A New Home in Tripoli — Garden City

Just before Christmas in 1955, the five members of my family left the Hotel Del Mahari when my dad found a home in Garden City, an upscale location for Europeans, Americans and wealthier Libyans.  Consisting of streets like spokes that branched off Garden City Circle, the area was a neighborhood of one and two-story, flat-roofed, square and rectangular-shaped villas surrounded by stucco walls as high as ten feet. The walls were as much for privacy as protection, and many of them had decorative, fret-worked sections. Flowering vines such as bougainvillea, lantana hedges, and palm trees were ubiquitous; Garden City was an appropriate name.  It was some time before I discovered that the vibrantly-colored pink and purple bougainvillea vines that seemed to cascade from countless rooftops were in actuality growing up from the ground to the roof and not vice-versa.

The view from our balcony. The street leads to Garden City Circle

Our spacious home was on the second floor of a two-family villa on a street that maintained its Italian name, Via de Gaspari; a Libyan family lived downstairs. A balcony, on both stories, ran the full length of the villa’s frontage. Small square sections, supported by columns, jutted out at either end of the balcony, giving the villa a slight “U” shape. The slatted, green-iron gate led from the street to a small side yard, large enough for the swing set my father ordered, which flaunted our American ways in this faraway land.

A heavy wooden front door, which could be opened by key or from a buzzer upstairs, welcomed us to our new home; a two-tiered marble staircase led upstairs to a three-bedroom, one-bath apartment. There was no central heating, but since doors closed off the entrance hall, separate dining room and separate living room, we could keep the back bedrooms and kitchen warm in winter with portable Aladdin propane gas heaters. To add to the coziness and keep out pesky sand from ghiblis, the desert sandstorms that would blow into town on occasion, there were green wooden shutters that could be rolled down over the outside of all the windows.

Garden City was multi-cultural. Our side of a very short block boasted a British general and his wife on the corner next to us; another British family occupied the home on the other side. Across the street lived a French family and an Italian family, and a large corner compound surrounded by a decorative wall contained the home of the Egyptian ambassador to Libya.

The popular Gamel Abdul Nasser was in power in Egypt, and while we were there the ambassador held a party for Libyan dignitaries and politicians (only male, of course). I spied on the interesting event from our balcony and watched as his male visitors mingled. Robed Arab sheiks, with their distinctive square cloth headdress bound with gold rope, seemed to be the dominant guests. Seated at outside tables set up in the sizeable yard, they smoked as they watched films of Nasser on a giant movie screen.

The family home, above the Bougainvillea, surrounded by 8 foot walls

Facing an adjacent street but bordering on the back of our villa was the home of a former Arab queen, perhaps a relative of King Idris, then King of Libya. My girlfriend, Gail, who lived around the corner, and I were very curious about the mysterious queen but never had a glimpse, despite the fact that we would climb my back garden wall and peer through the trees into the lushly landscaped acres surrounding the queen’s home. Looking at Google Earth recently, the so-called Queen’s gardens still remain.

We played tennis in the street in front of the queen’s mansion, but were such poor players that we lobbed and lost balls in her gardens.  When we hit them into the General’s yard, we had an opportunity to flirt with the soldiers who attended him. These young men took to drawing cartoons of us, which they enclosed in an old tennis ball they had slit and then tossed in our direction. Walls were ideal obstacle courses for inquisitive girls. My girlfriend Karen and I scooted along the General’s back wall one night to spy on a big party he was giving.

My mother faced most of the household problems alone. She managed to eliminate most of the roaches, but ample hot water was usually a challenge. Tiny wall water heaters in kitchen and bathroom couldn’t keep up with our spoiled American demands. Always enterprising, she’d put large pots of water on top of the Aladdin heaters to get extra hot water. I was in charge of dishwashing, and it was my job to monitor this water when my parents entertained. We had brought our American washing machine with us, but it soon burned out, perhaps from the difference in electrical currents. Mom took to washing in the large bathroom tub, a normal size and shape. Fortunately for her, my thrifty father relented and decided he could afford an occasional maid since it would be difficult to procure another washer.


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  6. Elaine Frank says:

    Hi, I lived in Tripoli from 1956-1958. Older sister was in the freshman class and she sends me your blogs which I read and love to remember. I was in 3,4 and 5 grades. In one of your blogs you mentioned the Aladdin propane gas heaters. I believe they were kerosene. We had them too. Propane gas came much later.
    You also mentioned that you were to go to Morrocco but orders were changed. We were in Morrocco during that time and the reason we left for Libya was that Morrocco wanted their independence from France and there were riots and one night the principal of the high school’s car was stopped by terrorists and was shot and killed. I remember once our air force military bus was stopped by terrorist and it was a bus load of women and children and we were detained for about half an hour then released. Dad decided to put in for a transfer to Wheelus. Mom used to fly the American flag out side our villa in Casablanca so people would know that we were Americans. We had a military bus with a military guard on it that picked us up everyday in front of our villa and took us to the base. We were the first ones picked up and the last to get off. It took about an hour to get us to the base with the stops for other military children being picked up. It was a very scary time. As for Tripoli that had some scary times too with the riots of 56 and all the english were sent back to England but the Americans stayed and my dad had rocks thrown at his car when he would come home at night. We finally got on base when the Italian trailers were set up. I know I felt alot safer then and mom didn’t have to boil the water or use chlorine tablets to purify the water. Dad started bringing water home from the base in 5 gallon gasoline cans.
    Thanks for helping to keep our memories Victoria.
    Elaine Jones Frank

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