SCHOOL LIFE AT WHEELUS Air Force Base By Victoria Giraud

Wheelus Field Dependents School

While in Tripoli, Libya, Air Force personnel and their dependents  lived in Wheelus Air Force Base housing for the most part, but the families of men who worked for the State Department and some of its agencies, or for oil companies searching for black gold, lived in many different areas of Tripoli from Garden City to Georgimpopoli, a coastal area on the western edges of the city. Our school bus, one of many that picked up American children all over the city, traveled down Sciarra Ben Asciur on its eight-mile journey to the base. I still have a very tattered mimeographed copy of my school bus route. It did help me identify my old home on Google Earth.

During the rainy season, from November to March, all busses faced the possible flooding in the tiny town of Suk el Guima, (Friday market in Arabic), which was near the base gate on the only route to Wheelus. Although the town’s street was paved, there were no gutters or drainage systems. When it rained, it generally flooded, and the street could be as deep as three feet in some spots. The Libyans took it in stride, but the Air Force didn’t. Servicemen would be up to their knees in water and armed with water pumps whenever they were needed. Others have since told me the little town had quite an odor because of a tannery, but I never noticed.

Enrolled in eighth grade when my family arrived, I joined a class of forty students. Wheelus High had an enrollment of only 170 students, from seventh to twelfth grade. The entire class of 1956 consisted of a mere four seniors. There were twelve in the junior class, fifteen sophomores and thirty-two freshmen! We underlings were by far the most populous, and I was considered practically a high school student. One alumnus remarked that because it was such a small school there was more intermingling among students;  younger students weren’t treated as much like outsiders. The following year, we new freshmen had to suffer the indignities of freshman initiation. As I recall, wearing clothes backward was one ritual.

A class on the Arabic language was a requirement for all students, but few took the class seriously, especially the friendly, eager-to-please teacher, Haj Ali (pronounced Hi Jolly). I can still count to ten in Arabic and learned a few phrases, hopefully accurate, such as molish (who cares), bahi (good),  ana nagra (I am reading) and baksheesh (free). I was told that zup meant the same as fuck. What inquisitive American teen didn’t learn that word and its equivalent in other languages! The boys probably knew a few more.

I had an opportunity to see the difference between American and European educational systems. Our freshman high school class visited Lecio, Tripoli’s Italian high school. In contrast to our casual attire, the boys dressed mostly in suits, the girls wore black smocks. Italian students acted as our guides and took small groups of us into various classrooms.

Practicing international relations with two Lecio students at my school bus stop

In drawing class students were copying Roman columns, an appropriate theme because of the nearby Roman ruins of Leptis Magna and Sabratha. Since most of their students studied French, I tried out my decidedly novice abilities with a young man. His French was impeccable; I wish I could have said the same for mine. In an entirely male physics class I was asked to put an algebra problem on the board. A volunteer student worked it immediately and returned the favor. Algebra, or should I say math in general, was not my strong suit. I called for Karen, one of my classmates to help, but we were both stumped. The class laughed good-naturedly at us, delighted to prove their male superiority while gawking at American girls.

Miss Gobi teaches French at Wheelus High–Fantastique! C’est si bon!

The Italians were even better at basketball. From my young viewpoint, I had always assumed it was an American game played more adeptly by Americans. Our high school team played Lecio every year and were continually trounced. Of course Wheelus High didn’t exactly have a huge talent pool from which to draw.

 

This story has been published in a new Libyan magazine Kalam, the December edition.

113 Comments

  1. Thanks, Michael. Always delighted to hear from those who’ve experienced travel, especially in Tripoli. I’m in touch, through Facebook, with many American military brats, Embassy brats, Brits, Italians and Libya natives — all because of Tripoli. We’re basically seniors now but our exotic connection is something special. Because I’m a military brat I’ve lived in many places, including Germany. My blog contains many of my personal stories of travel, etc., including photos. Hope you keep looking at my blog — Haven’t written recently but I did it for about six years and the postings are still there. victoria

  2. Michael Griffin says:

    Always looking for sites of travel memories.
    My father was stationed in Tripoli with USAID from 1961-1963. We lived off base in Georgimpopoli. We as a family had just started moving around every two years or so and my high schooling really took a hit under the guise of rebellion. But international traveling really opens one’s eyes to the bigger picture that they call the world. Looking back I would never give up the learning experiences and the multitude of people that I came into contact with during my travels.
    Will always remember Sabratha, Leptis Magna and the Sahara. Trips to French Tunis were always enjoyable.
    Sounds a lot like “me” stuff but the exposure to different cultures and peoples has been invaluable!

  3. Thanks for sharing some Tripoli adventures. I enjoy hearing about Wheelus adventures.
    Victoria

  4. Nice to hear from another veteran of life in Tripoli and at Wheelus.
    Victoria

  5. Lin Hughes says:

    Lin Hughes here again – 1962 Midsummer’s Night Dream in Sabratha! Great memories! I was Prom Queen in 1963 – Senior class trip to Greece – Lee Arcizewski, Tom Roeber and Tony Lee swinging on balconies at hotel – almost got all of thrown out of country! Anyone remember Senior Slave Days – we raised a lot of money for trip – My love to everyone – Donna Malloy my dearest friend – lost touch unfortunately- my email is [email protected] .com – would love to hear from you –

  6. Lin Hughes says:

    Lin Hughes here – class of 1963 – I continue to look for JV Price as many of us are – he was Ores if our class – anyone remember the Teen Club on base and JV’s band with Terry Beville on trombone and Jon Lee (Tony’s brother) on drums and the dances!!! It was either Donna Malloy and Jon or Terry and I who won the dance contests! Unless Donna danced with Terry and no one beat them!! My thoughts go to many – Black Widows – senior class trip to Greece 1963 – Tom Bradshaw . Lee Archizewski- saw Bob Worrall in 1965 in Birmingham- we dated for a while – he was in medical school there and I was in Nursing school –

  7. Best10 says:

    It’s nearly impossible to find knowledgeable people for this subject, however, you sound like you know what you’re talking about! ThanksBest10

  8. As I would advise any writer — write what you know and love. Be enthusiastic and consistent. I’ve taken a break from the blog to recover from an operation but am looking forward to writing again.
    Victoria

  9. Rob Rathbun says:

    Hmm, it seems like your site ate my first comment (it was extremely long) so I guess I’ll just sum it up what I had written and say, I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog. I as well am an aspiring blog writer, but I’m still new to the whole thing. Do you have any recommendations for newbie blog writers? I’d appreciate it.

  10. getting endorsed by mike mayock is like the madden curse. sorry carson lol

  11. Check out this latest news in india. I am glad to read your story

  12. My Father Ray Davis and his brother Michael Davis lived in Libya Africa when my grandfather Herbert Wallace Davis was stationed there in the 60’s. Dad and my uncle were in the Boy Scouts and went on a desert march that was featured in a issue of Boys Life Magazine.

    Anyone take part in the march that Boys Life Photographed in the early 60’s?

  13. Thanks for commenting, Todd. It’s always amazing to me how many people can connect to Tripoli and Wheelus.
    victoria

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