About four hours out of Tripoli, a few kilometers southwest of the city of Ghudamis, the olive-tree orchards that line most of Libya's coast begin to disappear. Soon virtually all vegetation vanishes, as does evidence of human life. Farther into this moonscape, the only plant life is small tufts of gray-green weeds, called sha-al, which camels enjoy nibbling. Upon arrival at Ghudamis, the reporter and his escorts abandon their cars for four-wheel-drive Land Rovers (no air conditioning) for the final stages of the hegira to the great dunes. The entourage has arrived in the heartland of the original Silicon Valley.
For the ensuing three hours Mingawi, the sprinter, runs the dunes, up and down, leaving his footprints in the virgin sand. No world record is broken this day. That, of course, refers not to track and field but to temperature; today's high will be reported at 129°, seven short of the highest temperature recorded on earth, in 1922 in another part of the Libyan Sahara.
After the workout Mingawi grasps one of the many dozens of empty plastic water bottles that now litter the desert and fills it with sand. Perhaps he intends to keep it as a memento of the day's events, a talisman that will always remind him that however discouraging the going becomes, things could always be worse.
The reporter spends the final night of his Libyan experience in the Engineer's workplace: not the office that overlooks October the 7th Stadium but a tower of the latest architectural design, a building you might find in a Sun Belt metropolis. The Engineer occupies a corner office. One window provides a vista of the Old City; another faces the Mediterranean. A gigantic full moon shines a star-spangled pathway across the sea.
Tonight the Engineer wears a silk shirt that is the darkest possible shade of green, the color of the Dallas Stars' road uniforms. He is also clad in khaki pants and brown shoes, each with two buckles. Unlike at their initial meeting, which was held with a crowd in attendance, the Engineer and the reporter are alone except for the interpreter. The reporter soon learns that the Engineer, while eager to provide a better image for his homeland, isn't about to lavish praise on the Western mass media or upon the foreign policy of the U.S.
Question: Your father has been widely identified as a terrorist. Are you hurt or saddened by these descriptions?
Gadhafi: I am never alarmed by lies. We have a saying in Libya that the caravan is moving ahead and the dogs are behind barking. Cheap talk that comes through the air, vanishes in the air. I never get excited over it. It doesn't affect me. It only affects me if it is fact. If I'm walking in the street and someone calls me names, I don't respond. That person is making up stories to hurt me. In actuality he's the liar. He's the bad person.
Question: What kind of team will Libya send to the Sydney Games?
Gadhafi: The Libyan participation will be simple and symbolic, because we're at the rebuilding stage. There will be only a few Libyan athletes, participating in track and field and swimming, at most. One sport Libya will never participate in is boxing. As a child I was a fan of all sports, and the athlete I followed most closely was Muhammad Ali Clay. At that time he was our idol. However, as we grew up, we started thinking of boxing as a violent sport, a savage game. In my opinion it's not suitable for human beings. Boxing is prohibited in Libya. Maybe in the future the whole world will reject this type of sport.
Question: In 1986, when you were 14, the U.S. bombed your country, and your 18-month-old adopted sister died in the attack. How do you feel about that event?