My Journey to Africa: The Archeology Site Outside Benghazi

November 18, 1999, Thursday

We get started on the road at 7:30 a.m. It’s a long way as we continually put on miles to Benghazi. We are informed that four of the British people don’t have entry visas into Egypt. Bill hopes to get the visas from an immigration office in Benghazi; otherwise we hope to get them at the border. This will hold us up for a couple of hours as Bill tries to get the visas straightened out. When we arrived at 1:00 p.m., Bill and Mike head to the Egyptian embassy while the rest set us for lunch. I have given Bill a long fax which I hope he sends to Marietta.

Bill was successful by returning with the visas in good order, but he wasn’t able to send the fax. I will try again in Tobruk or El Alamein. We fold up the tables and are back on the road by 2:30 p.m. Bill was successful in getting the visas through an extra gratuity. I guess this makes the world go round.

I am still not up to my usual, but am feeling a bit more chipper. The terrain is hilly. There is always something to see, whether children playing or shepherds working or the vegetation where moisture has given way to drought. At 5:00 p.m. we enter a very small town where Salas had worked on an archeology site. To Salas’ delight, there has been further work. His professors and co-workers are excited to have found a vase of significant archaeological value.

Read about my full journey to Libya and more in My Journal to Africa Travel Journal.

We are received as guests they have been waiting for. Their hospitality is overwhelming. We park outside the site’s compound which is near a very poor and isolated small village. With Salas’ guidance, we were able to explore the ruins of some adobe-style building. To my untrained eyes, it looks like ordinary ruins, but to a professional, this is a very ancient site. Some opinions give it a Greek background.

Alexander the Great discovered the harbour in Egypt that bears his name. The Greeks also established settlements throughout this coastline, followed by the empire based in Carthage which was defeated later by Rome in the Punic Wars. Rome held control along this coastline for a long period. On this trip, I have been able to see the great cities Rome ruled.

The workers in the archaeological site are separated into separate sections for the men and women. This is an example of how protective the Arabs are of their women which the Western world has a hard time comprehending. Some of the young ladies started to flirt with the men in our group. For the first time, I witnessed harsh emotions from Salas who was very annoyed. He was firm in telling the men to stay away from the women. “Don’t talk to them. Don’t pay any attention to them.”

Read more about my journey to Africa: How I Conquered Kilimanjaro.

Click here

After being invited to stay, we make our preparations for the evening meal. It’s my night, along with an Australian chap, to provide the evening meal. Unfortunately, my idea of certain dishes fell short of my expectations. Judging by the amount consumed, it was a disappointment to the others too. The two of us will not gain the award of gourmet cook on this expedition.

Salas asks if I would be interested in joining him and his professor for tea. I am honoured for and mystified by this privilege. Without hesitation, I express it would be an honour and delight to attend. It is so different to be here and be a part of this exploration compared to what I see in the documentaries about the massive setups Europeans and Americans create in their archaeological excavations.

Here, the most important element is to discover, and if possible, restore the ruins. The archaeological team members are living in conditions that most Westerners would find unacceptable. The little room has been partitioned off for personal use and has about 6 cots in it. When I enter, the men stand up in respect. The professor comes over to greet me. There are about 12 men here. There is a small kettle heating over coals. We sit down on the cots. Though the people here are highly educated, only the professor speaks English. The team is discussing the recent find of the vase which will need scientific opinion to assess its value.

The older gentleman preparing the tea hands me the first cup for a guest. It’s a glass cup with a top. To his horror, I reach out for it with my left hand. I see the expression on his face and quickly retract. I extend the correct which gets a smile from him. As I have learnt earlier, the right hand is the “eating hand’ and the left is your “dung hand”. Even in China, using chopsticks with the left hand is frowned upon. However, in the larger cities, their mixed society is more tolerant because people realize there are people born left-handed.

The late 30’s professor has been coming to the dig for many years. He used to be accompanied by his wife until she had their first child. They both teach at the university. I learnt what an arduous task these digs are involving many years. Much goes into the unravelling of the mysteries, much like a detective pursuing a case until it’s solved. Though his wife accepts his work, she has grown weary of his complete focus on returning to the digs. He only returns to work at the university to provide them with the necessary income. We talk about our families including my grandson, Cole, who is the same age as his child.

It’s getting quite late. Some of the men excuse themselves to retire to their own quarters. Even with the fire in the veins, I find the courtesy and respect these men express to each other and to me so enjoyable.

Read more about my journey to Africa: Meeting the Man in the Sahara Desert.

Click here

Tomorrow, we plan on going to a Greek city called Cyrene. It is the most important city in Libya, after Leptis Magna which is Roman. I say my farewells and return to the campsite to find most of the group is already bedded down for the night. It’s a night of bush camping. For those who prefer to sleep outside the tents, a tarp is laid down. It’s been a remarkable day because of the people I have met.

I am disappointed I was not successful in getting a fax sent to my beloved wife, Marietta. I am most anxious to see if Tobruk or El Alamein has a fax service. I hope she is doing relatively well under the circumstances. My thoughts are with her constantly.

Goodnight my beloved wife, I miss you immensely. Goodnight, my daughter and Cole. I love you dearly.



More Posts