Willie Adison sat aboard the Pakistan International Airlines' Boeing 707 as it backed away from the terminal at Tripoli International Airport and trembled at the disaster that had struck him.
He was being deported from Libya.
For Adison, a 32-year-old Filipino, that meant he would lose his job as a sandblaster and painter at a gas well in the Sahara. The job, which paid far more than he can earn in the Philippines, was the reason Adison came to Libya two years ago.
Adison had just returned from his annual 30-day vacation with his family in the Philippines. He had gotten the required "exit and return" visa from the Libyan authorities, but because it was written entirely in Arabic, including the dates, he did not realize that it permitted him only 15 days out of the country.
"Of course, they want to use Arabic because it's their language," Adison said as Flight 720 roared off the runway. "But the government officials are too much proud to even help you if you don't understand it," he added, gazing glumly down at the reddish desert floor dotted with olive and eucalyptus trees.
Flight 720, the first Pakistani flight to leave Tripoli since last week's U.S. air raids, carried more than a hundred Asians home -- for vacation or for good -- from their jobs in Libya. Many of the passengers -- Pakistanis, Thais, Indians and Filipinos -- sympathized with Adison over his brusque deportation and complained that it symbolized their difficulties with the Libyan bureacuracy.
As Flight 720 flew across the Mediterranean and along the Persian Gulf toward Karachi, several of the workers told how they had gone to Libya because they could not find jobs in the depressed economies of their own countries. The workers described physical hardships working in Libya's deserts -- plus cultural difficulties working under a fiercely nationalistic and conservative Islamic government -- but said they were willing to endure such difficulties simply to have a job.
"Why do you think we work so far from home and in such a place?" asked Mohamed Sharif, a Pakistani carpentry foreman who had just left his job in Libya after 10 years. Tapping his stomach, he said: "It is only for this."
Sadiq Chaudhury, a Pakistani electrician working in Tripoli, said, "In Libya, I can earn about $750 each month, but in Pakistan I would get only $125."
The workers complain that the Libyan government takes advantage of their desperation for the jobs it offers.
"They know that if they upset us and we quit, they can find lots of other people to take our places," said Sharif.
Adison agreed, saying that workers in the Philippines pay a stiff price of $500 to $900 to placement agencies to find them jobs in Libya or the Arab gulf states.
Like other oil-producing states in the Middle East, Libya employs tens of thousands of skilled and unskilled workers from developing countries. The question of whose unemployed citizens get absorbed into the Libyan economy is often a live issue in Libya's bilateral relations with other Third World nations.
Last summer, Libya suddenly expelled tens of thousands of Tunisians when relations between the two countries soured -- leading Tunisian officials to accuse Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi of trying to force an economic collapse and political unrest in Tunisia. In contrast, Maltese officials said early last year that Tripoli had agreed to reward Malta's improved friendship with Libya by hiring all the island nation's unemployed workers.
Libya "likes to play politics with these fellows' lives," said a member of the plane's flight crew, "and they know they will not have to worry that they might form a trade union."
Of his two years working at a gas well in southern Libya, Adison said, "The toughest time was in the winter, when it got so cold that sometimes it rained little pieces of ice. And one time a sandstorm came and tore the roof off the dining hall."
"In the desert, we were very bored," said Adison of himself and his colleagues, mostly Filipinos, Thais, and Ghanaians. "There was no recreation area and no women to meet."
He said they relieved the tedium by making "wine" with water and sugar and yeast. "It was easy to make, but it wasn't that good," he conceded.
Workers in the desert are given the incentive of being allowed to transfer up to 75 percent of their salary out of the country. Workers in cities such as Tripoli and Benghazi are permitted to send only half their salaries abroad, the other half being paid in Libyan dinars that may not leave the country.
"Life in the city is not very good either," said a Pakistani worker from Tripoli. "For months, there is no real meat -- only chicken, chicken, chicken. And sometimes there are no vegetables or no soap."
But for many of those interviewed the most difficult part of working in Libya is dealing with the Libyan bureaucracy.
"Libyan officials, they have a very high pride," said Adison, "and they will not talk to you to help with your visa or if you have a problem transferring money back to your family." But, he added quickly, "Ordinary Libyans are very friendly, especially if you speak some Arabic, but the government people are different."
"It wasn't always as bad as now," recalled a Pakistani geological engineer who has worked in Libya for 12 years. "Life for the expatriates began to get worse in 1978, when Col. Qaddafi began nationalizing everything," he said.
"Suddenly, instead of paying your rent to a private landlord, who was a normal, friendly person, you had to stand in a long queue at the Housing Ministry where they ask you insulting questions or accuse you of not paying enough," he said.
"Even so, for those of us who work at the administrative and scientific levels of the petroleum sector, we live a privileged life," the engineer said. "My company gives me a ticket abroad each month for a short holiday, so I have been able to bring back sweets for the children or cornflakes or meat."
During the flight, several workers showed they had found ways of coping with the hassles of being an expatriate worker in Libya. They told jokes about Libyan officials and laughed as one man imitated a panicked Libyan officer during last week's U.S. air raid.
Adison has his own plan for avoiding the frustrations of working in Libya.
"I won't go back," he said as he got off the plane at Karachi. "My wife and children cried last time because they didn't want me to go back; they were afraid I would get killed in the war between Libya and the Americans.
"I'll have to look for work in some other country," he said. "I worked in Saudi Arabia for a couple of years and that was better, so maybe I'll go back there."