Into the Unknown
It started at noon on a Friday in Khartoum. With the latest of the “Arab Spring” revolutions engulfing Libya, I’d looked at going there, but dismissed it due to the difficulty of obtaining a visa. Particularly as a freelance, the word that seems to instil fear into all bureaucrats in such regimes.
On this fateful Friday, I was talking to a friend who had just arrived in Cairo, and was planning on driving to the Libyan border the following day. “The rebels have the border, and they’re letting journos in.”
Thus ensued three hours of internal debate, pacing around the flat in Sudan’s capital, trying to decide if I should head north. It would mean giving up any chance of going to Darfur, for which I’d spent the last two weeks waiting on a travel permit.
Three pm. I’d wrestled with my demons, and there began the process of figuring out the logistics of it all. Trying to buy a plane ticket—or anything—in Khartoum on a Friday, the Muslim holy day, is nigh-on impossible.
Six pm. I had the mobile number of a travel agent who could get me on a flight. I wanted to fly immediately. She promised she’d get back to me, and I began to think about packing.
Ten pm. The flight was confirmed, I would be leaving to Libya that night.
One am. I was at Khartoum International airport, hoping my passport was in order, and saying goodbye to two of my closest friends there. I hoped that I would see them soon.
Once in Cairo, the logistics of getting to Libya suddenly came into play. I couldn’t justify the $300 of a taxi to the border, and buses were no longer running there. The crisis in Libya had thrown regular transport into disarray. But there were buses to Marsa Matrouh, the Egyptian coastal resort town just two and a half hours drive from the border.
In Marsa, shared taxis were driving to the border, and so I squeezed myself into a beat-up old Peugeot estate along with eight other people. During this drive at the edge of the desert, the question of what I was actually letting myself in for started to come to the fore of my mind. A Libyan man squeezed in beside me tried to explain what was happening in his homeland.
I had never covered conflict before, and I knew nothing of Libya, nor of how easy it would be to operate there. A hand-full of journalists had already crossed, but their numbers were swelling rapidly. This could be my break, and I was keen to join their ranks.
And so it began.