By the time he reached Tunisia his pilgrimage had settled into a routine. He'd start walking early in the morning. His pace was leisurely as he pondered creation. There had been several days without food, and a few times he'd eaten only because he found figs or cactus fruit growing beside the road, but most often people along the way would ask where he was headed. When he replied "Cairo," they were greatly impressed and usually offered him food and drink. As a rule the fare was simple, bread, cheese or eggs, or fruit, or couscous, and tea, sometimes water. Always his benefactors were friendly and polite. Frequently people called him ibn Bartuta, after a famous Arab explorer.

Many nights Hellanback would be invited to stay in the home of someone casually met along the road. On other nights he would throw down his blanket twenty yards or so from the road and gaze at the stars until sleep overcame him.

Beyond any doubt the North Africans had fewer bars, cars, and TV's, but whatever the reason, these people spent much more of their time talking to one another than did the folks back home.

Was there a connection between poverty and the will to share? Apparently the people in North Africa were at least as likely to be open, trusting, and friendly as any people he might meet in the United States. He had never found it necessary to ask anyone for anything. Because they had less to lose did the poor have less to fear?

In a way the lack of challenge was disappointing. He'd chosen North Africa for an acid test. The stateside media had given the distinct impression that these people were decidedly uncivilized. He was beginning to suspect that his mind may have been propagandized. Of course, he still hadn't gotten to Libya, home of "Mad Dog Ghaddaffi." His initial encounter at the Libyan consulate held out hope that things might get worse.

In Tunis Hellanback applied for a visa and left his passport at the Libyan consulate. After a week his passport was returned, and his request was denied. His pleas for an explanation went unanswered.

Hellanback believed he could complete his journey, but still lacked the faith to make a long detour -- equal to the distance from Morocco to Egypt -- through the barren burning sands of the Chadian Sahara. So, rather than attempting to walk around Libya, he decided to apply again for a visa in a month or so.

While killing time he noticed a few things.

People continued to offer him food, but he felt guilty accepting the generosity of people who were raising families on pennies a day. One morning a general contractor brought him breakfast in a restaurant, and offered him a job shoveling gravel at $1.25 a day. Rather than live off the generousity of big hearted poor people while he marked time waiting for the Lybians, Hellanback accepted the job.

He noticed there were men -- every bit as human and more industrious than men he'd met on construction sites in the States -- who shoveled gravel from sunup to sundown, without union benefits. He noticed lunch cost them only about fifteen cents when they ate bread with milk and sugar. If the bread was sweetened with jelly it cost about twenty cents. In either event it was a sizable chunk of the daily dollar-and-a-quarter on which they supported their families in rags and hovels.

He noticed that some merchants, and more bankers and professionals, made much more and lived lives comparable to middle class Americans, but that those living in hovels were far more numerous.

He noticed Peace Corps workers whose "meager" stipend enabled them to live in comfortable apartments with indoor plumbing and housekeepers. He noticed that the majority of Peace Corps people he met spent most of their time fraternizing with one another, little time with the natives, and had been in North Africa longer, but knew far less Arabic than he.

Hellanback had approached the "Third World" with the impression that Yanks had a corner on technological ingenuity, but he noticed Arab mechanics, routinely rebuilding parts, were at least as ingenious as Yank mechanics who purchase their parts in neat plastic packages.

He thought he'd discovered a clue to all humanity's inequality: some people just had more money than others.

On his second trip to the Libyan consulate, it again took a week before his application was acted on, but this time Hellanback was given a visa.

He split what money he had left earned from shoveling gravel among his fellow shovellers, and started walking again.