Libya, reposted

Posted: July 29th, 2012

So it’s 12.30 at night and I can’t sleep – not because of the usual reasons: traffic , insomnia,  noisy neighbours, but because there is a guy outside shouting very angrily and he has been there  ever since he fired his AK47 off  into the kebab shop opposite my hotel 30 minutes ago, and I’m trying to remember if the doors to my hotel are glass or not.


In case you’re wondering I’m not in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire where the only thing one has to worry about is whether someone is going to steal your parking space or not , I’m in Tripoli, Libya where there’s a lot more to be worried about.  ( Ok so it’s gone very quiet now – or has it? No there’s shooting still but not immediately outside).


The thing is about this town and country is that at times,  it can feel deceptively charming,  peaceful  even. In day time Tripoli,  there is a  feel in places, especially near me in Martyr  Square, of  a bustling, sophisticated metropolis.  People are friendly, they want to tell their stories, there is shopping and café living.  But there is a dark and angry flip side, a violence that is there, just beneath the surface.


According to the quietly spoken hotel concierge, the man with the gun was drunk and trying to catch/kill the guy in the kebab shop for whatever reason. And there are many possible reasons: he could have been a pro-Gadaffi secret policeman hiding his murderous past, or maybe he served him a dodgy kebab and gave him a stomach upset.


When every man has a gun (thank God, including the quietly spoken concierge) then things like this will happen, as I am frequently told. Anyway the military are here now so I think that’s good.


It is worth pointing out however that this a country of extremes, and where there are stories of violence there are also stories of courage and strength. Yesterday I had the privilege of meeting some (15 actually) of the Tajoura female resistance –  charming and elegant, as they are brave. (The shooting is starting again, great,  brilliant! There’s a full scale gun battle outside my hotel , including automatic fire) . This was organized by the Tajoura media department ( no not the gun battle the line up of classy Libyan women) so I couldn’t help thinking it was a masterstroke in PR when I was introduced to 15 highly educated, rather beautiful,  women of Tajoura who risked their lives during the Ghadaffi regime. They are female revolutionaries if you will.


There were lawyers, teachers, doctors and dentists.  They told me that the simple act of distributing an anti Ghadaffi flyer ( or broadcasting an anti Ghadaffi video as they have done)  would have meant arrest, and after arrest , they told me , would come torture ( the regime would want to see if they could  extract information from you).


I wanted to come out to Libya to see for myself something of what was happening before and during the revolution and to see what kind of future there is for Libya. Can they wean themselves off the brutalitly of the iron fist of Ghadaffi, or will they be inspired by western influences and the calls of companies like Human Rights Watch to clean up their act? According to HRW, Libya recently “ has passed some shockingly bad laws, mimicking Qaddafi laws criminalizing political dissent and granting blanket immunity to any crimes committed in “support” of the revolution.”  So that is not a good sign, and until they get some of these guns off the street things are going to be unstable at the very least for some time to come .


But still the women of Tajoura give me hope, and the strength of the family unit is inspiring as well. Families are close. This gave them the strength to rid  them selves of Ghadaffi and also  helped them show much restraint since. This country is dangerous but considering what has happened out here, some  credit should be attributed to the fact the place is not shooting itself up like Iraq for example.



worker photographed through the bullet hole , made the previous night when a disgruntled Libyan decided to shootup his kebab shop


The shooting eventually stops ,and the following morning I discover what happened. The guy who came with a group of his mates had apparently been drinking ( this is fortunately quite rare as it’s illegal out here) . He was upset over an earlier detention and came to make a point . The owner of the kebab shop being high up in the military, had something to do with it so he decided to shoot his shop up, I don’t think there was an intention to harm, but it’s just the way it is out here right now –  I need to make a point, how do I do it?

On the day I arrived my flight had been diverted as the the international airport had been closed down by a brigade from Tahouni  doing pretty much the same thing.  Well the elections are coming soon and we have to hope the influence of democracy will change this mind set.


On a positive note yesterday I saw the Tahouni  group who earlier had closed down the airport  with their anti-aircraft guns, protesting outside the police station , peacefully.  Maybe things will move on quicker than expected.

Smoked Beetle and Getting Lashed on Rice Wine in the Cambodia Jungle

Posted: January 8th, 2011

Secrets of the Love Huts

A journalist friend of mine, Fiona MacGregor is writing a book about cultures where mainstream patriarchal views on woman are surprisingly subverted and something more refreshing is revealed, a kind of girl power if you will. She came across this tribe in Ratankeri called the Kreung tribe where the girls, on reaching adolescence have their own small houses or ‘love huts’ built for them by their family and are then given the opportunity to have boys stay over as part of their quest to find a husband.

This kind of sexual empowerment was intriguing, especially as no-one got called ‘slag’ or ’tart’ in the process. After a little wrangling with Marie-Claire I had myself booked on assignment to join Fiona in Phnom Penh and then on a bus to Ban Lung to do a study, working title “ The Secret of the Love Huts” .

Cambodia is very much a third world country and is still recovering from years of war not to mention the genocide years of Pol Pot. The people considering their history, are surprisingly open and lovely. There is a warmth and hospitality that completely belies the hardship they have been through. The roads don’t however belie the years of turmoil and the bus ride to Ban Lung takes 13 hours, for a large part along dirt roads where in some places a
four- wheel drive would have problems not to mention a full size cruising bus. On the plus side, riding on motorcycles through the jungle, after a burst of monsoon rain is great fun, if you can stay vertical.

Highlights of the trip include sleeping in hammocks and “hanging” with the very hospitable Kreung tribe members. Drinking rice wine ( vat of rice, fermented) with the tribal elder on a Saturday night is a refreshing alternative to my usual night out down the local. It was not completely dissimilar to my student days. The chief decides how much each of us has to drink and then we all follow, be it a pint or a half or a pint and half, yes you guessed right, drinking games in the jungle. That was unexpected. Low lights of the trip: eating beetles, even fried they are just too crunchy.

The Kreung lifestyle is a mixture of old and new. Their culture is being assaulted by the modern world at an increasingly vigorous pace. On one level nothing has changed, they get up before dawn, walk two hours to their farms and return at sunset 12 hours later. They hunt with bow and arrows and their sanitary system is a walk in the woods. Dish of the day is wild pig and vegetables cut from the jungle. On the other hand, there are motorcycles, mobile phones and TV and the teens are starting to resemble extras from MTV videos even though 10 years a go they were wearing traditional clothes.

You can’t help but notice a deep inner (and outer) beauty of the tribal folk. that I like to think comes from the simplicity of their life, the cynicism that comes from our modern world has not yet reached them. The stresses that come from such things as: trying to reach a human in customer service at British Gas; avoiding bank charges or hanging on to your job when your boss is an idiot does not concern them. I know however this is a fanciful notion, their life has its own much worse stress levels mainly in that there is no organised health care and often the wisest person in the village is the doctor.

For better or worse this culture, like many in the globe, is changing and changing fast. One of the most poignant pictures I took was this guy, merry on wood alcohol , dancing nostalgically to a tribal dance broadcast on TV. The clothes shown were traditional and the images shown representing a time that was only a decade old. Quite tragically ironic I thought. No time to talk in depth about the main story but the piece is out now in Marie Claire, Feb edition, 2011.
Its been published both in the UK and US editions and will be available in the US IPAD edition, You never know how much space you will get and sometimes the pictures can be squashed so if you want to see the whole thing with copy and space to breath please email me for a pdf:

Fiona MacGregor is a writer and journalist specialising in gender issues, women’s lives, traditional cultures and wildlife stories. She is currently writing a book about powerful women in tribal and traditional cultures across the world. Editors or other media researchers interested in her work are welcome to contact her at

Haiti 2011

Posted: December 29th, 2010

Its been a year since the Haiti earthquake and it looks like the aid agencies are still struggling to get the aid to where it counts. Unni Karunakara asks the question, quite rightly, in his Guardian article ‘Haiti: where aid failed’ Link to article
Why have at least 2,500 people died of cholera when there are about 12,000 NGOs in the country?

When I was out there in January I experienced something of this unexplainable lack of urgency. I came across an entire camp of 4000 Haitians who one month after the quake had still not received any meaningful aid, despite many attempts to attract attention. My own emails to highlight their plight fell on death ears and I couldn’t help wondering what it would take to get them the aid they needed. I’m sure they have received something now but whether it is enough I feel is doubtful. An investigation into the failings as well of the successes of the Haitian aid mission I’m sure would be very interesting as well as worthwhile.

In the meantime for those who do feel they want to help in some way it you might do worse than giving to a small Catholic Haitian charity I came across while I was out there, run by Connie an American and Alex, a Haitian. Alex is pictured on a sofa with a large crack in his house visible behind him. They are both genuine and passionate about their work, They have a specific remit. They are looking after Haitians in the district of Aquinn, Amongst other projects they they are looking for sponsors to help with the long term care of 24 earthquake orphans. and money to sponsor the education of Haitian School children In their words:

“Thank you for caring about children in Haiti! You are a click away from giving a girl or boy in Haiti the chance of a lifetime — as a school sponsor. With your sponsorship gift of $65 a year for grades K through 8 and $100 a year for high school students, you’ll provide hope your child will never forget, and help that will last a lifetime. Your child will receive a school uniform, books, and an education for an entire year.”
You can sponsor a child right now by clicking the donate button :
To donate
I have just done this and it takes two minutes. You may want to review some of the portraits taken a year ago taken a year ago showing Haitians coping in the aftermath with enormous dignity.