Libya was a few buildings off in the distance, the only evidence of humanity in an expanse of sand, Customs and Immigration. A forbidding land ruled, it was said, by a warlike religious fanatic. Fears pulled at his mind as he dragged his moccasins though the sand.

Inside the frame buildings there was only the customary nonsense. "Passport, please." The visa was examined. "Thank you." The authorities didn't even bother to inspect his blanket.

"Is that all?" Hellanback asked.

"That's all. Have a nice journey."

It was late afternoon when he set out for the nearest human settlement, some twenty-five kilometers from the border. By the time the sun went down he had seen nothing but sand. Not a single vehicle had passed on the road since he'd entered the country.

The road ran off to an endless horizon, a black slash in the sand illuminated by a sliver of moon. It was cooler, which made walking less of a chore. A dog began barking off on the right. Another dog began barking. He walked on and a third dog started to bark. The barking became louder. Hellanback saw a dog flanking him, keeping pace about thirty feet away. More dogs began barking. He wondered where they had come from. Were they the pets of Bedouins or wild dogs just out for a bite to eat? If they were Bedouin pets did that mean they weren't hungry?

As the minutes dragged on he caught sight of another dog flanking him. He remembered, of course, not to let a dog sense fear. The only visible lights were the stars as he caught sight of a third dog loping along in the darkness and began to wonder how far it was to humanity.

From the west a jeep whizzed by. As its tail-lights began to disappear in the night Hellanback saw another dog join the pack, and began to think he'd been foolhardy not to try to flag the jeep down. A quarter of a mile down the road backup lights were visible, the jeep was in reverse.

"Where are you going?" the uniformed man in the passenger seat asked in Arabic.

"Next city," said Hellanback, who didn't know the Arabic word for "village." He scrambled into the back of the jeep.

It was a fast ride to the village and took only about ten minutes. The "village" was a gas station, some abandoned earthen huts, some tents, and a larger building.

Hellanback entered one of the huts, half its roof caved in, he spread out his blanket and lit a candle. As he sat on the floor reading the Bible, a uniformed officer entered the hut.

"Come with me," the officer instructed.

Hellanback was taken to the larger building which, he was not surprised to discover, housed government personnel. He was led into an office where a uniformed man asked for his passport in English. "What were you doing when my man brought you here?" the official asked, handing Hellanback his travel papers.

"Trying to find a place to sleep," the traveler answered.

"You may sleep here," the official stated. "But you will have to leave early in the morning."

"I am anxious to be on with my journey," Hellanback informed his host. He was escorted to a large storeroom and shown a cot. At sunup, after two soldiers shared breakfast with him, Hellanback continued east.

It was late in the evening when Hellanback arrived in Zumaarah, the first sizable Libyan settlement he encountered. The streets seemed familiar, reminding him of Old Town in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He was hailed in English by two men who urged him to join them at their table outside a teahouse. Mohammed, a tall, thin, 40-ish English teacher with a rustic command of the language, introduced his companion as Ahmed ibn el Jihad, a stocky sergeant in the Palestinian Liberation Organization. Ahmed wore a black-and-white-checkered headdress.

Except the young hustlers in Casablanca, Mohammed was the first Arab Hellanback had met who spoke more than a few words of English.

"From your trip, what do you think of the Arab?" Mohammed asked.

"Most I am impressed by the hospitality," Hellanback said.

"The Prophet said we must be kind to the traveler. It is our religion."

Hellanback asked Mohammed his thoughts about Ghaddafi, Libya's controversial leader. "Before Ghaddafi, there was Idirus, the King," Mohammed replied. "Under Idirus, we had nothing. Everything our country produced, Idirus sent to Italy. Ghaddafi came to power without a single shot. Now what was going to Italy is being used by Libyans. Ghaddafi is a great man."

"In America we're told that Ghaddafi is a war-monger, that he harbors terrorists. We're told that the P.L.O. is a terrorist organization," Hellanback ventured.

"Is it terrorist to fight for a man's home?" Ahmed asked, vehemently. "The Zionists must be pushed out of our land."

"But it is also the land promised by God to the Jews. Why can't you live peacefully with the Jews?" Hellanback asked.

"Judaism is a religion for which I have much respect," the Palestinian sergeant said. "But Zionism is racism."

The conversation continued. At about 11 o'clock the proprietor of the ahwa went home, tossing Mohammed the keys with instructions to lock up when he left.

A couple of hours later Sergeant ibn el Jihad and Mohammed bade Hellanback farewell. Searching for a place to lie down, Hellanback came upon the empty village marketplace. It looked inviting, but he was wary of a man who stood watching.

"Okay me sleep here?" Hellanback asked in Arabic.

"No, no. Come," the man said, and headed off down an adjacent street, waving for Hellanback to follow.

Hellanback hesitated, but followed the man around a corner, through a courtyard, and into a room containing beds, clothing, a television and a pinball machine.

"Here," the man said.

"No. Impossible," Hellanback stated. "Police, catch me."

The man assured him there would be no problem.

"Afraid," Hellanback persisted. "Maybe police catch me."

"Wait here." The man gestured and left, returning minutes later, to Hellanback's consternation, with a policeman in tow.

"Come with me," the policeman instructed. He led the way to the police station and the office of the shift commander.

"What is your problem?" the commander asked in English after checking Hellanback's passport.

"No problem, I was just wanting to sleep in the souk, when this man took me to someone's house. I was afraid that I would be in trouble if I was caught in that house."

"That is where the football team lives. They are out of town playing a match. You may stay in the souk, you may stay in the room of the football team, or you may spend the night in our jail. As you like," the commander offered.

Curious as to Libyan jail conditions, Hellanback opted for the latter alternative. He was ushered into a surprisingly clean, unoccupied, semi-private cell with both beds empty. There was a shower with hot and cold water. Quality of accommodations exceeded the finest he'd experienced in the U.S.A. Next morning he was served breakfast and sent on his way.

As he walked down the road, Hellanback began to notice at regular intervals the carcasses of sheep, mules, camels, and twisted automobiles. If Ghaddafi had rocketed his people from the middle to the modern age, the carnage along the roadside raised some question as to how "great" a transition it was.


The Libyan side of the Egyptian border was unremarkable, just a lazy crew of customs agents. Hellanback exited without difficulty.

On the Egyptian side, however, was a military gathering of personnel and weaponry larger than Hellanback had ever seen.

Some time later, when he reached Cairo and heard Egyptian media accounts announcing that Libya "attacked" Egypt, Hellanback would remember the disparity of military forces he'd seen at the border, he couldn't help wondering whether the attack hadn't been the other way around.

IN THE GREAT PYRAMID ===============>>