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Personal safety

In his last book, Travels with Herodotus, the great Polish journalist Ryszard (Richard) Kapuscinski told of an early stay in Cairo, in 1960. As the then Egyptian dictator Nasser was running an anti-alcohol campaign, Kapuscinski felt it best to dump an empty bottle of beer on the street, one hot morning. He was so unnerved to find someone staring at him at every turn, he returned to the hotel with the bottle, and dumped it at night. Kapuscinski had noticed the ‘criss-crossing, coherent, panoptic observation network, covering the entire space of the street, on which nothing could occur without it being noticed. Noticed and reported.’ As that implies, Kapuscinski realised that Nasser and other dictators used these agents.

Another time, one such hanger-about on the street asked Kapuscinski to follow him, to show an old mosque. ‘I am by nature quite credulous,’ Kapuscinski admitted. They walked, took a bus, and walked some more. The man knocked on the metal doors of the mosque, and they entered the dark minaret. Kapuscinski set off first up the dangerous staircase, without railing. If either man so much as touched the other, they would tumble. At the very top, the muezzin’s perch had fallen away. Readers may guess what happened next. “Ahmed gently pushed me outside and, still standing on the stairs himself, leaning safely against the opening in the wall, said: ‘Give me your money.’” He did. The story did not quite end there; Kapuscinski kept seeing Ahmed on the street, on the same ‘beat’ as before. “He looked at me with no expression on his face, as if we had never met. And I looked at him, I believe, also without expression, as if we had never met.”

More on lone worker and personal safety in the April 2019 print issue of Professional Security magazine, including a return interview with Al Prescott of the Derby-based training company HZL.

To read issues online, visit the ‘magazine‘ section of the website.


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