Adrenaline rush: Bored trucker turns war tourist



Published — Friday 4 January 2013

Last update 3 January 2013 11:17 pm

| نسخة PDF Print News | A A

Japanese trucker Toshifumi Fujimoto is bored with his humdrum job, a daily run from Osaka to Tokyo or Nagasaki hauling tanker loads of gasoline, water or even chocolate.
Yet while the stocky, bearded 45-year-old could spend his free time getting a jolt of adrenaline by bungee-jumping or shark hunting, he puts his life on the line in a most unusual way.
He's become a war tourist.
Fujimoto's passion has taken him from the dull routine of the highway to Syria, where as part of his latest adventure in the Middle East's hot spots he shoots photos and video while dodging bullets with zest.
He was in Yemen last year during demonstrations at the US embassy and in Cairo a year earlier, during the heady days that followed the ouster of longtime president Hosni Mubarak. Later this year, he plans to hook up with the Taleban in Afghanistan.
But for the moment, he is wrapping up a week's tour of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, which for going on six months has been one of the hottest spots in a conflict that has cost more than 60,000 lives, according to UN figures.
He already spent two weeks in the war-torn country at the end of 2011, taking advantage of a tourist visa, but this time he has entered the country clandestinely from Turkey.
Dressed in a Japanese army fatigues and armed with two cameras and a video camera — Japanese, of course — Fujimoto heads for whatever frontline he can every morning to document the ongoing destruction of Syria's second city and one-time commercial capital.
Fujimoto, who doesn't speak English, much less Arabic, has picked up a few words, such as "dangerous" and "front line."
The only way to interview him was to make use of Google Translate.
"I always go by myself, because no tour guide wants to go to the front. It's very exciting, and the adrenaline rush is like no other.
"It's more dangerous in Syria to be a journalist than a tourist," he said, describing how "each morning I walk 200 metres (yards) to reach the 'front', and I'm right there on the firing line with soldiers of the (rebel) Free Syria Army."
"It fascinates me, and I enjoy it," he says, as some FSA fighters stop him in one of the Old City's streets to have their picture taken with him.
"Most people think I'm Chinese, and they greet me in Chinese," he smiled.
He takes his time getting his shots right, as the rebels he hangs out with shout from both sides of the street: "Run! Run! There are snipers. Run!"
But he ignores them, finishes shooting and casually walks away with photos that he will later post on his Facebook page to share with his friends.
"I'm not a target for snipers because I'm a tourist, not like you journalists," he told a reporter. "Besides, I'm not afraid if they shoot at me or that they might kill me. I'm a combination of samurai and kamikaze."
Fujimoto won't even wear a helmet or a flack jacket.
"They are very heavy when it comes to running and it's more fun to go to the front without anything. Besides, when they shoot, it's fun and exciting."
Fujimoto said his employers don't know he's in Syria.
"I just told them I was going to Turkey on holiday; if I'd told them the truth, they'd tell me I'm completely crazy."
But though some might doubt his sanity, no one can question his financial foresight, which is rooted in the sadness of his personal life.
Fujimoto is divorced, and says "I have no family, no friends, no girl friend. I am alone in life."
But he does have three daughters, whom he hasn't seen for five years, "not even on Facebook or the Internet, nothing. And that saddens me deeply," he said as he wiped away a tear.
So he's bought a life insurance policy, and "I pray every day that, if something happens to me, my girls might collect the insurance money and be able to live comfortably." Fujimoto doesn't make any money off his photography, and spent $ 2,500 (1,894 euros) out of his own pocket for the flight to Turkey.
Then there's another $ 25 a day that he pays a local resident, who puts him up in his house and gives him Internet access.
In his week in Aleppo, he has covered all the battle fronts — in the districts of Amariya, Salaheddin, Saif al-Dawla, Izaa — and though he's shared many of the images he's captured, one of them has stuck in his mind.
He opened a file on his laptop to show the partly decomposed body of a seven-year-old girl in Saif Al-Dawla, gunned down by a sniper, which has lain unclaimed for months.
One wonders if any of his daughters could be the same age, but there was no way to pry more out of him, as he wept every time they were brought up.
"I love children, but Syria is no place for them. A bomb can snuff out their lives at any moment," he said, as some FSA fighters asked him to join them in Saleheddin and he ambled off down the street toward the sound of fighting.

What's happening around Saudi Arabia

JEDDAH: The government has installed 5,000 high-definition cameras on all floors and courtyards of the Grand Mosque to ensure security and crowd control.These cameras are monitored 24 hours a day by officers at a control center in Mina. They have to...
GENEVA: Saudi Arabia has welcomed the report of the International Fact Finding Commission on Israeli aggression in Gaza and has lauded its effort to prepare the report despite noncooperation from Israel which did not allow the committee to do its wor...
JEDDAH: Several Yemenis have praised the government for correcting their status quickly, which created no extra burden while fasting.Many who gathered in front of the Passport Department in Asir said everything was in place for them, a local newspape...
RIYADH: The $11.6 billion King Abdullah Financial District (KAFD) is already being admired for being a smart city but nobody can tell when it will be completed.“Being a smart city, everything is state-of-the-art. There is seamless Internet access and...
RIYADH: In a new move, the Ministry of Health will conduct drug tests on all drivers ferrying pilgrims between Makkah and Madinah during the Haj season.The decision was taken at a Haj preparatory meeting held on Sunday under the chairmanship of Imad...
JEDDAH: Motorbikes are among the most important means of transportation in Makkah during Ramadan because they are easy to use and cope easily with congestion in the central area next to the Grand Mosque. Despite the presence of public transportation,...
JEDDAH: A local man here runs a business started 150 years ago by his grandfather making sought-after Hijazi sweets for Eid and other festivals.Samer Jastaniah, 35, has three family shops making these products. “I am the grandson of the doyen of swee...
RIYADH: Saudi students have won six medals — a gold, a silver and four bronze — at the 19th Junior Balkan Mathematical Olympiad (JBMO 2015), securing the fifth place for the nation, as against 13th in its first participation in 2013.Rinad Abu-Jamal f...
Ambassador of Belgium Geert Criel:— Which particular aspect of Saudi Arabia you like the most? The friendliness of its people.— What is your favorite and oft-repeated Arabic word? Ahlan wa Sahlan.— Which book is by your bedside these days? World Orde...
AL-AHSA: Saudi farmers here need more support to buy fertilizers, medicines and equipment, and market their products.This is the view of Ahmed Al-Musalmi, who recently won the country’s ‘Ideal Farmer Award.’ He said high production costs and low mark...
JEDDAH: The Commission of the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (Haia) has launched 20 initiatives aimed at improving the professionalism of employees and limiting individual interpretations and actions while carrying out duties.Sheikh Abdul...
RIYADH: Medical studies and research for new methods in the treatment of chronic diseases suggests that fasting could help combat cancer and boost effectiveness of treatment.Scientists doing research on the positive aspects of fasting discovered that...
RIYADH: The Ministry of Education has announced that Saudi universities would accept 95 percent of high school graduates, despite a royal decree four years ago setting a ceiling of 70 percent.The royal decree had approved the “Afaq Project,” a strate...
JEDDAH: With the first stages of the municipal elections set to launch in Dhul Qadah, various organizations and institutions are responding to the intensifying “election fever” by trying to get in on the action and making a strong presence on the sce...
AL-AHSA: The third annual Youth Nights Festival kicked off at King Abdullah Environmental Park in Al-Ahsa recently. Organized by the General Presidency of Youth Welfare (GPYW), in collaboration with Al-Ahsa Municipality, the festival targets 70,000 y...

Stay Connected

Facebook