To myself, I called him Porky. To his face, I merely smiled and said nothing, not that he would understand me anyway. I speak no Arabic and he speaks no English. Still I could tell he was trying to impress me. I called him Porky anyway, but not out loud. After all, he was armed to the teeth.
He was 16 years old and dressed in blue jeans and a blue turtleneck sweater.
He wore a knockdown version of running shoes and when he sat with us in the car, he cradled his Kalashnikov assault weapon, sometimes pointing it at me. I gently brushed it away.
We had our little game. He was the guard and I was the guest. Just what he was guarding me from I don't know, but to walk around a PLO refugee camp without an armed escort is, I take it, just not done.
This camp is called Rashidieh. It is big, hugging the Mediterranean Sea on one side, orange groves and the hills on the other. In normal times it would be a piece of heaven -- beautiful scenery, perfect weather. But these are not normal times.
The PLO says the Israelis have shelled the camps from the sea. The PLO says that the Israelis and their ally, the Christian Militia force of Maj. Saah Haddad, also have shelled the camp from the south. Whatever the direction, there is no doubt the camp has been shelled. House lay flattened, some of them blown to smithereens. Along the sea, the camp has been totally evacuated. It is a ghost town, quiet and eerie. You can walk the lanes between the small stone houses for some time before you will come across anyone.
You will, however, come across the PLO army. It is here in force. It operates in the camp and in the general area. In fact, if there is one place on earth where the PLO already has a state,, it is in southern Lebanon. From the Zaharani River north of here, to the Litani River a bit farther south, the PLO is surpreme. This is what the Israelis call Fatahland.
Porky was assigned to us by the commander of the camp. We reported directly to the commander when we entered Rashidieh. He and the PLO man from Beirut who took me down, talked for a while and suddenly Porky materialized. I looked at him and asked how he was; the guide repeated the question in Arabic.
"Sixteen," Porky said sternly and then asked if I was surprised to find a freedom fighter so young. I said I was, but that was not the whole story. I was surprised to find one so fat. Porky, I want to tell you, could crawl under no one's barbed wire.
Wherever we went, Porky went, too. In the car, he sat in the back with me. Up front, the driver from Beirut and the guides from the PLO. Porky was all business, keeping his rifle on me or at least trained in my general direction. When we walked down to the sea, he came with us and when we walked to a hillside to look at the orange groves, he was right behind us. He said nothing.
Even during lunch, we did not talk. He sat on a little stool in the courtyard of a two-room whitewash stone house and ate his oranges and his tangerines and a little meat pie a woman served us. The womn was a cousin of the PLO guide. Her husband, she said, was in the army and what politics she was inclined to talk was reserved for Anwar Sadat.
"He is worse that the Israelis," she said. On the maps of the Israelis, it says that there are 1,500 terrorists in the Tyre area, more farther east and north. In the Rashidieh camp, it is not hard to find them -- at least the PLO army. It cruises the camp, and once, in the car, we made a turn and drive right into a small convoy of men, moving through the camp. They were uniformed. Porky was not.
After a while, Porky began to relax with me. Sometimes, we would exchange smiles and sometimes I would pretend to be awed by his weapon. In the car, he would lean it against my leg and I would gently push it away. He laughed.
At one point, Porky met a friend. The friend joined us, and for a while he, too, was all business. But when he returned to the car, Porky and his friend began to talk. They whispered in each other's ears, Porky all but forgetting his gun. The friend took out cigarettes and the two of them lit up.
I thought for a second about admonishing them, telling them that they were too young to smoke. I had to laugh. This was not a lecture you give an armed man. Porky and his friend continued their whispering and then they started giggling. The friend would whisper something and Porky would giggle. Then Porky would whisper something and the friend would giggle. Clearly, they did not want either the PLO man or the driver to hear them.
I sat in the back with them and just watched. They laughed and they giggled and they whispered. I wondered why. Were they talking about a girl? gDo they have girlfriends? Do they have sex? I did't ask.
Finally, we arrived back at PLO headquarters in camp. Porky and his friend got out. The friend ran off, but Porky remained on duty. He became very mlitary again. I went up to him and said "thank you" in Arabic.He smiled and extended his hand and we shook. Nice kid.
Several days later, five terrorists slipped across the Israeli border. Two Israeli civilians were killed in the attack. One was in his thirties, the other was just two. The five terrorist were all killed. Their ages were not given. Very little is known about them. No one could say if one was young and fat.