was very nervous. He felt onlookers would think me voyeuristic, and urged me to hurry.
In Benghazi I was briefly seized by militia belonging to a local brigade. Had I not had identification with me, it could have been extremely tricky.
During my journey, I wrote the names of the key current politicians and those opposing them – plus a little on what they each stood for – in the back of my notebook. At times of uprisings, locals love talking politics, so it helps to have some conversation up your sleeve.
A car-boot-style market is now held each Friday in the grounds of Colonel Gaddaffi’s bombed-out Bab al-Aziziya compound in Tripoli.
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