Writing a guidebook to a country that no longer exists


Kate Grace Thomas reflects on travel writing amidst the Arab Spring @ Guernica. Libya: When to go: March to May: Honey and grapes; olives and dates. Libya in bloom. August: Late sunsets and live shows at Cyrene’s ancient Odeon. High season: High times. November to December: Winter sun, ocean breeze. (Wear a headscarf or wrap your ears tight in a tagelmoust.) Excerpt from the Lonely Planet Guide to Libya, Third Edition. (Unpublished.)


Springtime in Ajdabiya, LibyaApril 2011“Get over,” the armed rebel fighter screamed. “Get out of the way.”His checkered scarf danced in the hot wind. It was early evening and he looked tired. Five o’clock shadow dappled his cheeks.We stood there for a moment looking over the dusty hamada, the Libyan rebel and I, at the final outpost on the way to Ajdabiya; the last point before the road winds west to the front line.Then he screamed again. “Move.”His cries were not directed at me but to a pair of girls playing in the middle of the desert road, a truck headed right for them. They ran to the edge of the strip and tumbled into a narrow ditch, laughing, as the pick-up plowed down the road, its chassis tattooed with rebel graffiti tags, its wheels tearing up the freedom flag that fluttered into its path.To my right, a tall man sitting on the steps of a damaged building shook his head and said something in Arabic. His legs were splayed over the stoop like the stream of bullets that must have hit recently, leaving their black acne on the wall behind.It was early April and Libya’s revolution was underway. I was covering the long, painful labor of breaking free from the regime. The Arab Spring, we called it. The Arab Awakening, said the Libyans. I was covering the rocket strikes against regime forces near the western gate of Ajdabiya, the NATO bombing that misfired onto revolutionary fighters, the horror stories that tumbled readily, sometimes loosely, from the lips of the displaced.

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