April 19th, 2015:

TRIPOLI – WHERE ALL ROADS LEAD?

In Roman times it was said that all roads led to Rome and a specific monument there, which no longer exists. In my experience during the past decade or more, all roads lead to Tripoli, Libya, which is just a short journey south from Rome.

Tripoli is an exotic place on the edge of North Africa, settled in ancient times by the Phoenicians and the Romans and centuries later by the latter-day Romans, now known as Italians. World War II action attracted the Germans, the Brits, and then the Americans. And that’s just a brief history—I’m sure I left out civilizations, but I’m not writing a history lesson. It’s much more sentimental than that.

 

An Army Brat in Libya Ebook cover

An Army Brat in Libya Ebook cover

The Internet has developed like an enormous spider web connecting cultures and friends, old and new, from all over the world. And Tripoli has been part of that web. The American connection began when President Thomas Jefferson sent the US Marines over in the very early 1800s to fight the Barbary Pirates, and we’ve been connected one way or another since then. This “war” led to the words in the Marine Hymn, “From the halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli.” The attraction is mystical, in my view.

My family landed at Wheelus Air Force Base in 1955. We found a home in the Garden City area of Tripoli while my Corps of Engineers father worked  at Wheelus. Tripoli was a much smaller city then but Libyans, Italians, British, Egyptians, and other Middle Easterners mixed and mingled in this strategic city noted for colorful bougainvillea vines, palm trees, donkeys, camels, bicycles, and cars from Europe and the US. What an adventure and privilege  it was to be sent there for three years.

Facebook has become a treasure of groups connected with Tripoli: students who had gone to school at Wheelus Air Base: Wheelus High School Ex-students, for instance; military personnel who had served at Wheelus, and even Italian folks who were born in Libya. And I may have missed some groups. Photos have been passed around, stories remembered, history remembered: the Suez Crisis in late 1956 and the evacuation of US civilians in 1967, for example. All sorts of details have been shared: from Mediterranean beaches to Roman ruins. There have been reunions of former students over the years, way before the Internet when telephones and snail mail was necessary.

What surprises me is the sentiment Tripoli arouses  among so many of us who lived there long ago. Because of the many blogs I’ve posted about Tripoli and Wheelus, I’ve heard from many people who had some kind of connection with the city. Terrence Sharkey, once a young British actor in “The Black Tent” that was filmed in the Sahara near Tripoli got in touch. A British woman who had lived there as a teenager contacted me with lots of memories; her mother had been an extra in “The Black Tent.” Mahmud Abudaber, who had grown up on the outskirts of Tripoli found me—we both live in Los Angeles. When we first met, he brought photos, old coins, and lots of tales of his large family. He had escaped Tripoli in 1980, just before Gaddafi would have drafted him into the Army.

I recently shared memories with Giuseppe Scalora, who started the Facebook group of Italians born there: Club Italiani Nati a Tripoli. They have posted dozens of photos I’d never seen before of scenes and people from all over Libya, from the Sahara to the Mediterranean. Most recently, Julie Yeh, now living in LA, who had been born in Taiwan but moved with her family to Tripoli, got in touch. I can’t wait to hear about her memories.

Camilla, a lovely and very personable Italian lady who now lives in North Carolina and belongs to the group Giuseppe started, was born in Tripoli. She got in touch with me on Facebook and told me something about the horrors of WWII, which forced her and her mother to spend the war in Italy while her father had to remain in Tripoli. When her mother decided to rejoin her husband, she and Camilla faced a perilous sea journey back to Libya and even imprisonment, even though the war was finally over. With some persuasion from her family and my own encouragement, Camilla recently wrote her story of those historical times. I don’t know any authors who have the talent to write versions in Italian, French and English! La Stanza di Camilla de Micheli Consuelos, which includes photos, can be read on: http://www.ernandes.net/demicheli/

 

There must be something in the Mediterranean climate, the sand, the mix of cultures, the magic of Africa that keeps us connected and curious about our fellow travelers.

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