Many American and British military brought their cars to Libya in the 1950s. I’d never before seen the variety of British cars zooming around Tripoli streets. My dad was a Ford man and our 1952 white Ford convertible was shipped over. He took it to the Corps of Engineers office at Wheelus Air Force Base and my mother drove it occasionally. As a young teenager then, cars were not my first concern, besides, I was in a foreign country and too young for a license.
One weekend day, my brother, sister and I had a little adventure when Mom had taken us on some kind of errand. She parked the car on a sloping street that led down to Tripoli’s harbor while she got out to talk to a friend. My brother, about four at the time, and my nine-year-old sister were sitting in the back seat; I was in the front passenger seat. No one was paying attention when my little brother, typically curious at that age, climbed over the driver’s seat and decided the handbrake looked enticing. He’d probably seen my mother use it so he pulled at it. It released and we started gliding backward, a little faster each second. I’ll never forget seeing my mother frantically running toward us, as if she could somehow grab hold of the car. I’d never paid attention to the mechanics of driving, but some instinct kicked in while my brother sat frozen in the driver’s seat, wondering what was happening.
I reached for the steering wheel and turned it. Voila, the car backed toward the sidewalk and soon stopped. We hadn’t even hit a person or another car, and my mother was spared any further anguish. I wonder what my mother told my father afterwards. Army officers aren’t know for being easygoing!
Ron, a Brit who had been a teenager in Tripoli at the same time I lived there, shared an hilarious story of his own regarding his family’s Morris convertible (or as the Brits call it—a softop). He told me their family villa had a modern sanitation system: flush toilets, sinks and showers that drained into an underground concrete septic tank situated adjacent to their front door.
“The lid of the tank made an excellent place to park the car as the top was flush to the sand. One morning we awoke to the terrible smell of raw sewage. My parents assumed, as had happened before, that the pipes to the septic tank had backed up and required clearing.” The family went about their morning routines anyway, but when Ron’s father went out the front door to go to work (Royal Air Force) he was flabbergasted by the sight and voiced his anger with a variety of curse words as he called to his wife to come and check it out. Ron recalled: “We all rushed out and saw our beloved Morris 1000 buried nose first in excrement. The concrete lid had collapsed overnight, and the car had dropped into the half-full septic tank.”
A car should never “go to waste” (my pun), and local Libyans were happy to extricate the car and clean it. Ron’s mother had other ideas and vowed “she would never again step foot in the car, so it was driven away by the locals, never to be seen again.”
I welcome short contributions about life in Tripoli for this blog. Get in touch with me if anyone is so inclined.