LIFE ON VIA DE GASPARI, TRIPOLI, LIBYA – PART 5

Me, a typical American teen on our 1950s Ford convertible.

I’m in the usual American casual attire–jeans. My loafers are on the sidewalk in front of our villa. Across the street is the Egyptian Ambassador’s compound. Note the Libyan license plate and the white-wall tires of the 50s! The photo is old, the only explanation I have for all the black dots.

Nourishment

My mother did most of her grocery shopping at the Wheelus Air Force Base Commissary, but Tripoli had its own food delights. Just a few blocks from our home, an Italian bakery sold magnificent loaves and rolls with crispy crusts for just a few piastres (Libyan money). Arab bikers would deliver the bread, laid out on large metal trays they balanced upon their heads, to homes and businesses. The vegetable and fruit man would wander down our street weekly, crying out his wares in loud Arabic. Huge handmade baskets would be laden with blood oranges, cauliflower, lettuce and other produce. It was delicious, but to protect ourselves from bacteria, since local farmers used human manure, we had to soak produce in diluted Clorox for half an hour. For something sweet, my friends and I would walk to a small store that sold British candy: Cadbury bars of all types were plentiful. My friend Gail urged me to try chocolate with a fresh loaf of Italian bread for a tasty treat. My parents sampled couscous, an Arab dish of grains, lamb and vegetables, but since my father didn’t care for lamb, my mother never duplicated the recipe.

Libyan offerings

For Christmas that first year we gave each other inexpensive yet durable Libyan wares: leather purses decorated with embroidered flowers, slip-on leather sandals and belts, elaborate arabesque silver jewelry, and hammered pattern copper and brass trays. A favorite souvenir for Americans in general was a small wooden and leather stool that was aptly, because of its design, called a camel saddle. My mother happily discovered Lucille’s, an Italian shop that sold whimsical and inexpensive straw jewelry. In the 50s, it was considered a romantic dinner if you put a candle in an old straw-covered Chianti bottle.  I still have Mom’s now faded white straw earrings that looked like tiny wine bottles inserted with even tinier pink candles.

A typical Camel Saddle stool

International Neighbors

During the school year I rode a bus to Wheelus Dependents High School at the air base. Many of the Air Force kids lived on base, but I feel I learned more from living in the city. Living atop a different culture was an educational experience in itself. On the bottom floor of our two-story villa, our noisy but quite private Libyan neighbor’s family had chickens in their yard and a passel of pet cats. During their holy Ramadan, Moslems fast from sunrise to sunset and then celebrate far into the night. We would hear the drums from their loud music for nights on end. When my mother would get impatient with it, she would take an umbrella and hit the floor in annoyance.

The Libyan family moved in the fall of our first year. We watched curiously as the place was repainted and tidied up for a Russian family. The Duganovs had a daughter who looked about three, the same age as my little brother. They kept to themselves, although I could occasionally spy the father sitting on his balcony below us in his pajamas. He worked nights as a news correspondent for the notorious Russian newspaper Pravda. My father was wary of them—Russia was then our enemy, after all—and had American Embassy security personnel come several times, fruitlessly as it turned out, to check if these Russians had bugged our phone or wired our house for surveillance. My brother Darby, however, had no trouble with détente, making friends with the chunky, blond-haired daughter if she happened to be in her yard while he was passing their gate. Children have no boundaries of distrust at that age.

My sister, Joan Tupper,  made her own international playmates. Three young brothers lived across the street; their mother was French, their father English, and the boys spoke both languages fluently. They spent a great deal of time on our swing set when the oldest two weren’t attending private school in England. My by then seven-year-old sister had soon mastered an excellent British accent, sometimes with overtones of French.

Cultural Differences

American dependents were given a few guidelines about living in Libya. We were told that the Libyan culture at that point in time was behind Western culture by several centuries. Perhaps that explained why women were still covered and invisible, treated more as property than an individual, so contrary to what we would normally expect in our own social interaction. American women were told to avoid wearing pants in respect of Libyan culture. Teenage girls, with our love of jeans, forgot the advice immediately.

What they didn’t mention were some of the less appealing facts of life in the city. Men, Arab or European, thought nothing of peeing in public. The view from the school bus windows as we traveled through town toward the air base would often include men on the seawall along the harbor casually peeing, or a man standing up against the wall of a building leaving his wet, yellow mark. Libyan policemen were not above trying to touch private parts if an American woman or young girl happened to walk too closely to these lusty, over-curious males. Their women were inaccessible except at home, but they felt free to check out foreign goods.

16 Comments

  1. What a joy to read your about your adventures in Tripoli! And what a joy it has been to reconnect through Facebook. I welcome all your comments and stories, Diana.
    Victoria

  2. Diana Becker Mullins says:

    Enjoyed the blog. Was in Libya part of the time you were and remember riding our bicycles around town. Mainly the Italian boys would chase us on their bikes or motor bikes – just to amuse themselves. Now 60 years later, seems like men throughout the world do urinate in public if no toilets are to be found. We just were not used to it as young girls. Remember taking the local bus down to the castle from Giogimpopli and enjoying the pleasant people aboard. Loved visiting
    With our house guard who would share his food with us. Loved the donkey carts full of wares heading on the roads and my mother trying to get in the right gear to pass them. We would yell, “shift now” for her to pick up speed – she was a timid driver. My father made sure we visited all the beautiful historical sights also. Like you said, we really did not have an opportunity to meet Libyan women or girls of our age unless you were invited to a school or home as our mothers might have been. I had a Libyan man, who was always down at the castle, named Hamaruni, who kept a watchful eye on me as I waited for the U.s. Military Bus or British bus,
    And worried about me exploring alone. He was missing an eye and part of his forehead from an injury, but always knew where I was.
    I still pray for peace in Libya and hopefully an invitation for foreign trade to bolster the economy. Also, forgiveness for the Italian occupation that caused so much bitterness and lack of education following WWII.
    It was a sad day when the Air Force Base closed, having so many locals losing their jobs, along with the British leaving. Extremely hurt by the eviction and murders of all the Jewish Libyans who had been in Libya for decades. May all Libyans realize their distrust of foreigners trying to steal their oil become a thought of the past and they will trust each other and foreign help.

  3. Hi there! Would you mind if I share your blog with my facebook group? There’s a lot of people that I think would really enjoy your content. Please let me know. Thanks

  4. Tracy Blood says:

    Hiya, I am really glad I have found this info. Today bloggers publish just about gossips and internet and this is really irritating. A good web site with interesting content, that is what I need. Thanks for keeping this web site, I will be visiting it. Do you do newsletters? Can’t find it.

  5. Victoria says:

    Thank you for your comments, Khaled. You made some good observations. I don’t think you understood all that I wrote, however. I lived in Libya over 50 years ago and things were quite different. I never saw women without a barracan unless they were inside. I assumed it was a required custom. If you read other blog posts about my Tripoli experience, you will find I wrote about many things and presented a broader view of life there. Americans were there because of the air base and because there was oil exploration. Oil had not been located until some years after I left. Americans brought money to the Libyan economy and we were also concerned about the people. We weren’t there to exploit the Libyans. Many Libyans worked for Americans in all sorts of jobs. The fact that men peed in public was not something horrible; I had just never seen it before and I was a young girl. I saw Italian men pee as well as Libyans and I don’t think there was a great need for public toilets at that point. I certainly did not have a negative experience living in Tripoli. It was a fascinating time in my life.

  6. khaled says:

    Victoria: you mentioned above what you conceded as negative in your opinion and actually it is not in libyan culture.You said that the libyan woman is completely covered and it is the roll in islamic country so it is not a negative behavior and you gave an immpresion that she is enforced to be covered by the men and it is not .also on the way to your school you did not mention any positive view only the negative and you mentioned the sight of peeing men. And you forget to mention that tripoli was occupied by the italian till 1952 followed by the new form of colonization by the american and the britsh companies that suck the oil and forgot to help the poor people and build a puplic toilets.

  7. Sufyan says:

    I hope u can come to visit Libya Again u welcome in my home with your Familly

    Sufyan From LIbya Tripoli

  8. Wow I found this place on Yahoo poking around for something else entirely, and now I’m going to need to go back and go all the old material. So much for free time today, but this was a spectacular find.

  9. Maria Rehart says:

    I am very thankful to this topic because it really gives great information .”`

  10. Wael M ElDessouki says:

    Thanks Victoria for your positive response. Your writings about your experience in Libya are wonderful and I sincerely enjoyed it. I am quit sure, you did not have any bad intentions when you mentioned those remarks; however, as an Arab, I see those remarks as annoying dents in a very nice picture. I am concerned that such remarks might be a turnoff for other Arab readers.

    In this world, we hope to build bridges between cultures that bring people to common understanding and to respect our differences. In my opinion, your blog is similar to a nice bridge but unfortunately got some holes. Although, these holes appear to you as minor, but I am concerned that some readers might fall through 🙂

    Thank you again, and best regards

  11. Victoria says:

    In response to Wael M ElDessouki, I want to say that I was not trying to insult Libyans by reporting some of the negatives I experienced. There are always negatives in life, no matter where you live. The incidents I’ve mentioned are very minor, certainly not serious. I believe most people everywhere are good and they do their best. The contrast of cultures, especially in those long ago days produced some unpleasantness. I did not have the privilege of getting to know any Libyans well, except perhaps the very congenial gateman next door. Women were covered completely and it was not an option to become friends with a Libyan man. Minor comments do not produce an indictment on the Libyan culture.
    I thank you for your valid observations.

  12. Wael M ElDessouki says:

    Dear Ms. Victoria,
    I am an Egyptian that lived in Tripoli for 12 years , from 1972 to 1984. I have read your blog about Tripoli and its obvious to me that you are deeply connected to that place. I can understand your feeling, Tripoli is charming city not only by its places but more by its people.
    However, in your blog, you have included few remarks and general statements about Libyans that I believe are inappropriate and offensive. For example, you say ” Libyan policemen were not above trying to touch private parts if an American woman or young girl happened to walk too closely to these lusty, over-curious males.” , maybe you had encountered an incident of sexual harassment, however, that does not justify making such a general statement about Libyans.
    Also, the issue of peeing in the streets, maybe you have seen that happening but I have seen it several times in some US cities. Hence, when you list such thing as a cultural issue, that implies that it is very common and happens in Libya only.
    Some other blogs includes similar remarks.

    The point I am trying to make is that you did not have the chance to really live and interact with Libyans; therefore, it is unfair to make such statements based on isolated events.

    Best Regards,

  13. Osama says:

    Hi there You were an American in Libya, I am Libyan in the USA. I am interested to collect the pic’s for the time when the Americans were there. All the Best

  14. What a great website. I am happy I found it.Keep doing great job! I cannot find RSS channel

  15. Victoria says:

    Note to Everette: I did not code my blog myself. I used Word Press, highly recommended by Dream Host, my web site provider. It was easy and dependable–check it out. Both these firms are based in So. California and are knowledgeable in the latest tech trends. Good luck.

    Victoria

  16. My mum and I would like to develop a blog site comparable to this for our web site, I stumbled across your internet site hoping to get ideas on the theme along with page layout. I am taking some coding class in college however, not confident that I would be able to create a internet site such as this one just yet. Did you code this blog by yourself or use a professional?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Rss Feed Tweeter button Facebook button Technorati button Reddit button Myspace button Linkedin button Webonews button Delicious button Digg button Flickr button Stumbleupon button Newsvine button Youtube button