Levison Wood uncovering the Arabian peninsula

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Meriem Mahdhi, Journalism Undergraduate, University of Roehampton

What does a journey through Arabia look and feel like?

“Like an Iraqi man wearing a cowboy hat, smoking a cigar and driving a Jeep straight towards Isis.”

Levison Wood attended Wimbledon BookFest to discuss his book Arabia, which features his journey circumnavigating the Arabian Peninsula from Iraq to Lebanon exploring 13 countries.

Levison Wood is an ex Officer in the British Parachute Regiment and now travels the world filming documentaries for Channel 4 and Discovery Channel while conducting scientific research. He is the author of six bestselling books and a member of the Royal Geographic Society, The Explorer’s Club and an ambassador for Tusk.

He starts his conversation with Jennifer Cox by stating that the Middle East is only reserved for current affairs and news that their “stereotypes are problematic.” Although, for as much as he tried not to, conflicts, bombs and terrorists dominated their discussion.

Wood brings though, an original and unexpected vision of the people living the area. The population that he presents is one that has learnt to coexist with conflict. “There are many people who are not interested in politics and just want to carry on with their daily life.”

According to him the Middle East is a region that is often “misunderstood”.

In Syria he had met car rental business owners that had not rented a car since 2010 and who refused to close, in Iraq he encountered a Hezbollah soldier who had just sent his UCAS application to study at the University of Leeds.

“I was drinking a coffee at a kiosk not too far from Baghdad when a bus with around thirty armed men with long beards had pulled off, despite trying to hide one of them saw me and approached me, when I scarily asked him who they were he gave me a fierce look and said in perfect English ‘we are Isis.’

After seeing my face going pale, he patted me on my shoulders and bursting into laughter said ‘don’t worry, we are just Hezbollah.”

Such experiences and encounters are extremely relevant to bridge the gap between East and West and it’s important to document and narrate them as they shift the narrative we are used to hear.

This is the portrait that Woods wants us to have about the Arabian Peninsula, a hospitable and kind place, made dangerous by battling factions but where the struggle of trying to live normal lives persists and is only made possible by the small joys of life.