Cultural Revolutions: Libya

The civil war in Libya seems to be a distant memory to most of us, particularly in the wake of the Syrian uprisings; to the unaffected Western spectator, the Middle East and Africa is just one long civil war. The location may change, however the results remain the same. However, at present, Libya is experiencing a change of such magnitude that it will influence the course of the country, irrevocably. The situation after the war is the one that matters to the Foreign Office; we depend on a country’s stability and post-war success to shape our own policies.

Libya is currently being controlled by the interim government, the NTC (National Transitional Council), who took de facto control in the aftermath of the governmental collapse. The transitional council is formed of anti-Gaddafi revolutionaries, who are currently aiming to restore democratic function to the country, including planning for elections of an official government by the middle of the year.

The man himself. (1)

The presence of this government seems to be merely a formality, however to the people of Libya, it represents freedom that they had previously been without; under Gaddafi’s rule, political parties, and anti-governmental publications were banned, and monitored by the “wishwasha”, or secret police. Today, hundreds of new magazines, pressure groups and welfare organisations have sprung up across the capital. Gaddafi’s slogans and portraits have been removed; the process of “de-nazification” seems to have occurred in Libya, practically overnight.

In situations of massive coup d’états, little consideration is given to the positive elements of a dictatorship; in Gaddafi’s case, it seems only prudent to mention his contribution, to this cultural liberation that Libya seems to be experiencing. Under Gaddafi’s rule, literacy in Libya rose to 82% of the population, which remains to be the highest in Africa. The life expectancy of the average Libyan rose from 57 to 77, as a result of the free healthcare system. These investments were made possible by the exploitation of Libyan oil reserves; in the 1980s, at the height of Gaddafi’s rule, the GDP of the nation was greater than that of Italy.

At this point then, it is possible to argue that although Libya is currently in a state of political disarray, and economically has been severely limited as a result of administrative failure in recent years, Gaddafi did provide his populace with skills that inevitably contributed to their ability to rise against their dictator, and displace him, beginning a cultural revolution and subsequently, a new period in Libyan history. Mass literacy means that people are able to begin writing magazines; the manmade river ensures that they will be alive and healthy enough to be able to protest against their leader. It is impossible to condone Gaddafi’s actions whilst he was in power; the most heinous of which was perhaps mass indoctrination by propaganda. However, despite these misgivings, the people of Libya now have education, which is something that can never be sanctioned by the United Nations, or removed under new political systems.





A Beautiful Jordanian Day


The Sunrise over Dana

I wanted to post this because this was the morning when I realised I not only wanted to travel, but I wanted to write about it too. The sun and the moon together represent something inexplicably beautiful. I wanted to be somewhere, go somewhere, or do something that wasn’t financially motivated; I wanted to go across the globe, and be happy. I want to be able to see another thousand of sunrises like this; the photograph does not quite do it justice, but it was beautiful; it was silent, and so cold that your nerves were quite literally on fire. I have never seen anything comparable to this, except perhaps sunset over Petra.

Sunset over Petra

This was taken as we walked back down from the High Place of Sacrifice; it was getting very dark, very quickly. The earth looked red, and the sky looked as though it had been set on fire by the heavens. This is one of the most beautiful places I think in the world, and one of my ultimate goals is to see every one of the wonders of the world.

I hope that I never ever want to stop being in places like this, and I hope everyone else gets to be somewhere as beautiful at least once in their life.



Wandering Across Jordan

Before my expedition to Jordan, I had never seen myself as much of a traveller; I despise flying, and travel tends to provoke a reaction in me known as “airport meltdown”. It usually means a strong coffee, a little chocolate, and buying something from duty-free to read during the flight. However, that was on conventional family holidays; when I was in Heathrow airport, ready to go to Jordan, there was little time to panic, and my airport demeanor changed radically. Perhaps it was the clothes; trekking shorts and t-shirts, as opposed to jeans and knitted jumpers; but however it happened, something changed rather radically.

Looking out over Amman

The country itself was a city completely removed from anything I have previously experienced; the traffic, the taxis, and the streets were a combination of organised chaos, the smell of every spice imaginable, and people greeting you every four steps (being the only party of Caucasian people walking through central Amman, you tended to attract attention). It was almost as though you were a different species, however the hospitality was unrivalled in Europe; in Paris, “good” treatment is the waiter serving your food within a reasonable time frame; in Jordan, more sweet teas than you could ever hope to consume were offered, without asking, by every person you walked by. For a country which is economically less developed than the western world, the human kindness of people was extraordinary; this perhaps shows that kindness, a commodity that has been lost largely in Europe, costs nothing.

As time went on, we made our way to the Dana nature reserve for a trek across the natural desert landscape, and to stay in the traditional huts. It was here that I spent one of the most memorable nights of my life; the day had been incredible, trekking and seeing native plants and reptiles, however the evening was quite literally life altering. After our trip leaders had done the sensible thing and gone into their huts for the night, one of our friends wished to know how the sweet tea (the kind I have never been able to replicate) was made. And so, the owner of the camp, invited us into a tiny kitchen around a fire, and showed us; later, we sat around a small camp fire, talking about his experiences, and imagining how it would be to live his life; the most haunting part of the tale for me is that he spends every day in almost complete solitary confinement; very rarely has he left the reserve. He lives a completely simple life, far away from modern-day technology, using only a mobile phone for business purposes. He still lives on the side of a hill where his mother did, and he will continue to do so, maintaining the family business.

Later sunrise in Dana

The world as we understand it today has lost many traditions that were revered only fifty years ago; our understanding of the family has changed, and where people once acquired a job at twenty that they would continue in until retirement, we constantly change careers, change our convictions, and change our ideas. This is symbolic of the age of change in which we live, however to experience a place that holds a deep regard for the traditional family structure, and maintaining the country as it once was, is a deeply moving experience.

Once we left the nature reserve, we went on into Petra, one of the seven wonders of the world. We spent a fantastic day climbing up to the very top; past the Monastery, and looking out across the country. It is rather under appreciated country, at least in my opinion, and I think it is breathtakingly beautiful. It was interesting to see how high the city really climbed; in that day, we estimated that we’d climbed up and down approximately two thousand stairs, determined to see the High Place of Sacrifice, the Monastery, and a tiny viewpoint above the Monastery that looks out over an extremely beautiful landscape. The physical effort that went into that day was more than worth it; and when we were watching sunset from the High Place of Sacrifice, I resolved to see all the wonders of both the ancient and modern world.

Looking down from the highest place in Petra

By the time I got back on the aeroplane to come home, I’d convinced myself that I would simply have to travel; everywhere, and everywhere. I’d just have to ignore my brain and fly all over the world, because I want to experience things like I did when I was in Jordan, all over again. I want to understand far more than is directly in front of my face, and I hope to be able to travel to South America, and go in a horseshoe shape, across the continent, doing things like volunteering, and of course, Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail.

I hope everyone , at least once in their life, gets to experience things like this; I feel immensely privileged to have had the opportunity to go, and when I’m at work, wondering why I should be making yet another decaf soya latte with extra foam, I think of Jordan, and the prospect of going even further afield, and this particular thought makes the task much more palatable.



Perceptions of Afghanistan: The Kite Runner

The novel, The Kite Runner, is singularly one of the most horrifying and simultaneously beautiful books I have ever had the honour of studying. The themes, including rape, warfare, and the idea of honour and betrayal, are perhaps themes that much bigger novels have attempted, however none, at least in my opinion, have succeeded quite so admirably and succinctly. I think that the  fecundity of the author’s mind alongside his own human experience produces the tenderness in the setting of the children; the use of such seemingly innocent minds is almost irreconcilable with the abhorrent acts included within the novel.

Children tend to represent the beautifully innocent mind; people who have not yet been naturally damaged by the world around them. The removal of innocence in the boys, one betraying the other however shows a disparity between the naivety associated with childhood, and the real political awareness one would have had, growing up in a war zone. The concept of conflict in itself, especially in a nation as politically unstable as Afghanistan is an interesting juxtaposition when considered alongside the children as entities in themselves; they go on to represent the damaged children of Afghanistan and the generations from the 1950s onwards that have lived their lives in such a way that the explosion of a bomb was an everyday occurrence.

Kings Tomb, Kabul (1)

The country of Afghanistan I think was brought into a much more public, literary sphere than it had been previously entitled to as a result of the novel. The history of Afghanistan is tainted with the history of imperialism and subsequent occupation and invasion. The problem has been exacerbated in the last fifty years, especially with the rise of problems such as terrorism, jihad, and the freedom fighter. This led to the western world feeling threatened, and  therefore attempts to ‘control’ the nation lead to invasion, war, and inevitably a global misunderstanding of what true ‘jihad’ actually is, and instead promotes the media’s perception of the terrorist as someone involved in jihad. There is always a distinction to be made in each individual case, however it would be a terrible mistake to believe that every Muslim is involved in anti-western jihad; the majority of people of Muslim faith live in America peacefully and as part of their respective communities.

This misunderstanding is one explored within the parameters of the novel, and looks at how elements of change are also included as negative and positive; throughout the novel there is an element  of both positive and negative progression, and unlike most of the media coverage of events in Afghanistan, looks at domestic conflicts which are so rarely understood and sympathised with. I would suggest that everyone read the novel, if only to satisfy their own personal curiosity about some of the issues in the area.

I have an interest in politics of the Middle East and one day, I would love to be able to travel more freely around the area. The history of horrific oppression, often in a domestic setting and in relation to its position on an international platform makes the area a fascinating example of political and religious conflict; I hope to be able to look at more Eastern literature, and if I could, I would love to study a historical module on the modern history of the Middle East.