|We Got Ourselves a Convoy!|
Viv's been on a peace mission
Ealing Today’s “Woman About Town” Viv Ellis spread her wings last month – to Tripoli in Libya.
I had visited Tripoli in Libya in May this year on a peace initiative organised by a British charity. So I was flattered when I was asked to go back last month. It was a humanitarian land convoy comprising 5 ambulances, a disabled car and a freezer truck for medicine. Plus an impressive array of donated surgical and medical equipment. All badly needed in a war-torn Libya with thousands of seriously ill people.
There were quite a lot of us, Most of the convoyers were Libyan born many visiting their homeland for the first time in ages. The project manager, Mohamed, was bringing his wife and 5 children (one just 3 months old) and the oldest member was 62 so it was a family atmosphere right from the start.
My sister’s reaction when I told her about the trip was “But do you know the way?” Thankfully, I didn’t need to. We had a professional long-distance driver in our midst, Abdul Ghafoor, a wry chap with a broad Yorkshire accent who worked out the best route and was “Number One” in the convoy talking all of us other drivers through hazards and directions on the CB radio.
We were told the targets for each day’s drive and the route. Money had been raised to cover the basic costs of the convoy but we all knew there would be no five star hotels. In fact the first night, in Troyes in France, we slept in the vans in a petrol station car park. Thankfully I had been to a well-known High Street purveyor of undies and thermals (thermal leg warmers, get me!) so I survived, but I know we were all secretly hoping that we’d have hotels/hostels on other nights.
By day 3 we were starting to get to know each other: businessman, aircraft engineer, lecturer. I was constantly perplexed by the fact that 5 out of the 7 men on the convoy were called Abdul. I gave them numbers. But felt less guilty when some had problems with my name too. Although technically a “co driver”, it was soon clear that the blokes were happier to drive and so my role was entertainer, photographer and writing a blog on Facebook.
In Tunis one of the ambulances broke down. So we had to kick our heels while the part was located and fitted. This had been the weirdest thing to pack for – in UK and the continent we really needed warm clothes but now in Tunis it was t-shirt time. Once the ambulance was mended off we sped again, heading for a place called Medenine in the south of the country. On the way we experienced the worst storm I think I have ever seen in my life– thunder, sheet and forked lightening and rain so dense you could hardly see anything. I confess I was glad not to be at the wheel. But we made it intact. The next day it was home stretch – across the border and to Tripoli.
Luckily our trip was in conjunction with Red Crescent (a Moslem version of the Red Cross) so we have a certain amount of gravitas when it comes to border crossings and paperwork – though it still took ages.
The driving standards at night in Tripoli are somewhat bonkers at the best of times. With ludicrously cheap petrol, cars just career round the streets honking their horns and flashing their lights for hours, And this night was no exception. News of our arrival had spread and we were joined by scores of vehicles and hundreds of spectators as we hit the ring road towards the main square. There were speeches and cameras – we’d done it. We’d driven 2245 miles / 3613 km.
A lot of the group peeled off to go and visit their families in other parts of the country, My original plan had been to head back into Tunisia and spend a few days on a beach. But I am glad I stuck around in Tripoli. We worked a lot with the Red Crescent cataloguing all the stuff we’d brought so it could go to the most deserving hospitals, We visited other cities. It was unbelievable how many “checkpoints” you had to drive through – usually made from shipping containers, and often completely unmanned or just one bored looking teenager. We went to Misrata, Bani Walid and a completely devastated Sirte to see what was needed there too. Soon after we left Bani Walid there was fighting and seven were killed. I fear the war is far from over. There may well be a second convoy and I’ll be more than happy to go back, Next time I’ll know what to pack!
December 12, 2011