Student visits conflict zones ‘on a whim’

TEENAGER Ben Jones had a summer holiday with a difference – by visiting conflict-torn Iraq and Libya.

Mr Jones, 18, is about to leave his home in Langley Road, Chippenham, to study Chinese at Cambridge University, but decided to take six weeks off to tour the troubled countries first.

He said: “I was going to take a full gap year but, after hearing about the rise in tuition fees, I decided to take a shorter break before going to university.

“You see these places on the news but I didn’t know what they were like and I wanted to take a chance. I decided to go to Libya on a bit of a whim.

“I was in Cairo when I saw a bus going to Benghazi so I decided to take a chance on it.

“The journey took 15 hours and I managed to blag my way through the checkpoint. They had to create an entirely new visa stamp for me as they’d never had a tourist coming through Syria before.”

The former Hardenhuish pupil only had the equivalent of 90p on him for his week in Libya, and managed to survive on the kindness of strangers.

“When I arrived, my driver took me under his wing, and passed me around to family and friends who fed and housed me for the week,” said Mr Jones.

“People were so kind and I was very lucky. I assumed I would be able to use my debit card but thanks to UN sanctions I couldn’t take out any money at all.

“There is no internet in Benghazi, and it was five days before I could contact my family. My dad answered the phone and I said, ‘Hi dad, I’m in Libya’. I think they were quite shocked.”

Mr Jones, who also visited Tanzania with his old school in the summer, worked in restaurants and warehouses to save the money for his travels, and said he had some near-misses.

“In Libya, I was hanging out with some rebels and standing in the sea when I noticed a large unexploded torpedo,” he said.

“There was a time in Iraq when I was in a taxi and noticed a small town. I thought I’d like to find out about how people in small towns live in that country, but the taxi driver drew a finger across his throat in a beheading motion and said ‘terrorist’, so I thought we should probably leave quite quickly instead.

“Having said that, it was an absolutely amazing and enlightening adventure.”

Chippenham stories

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