The Handover Libya June 2011

Everyone has excuses and I am no different. But it is time to start writing again, things may be a little different as times have changed. Posts may be late or written after events, the reason is security. Life is not what it was back in the old days now and in the media we find ourselves in more and more inhospitable places, with people who consider the media as another enemy.

I have always kept extensive notes of observations of places and events and they will come forward as I go back read and remember those times.

140 characters is not an option, as I see and bring to life events from good and evil places.

Benghazi Libya
June 15th 2011

Libyan War June 2011 Second Trip

1. The Handover

The Handover is a relatively short affair in conflict zones. The team leaving wants to get out as fast as possible, as freedom and safety is normally a short walk across a border with only your personal bags. For the incoming team, Rick Levanthal, correspondent, Martin Francis, producer and it, myself is the beginning of another rotation in country and the dangers of entering a war zone.

I had been in Libya chasing the rebels a few months back and this was my second foray into this conflict. The handover was planned for the Egypt / Libya border at the Saloume Border Crossing, a seven hour drive from Cairo. Basically head North from Cairo, hit the coast turn west and eventually you will come to Libya. There are no other roads so getting lost is not an issue there are no other roads.

The customs and clearance in Egypt is a matter of being patient, things do not move quickly, it could be fifteen minutes, and it may take two hours. Nothing is checked, you simply sit and wait. All we had was our personal bags, as the kit that the Network has slowly built up and smuggled into Libya over many trips stays in country to avoid problems with Customs, who on a whim will confiscate a Camera or Bgan (the small Satellite Communication dish we carry, slightly bigger than a laptop). Thus creating major issues and problems.

The Cameraman I replacing Rich Harlow, was waiting for me on the Libyan side with all the kit plus body armor.

After watching an Arabic woman in the full black Niqab scream at an Egyptian Boarder Policeman, with such venom that she must have been questioning the hereditary of the man’s mother. Martin came out with our passports cleared for exit, drive to the next gate and then the short walk into Libya a final glance at the passport exit stamp and then you are in a country in full on War.

The other team was next to the cars, as planned. Handshakes and man hugs happen and then its business, they want out and for a few minutes. Each member of the team huddles down with their respective other.

What’ where in what case, What’s happening where, from editorial to money, from logistics to security and it happens in a few short minutes. Questions answered with no bullshit, the stakes are real and everyone knows it. This meeting is not a sit down around a table and discussing options back in New York, but in a car park on the border of a country engaged in civil war under a blazing sun, no subject is taboo. And it happens quickly.

We still have another seven hours drive ahead of us to Benghazi and the other team faces an equally long drive to Cairo. Forget the Hollywood hype of News teams turning up in exotic war zones after a montage over music. Basically getting to war takes time and frustration. You find yourself driving thru inhospitable parts of the planet at hi speed with a driver who normally does not speak the same language, listening to local music on the radio and trying to keep comfortable.

You find relief at the occasional stop for petrol and then realize that the toilet at the Gas Station is also the shower. A shower head limply hangs over the foot print squat toilet and I always find myself re affirming my vow that I will never shit and shower on the same spot, unless I have a pair of flip flops and even then I doubt that I could.

You finally shake hands and man hug again, the final words of a departing team are always the same “Keep Safe and Be Careful” and then they walk off and it’s done.

Standing in the no mans land between Egypt and Libya, a simple road with concrete barriers between the nations on either side. We have Security man with us, a fact of life now in dangerous zones, just like you read about these guys are normally ex SAS or Special Forces who have found a new career in the highly lucrative and dangerous world of the security in global hotspots. They are in fact the fourth member of the team; you do nothing without them and rely on them to make judgment calls for your safety and life.

Safety briefings and situation updates become part of daily life; to ignore them is to place the team at risk. “What blood group are you Mal, and are you allergic to any drugs?” Ken asked. Security guys normally do not swop out at the same time as teams so there is always a reassuring continuity.

We get back in the car and enter Libya. New York wants a live shot in two hours so we will just stop by the side of the road in a town. Benghazi is 7 hours away across the desert.

Ahmed one our local drivers turns on the radio and luck has changed, we must of grown up in the same era, as Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water” blares out as we watch stunning sunset engulf us on the horizon. Ahmed even slows down as nightfall’s; camels wandering onto the road at night are a greater threat than Gadaffi’s forces, for the final leg.