November 6th, 2011:

LIBYAN CONNECTIONS

It continues to amaze me how my three teenage years spent in Tripoli has put me in touch with others who have lived there at various times over the years and even those who grew up there. The world, thanks to the Internet, is a very small one and very connected.

Mahmud Abudaber, a Libyan native of Janzour, a Tripoli suburb (essentially what used to be Georgimpopuli in the 1950s) Emailed me after reading my blog, and we’ve since become friends. He’s been living in Los Angeles since 1980, and it’s only recently that he can consider going home to visit his huge family—7 sisters and 6 brothers, most of them still in Libya with growing families of their own.

Mahmud’s got lots of fond memories of growing up in Libya in the ‘50s and ‘60s. His grandfather, who lived to be 104, was a very enterprising patriarch. As a young man he started with a few acres of palm, olive and fig trees. The money he collected from selling olives, olive oil, and figs went toward buying more land. Mahmud remembers the entire family pitched in to take care of the ever-expanding farm, which included all sorts of vegetables from spinach and peppers to onions and tomatoes, and a variety of animals: cows, horses, sheep, goats and rabbits, to name a few. Their house was originally an Italian military compound. As the family thrived, they bought a new house closer to the beach.

Gaddafi hadn’t taken over yet and the Tripoli area was full of Americans, British, Italians and even tourists. Mahmud, 14, his 16-year-old brother. and two cousins would use a wheelbarrow to sell melons and other fruits along the coastal highway to tourists or American military personnel. The teenagers were not averse to trying new things, like alcohol. One day they traded melons for a six-pack of beer, cooled it off in the Mediterranean and gradually sipped it, asking each other “How do you feel? Are you getting drunk?”

In those days, most Libyans spoke Italian fluently and Italian food was a favorite. “We had spaghetti twice a week and ravioli and I thought it was Libyan food,” Mahmud recalled.

Janzour High School gave him a good education with an emphasis on history and geography. “We had to study all the U.S. states and even learned to draw the shapes of each state.” He also had to know about all the civilizations that lived in and influenced Libya—the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, etc. “My brain was stuffed!”

Soccer was a passion for Mahmud, who played from the age of 8, eventually playing on the Janzour national team and in England in the late 1970s. About that time, Mahmud was taking college courses and Gaddafi’s infamous Green Book, which contained his philosophy, was a reading requirement. When he refused to read it, Mahmud was expelled and soon received a draft notice from the Libyan army. He took his $450 “big time savings” and eventually ended up in the U.S. He’s now a U.S. citizen but does plan to go home to Libya for visits. In the meantime he runs a web site for Janzour, now a tourist destination.

Mahmud in his younger days

 

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