Libya

MIDDLE-EASTERN VIEWPOINTS

One of the wonders of the Internet and a plus to the experience of writing a blog, is the pleasure of readers’ responses. During the past few years I’ve heard from several Libyans who have enjoyed my writing. Last year I was interviewed about my experiences in Libya by Hasan Karayam, a Libyan-born college student getting his PhD in history from Middle Tennessee State University. He and his professor wanted to know what life was like in Tripoli at that time–how the mixture of nationalities got along, for instance.

Libyan-born Mosbah Kushad, a professor at the University of Illinois in crop sciences, who lives and works in Champaign, Illinois, wrote me a couple of years ago. When we communicated—after Ghadaffi was deposed—he was on his way to Tripoli for a visit for the first time in years. It would be interesting to know what he thinks about Libya’s current turmoil.

Mosbah wrote: Victoria’s blog brings back pleasant memories of my days as a young boy growing up in Suk El Guma outside Wheelus Air Force Base in Tripoli, Libya. When I was in 8th grade, my uncle got me a job as a busboy at the Base for a handsome salary of $21 a month. I was on top of the world with my personal pass to ride the bus to and from the Base. That same gate that everyone remembers very fondly.

I remember watching young American kids neatly dressed walking into the school and some riding the buses from the city. I used to daydream of someday being like one of them. Well, with luck I finished college in Libya, came to the US where I got my Ph.D., and I got a job as a professor in a major university, and thirty-six years later, my kids are living like those kids that I used to dream about. This is my life story as a Libyan American. Like everyone else, I cherish those days but I also cherish the time that I have lived in this great country and the many friends I have made here. The smell of fresh bread from those bakery shops in Suk El Guma is still with me…God bless you all.

Old City Tripoli

Old City Tripoli

When I wrote about a few of the unpleasant habits of some Libyan men, I heard from an Egyptian man, Wael M. El Dessouki, who had lived in Tripoli. He wasn’t too happy with my disparaging remarks.

Dear Ms. Victoria,
 I am an Egyptian who lived in Tripoli for 12 years, from 1972 to 1984. I have read your blog about Tripoli and it’s obvious to me that you are deeply connected to that place. I can understand your feelings. Tripoli is a charming city, not only because of its places but more so because of its people.
 However, in your blog, you have included a 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 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 include similar remarks.

I answered this gentleman and explained I didn’t mean to imply that all Libyan men were rude or ill-mannered and he was happy.

Wael M. El Dessourki answered: Thanks, Victoria, for your positive response. Your writings about your experiences in Libya are wonderful and I sincerely enjoyed them. I am quite 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 it’s got some holes.

I admit I am not perfect, although I did not say that to this concerned Egyptian reader. He wrote before the Egyptian and the Libyan uprisings and continuing unrest. I wonder what his thoughts are now about the upheavals??

500 BLOGS TO CELEBRATE!

It’s been almost 5 years since I started my blog, Words on My Mind. I’ve now posted 500 blogs – HOORAY!! At this point, judging by the statistics, I’ve had at least two million people check in.

I used a poem to begin my efforts. Here’s part of what I wrote:

Birth pains were negligible,

A little wine helped,

And some chocolate with nuts.

Since the Baby Blog

Has shot into Cyberspace,

It’s no telling what it

May eventually weigh.

Does anyone know

The Weight of Opinions?

I started the blog to promote my editing business and to sell my historical fiction novel, Melaynie’s Masquerade. Since then I’ve written 6 additional books (Ebook format) that are also for sale on Amazon. An Army Brat in Libya, Discovering the Victor in Victoria, Colonels Don’t Apologize, Angels in Uniform, Pink Glasses, and Weird Dates and Strange Fates.

Victoria Giraud

Victoria Giraud

As a consistent chronicler of my interesting life, in notebooks and eventually on computer, I’ve reported my personal history, ups and downs! I had written plenty of tales of growing up as an Army brat, my long career as a newspaper and magazine editor/reporter in Los Angeles, and life as a single woman. Since 2010 I’ve written about living in Bavaria right after World War II, living in Tripoli, Libya, in the 1950s, and residing in the Washington, D.C. area during John Kennedy’s presidency. For the past 50 years (alas, I’m no longer a youngster), I’ve enjoyed experiencing Southern California life.

The fun of getting older is looking back to the hurdles and successes of life and all the people you’ve known or seen in one way or another. I’ve written about most of it. I saw John F. Kennedy twice (when he was a senator and then a president), Robert Kennedy twice, shook hands with Richard Nixon in Libya, and observed Lyndon Johnson in the Senate. These experiences have been chronicled in my blog.

I observed Hollywood stars at Washington National Airport during the March on Washington in 1963. I stood at a window between Sammy Davis, Jr. and James Baldwin (the author), saw Paul Newman, James Garner and Sidney Poitier, and spoke with Charlton Heston. I lived through some of the repercussions from the Suez Crisis in Tripoli in 1956. I enjoyed the fun of a 1958 Mediterranean Cruise courtesy of the US Navy, landing in Athens, Istanbul, Naples, and Gibraltar, to name a few.

Since I knew and had interviewed character actor, Strother Martin, I attended his funeral at Forest Lawn in 1980 and saw Jimmy Stewart, Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine. I wrote a blog about the experience. Living in SoCal, I’ve had the opportunity to chat with James Whitmore, William Shatner, Peter Strauss, Ellen Burstyn, Robert Stack, Valerie Harper, Kelsey Grammar, Della Reese, and Sally Kellerman, to name a few. While I worked at the phone company in Hollywood, I observed Dean Martin on a motorcycle,  saw Cornel Wilde and Mitzi Gaynor at the Brown Derby, and had a lovely chat with Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft in Santa Monica. When I edited and wrote a magazine for the Beverly Hills Country Club, I interviewed athletes Rafer Johnson and Jack Kramer (my first tennis racket had his name on it) and TV star Barbara Eden. I’ve written about all these experiences as well as the sometimes crazy times of being single and dating.

One of my most entertaining interviews was with Jules Sylvester, an animal trainer born in Kenya. He was my neighbor for a while and invited me out to see his Komodo dragon (in the Marlon Brando/Matthew Broderick film “The Freshman”) and all the spiders and insects he trained for all sorts of films (“Snakes on a Plane” not too long ago).

I’ve written about the powerful 1994 LA earthquake, and about my genealogy on my mother’s Motley side, which included John Motley Moorehead, a governor of North Carolina before the Civil War. I’ve told my personal story of surprising my birth father at his office in the Pentagon in 1964. I was too young to remember him when he left to fight in Italy during WWII. Three days after we met and spent time together, he said I was his lucky charm: he had been promoted to Brigadier General.

When I’m not writing my blog, I’m spending time editing books of all types and have written/promoted many of them on my blog. So far, I’ve edited about 130 books in all genres: from historical fiction, memoirs, romance and action adventure, to self-help and children’s books.

I’ve tooted my horn enough. If, dear Reader, you’re intrigued, check out my archives after you read today’s blog. Thank you!

 

 

WHEELUS AFB WAS ONCE A RACETRACK

I’m sharing some more interesting information I received from Terence Sharkey about Libya. What makes his piece even more interesting to me is the fact that I edited a memoir last year – The Gods Who Fell From the African Sky by Dick Mawson – that related Mawson’s adventures on the racing circuits (another name for racetracks)  in Rhodesia and South Africa. I didn’t know Tripoli had its own racecourse long before I lived there.

***

Before World War II part of Dictator Mussolini’s grand scheme for the Italian protectorate of Libya had been his motor racing circuit. When built in 1933, it was said to be the fastest in the world and its eight and a quarter mile circuit round the centuries old salt lake at Mellaha attracted the world’s drivers. Its start/finish line was dominated by a tall white control tower and the vast 10,000-seater grandstand with cantilevered roof of reinforced concrete was the first of its kind.

 

Race track before Wheelus AFB was built.

Race track before Wheelus AFB was built.

Sadly, as sport does, its popularity attracted crooks too. The $3 million  fraud (2014 US values) is retold in  Wheelus USAF? (a chapter in Terence’s book: Love, Life and Moving Pictures). The USAF base that had arisen from its Italian/German/British airfield  at the beginning of the war had been sited on the home straights of the circuit and many traces of its glorious racing days (1933-40) could still be seen in the old asphalt when I visited in 1955. Track that had echoed to the screeching Michelins and Dunlops of the Buggattis and Maserattis now supported the more sedate aircraft-starting trolley-accumulators and the coffee wagon from the base exchange.

I was visiting the base with one of the survivors of a BOAC DC4 Argonaut aircraft crash at nearby Idris International Airport. We were there to thank Wheelus helicopter pilots who had speedily rallied the previous week to ferry the injured to Wheelus facilities.

Wheelus’ activities kept cropping up in our film location activities. (Terence was a young British actor) Not just the F-86 Saberjets that would scream across the desert skies ruining our sound (“those****ing Yanks!”) as we began yet another retake.  The Wheelus hillbilly band came to the Grand Hotel where the film unit’s ball was held.  The 1950s saw Arabic music influenced by the West and the air was full of familiar dance music but still redolent of the East with tarabaki drums, piccolo and cymbals a constant reminder of Tripoli’s world around us. The appearance at one point of a bejewelled Eastern belly dancer undulating to  the Wheelus band’s “I Want to be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart” was an unforgettable mark of East meeting West.

I only spent a few weeks in Tripoli but there’s no doubt that the time I visited Wheelus Air Force Base is warmly remembered as a welcome contrast to the arid desert around. The personnel and families had made the sands their own. Maybe it’s in the genes from those wagon train pioneering days, but any people who can make a golf course without grass and stage tournaments on it, get my vote.

 

MEANDERINGS THROUGH MUSEUMS

I am curious about almost everything…what makes the world tick, what’s unique about various cultures all over the world, artistic expressions through painting, photography, sculpture, etc. Museums are ideal places to explore and to satisfy my curiosity.

As a fifth grader in the Bronx, we took a field trip to the Museum of Natural History, the first museum I remember. I don’t recall specifics, but a few years later in high school, I distinctly remember the huge preserved elephant in the entryway of the Natural History Museum in Washington, D.C. In Tripoli, Libya, about 1957, I recall visiting the small museum that was in the old Barbary Pirate fort, which still exists in Martyr Square in Tripoli.

Tripoli's Barbary Pirate Fort

Tripoli’s Barbary Pirate Fort

Washington, D. C. is an ideal place for museums—they line the National Mall. Before the new Smithsonian Museum was built, it was fun to visit the old castle. It had such atmosphere and was the entrance was highlighted with Charles Lindbergh’s famous plane, the Spirit of St. Louis, which hung from the ceiling. The Army Medical Museum nearby was fascinating. I particularly remember the displays of jars of deformed babies that hadn’t lived, a preserved leg of a man with elephantiasis (huge, as the word indicates), and some photos of a man in the last stages of syphilis.

In later years on visits to D.C., I enjoyed the “new” National Gallery of Art designed by I.M. Pei with its triangular design and pointed corners. I still recall checking out a huge exhibit of Rodin sculptures. The various statues of this talented Frenchman appear everywhere—in LA the “Thinker” is located outside the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena and it can be seen every New Year’s Day when the Rose Parade passes by. Another Rodin is at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) that my daughter Heidi and I visited yesterday.

I’ve even been to Roy Rogers’ personal museum in Apple Valley, no longer there. His horse Trigger and Rogers’ dog were stuffed and in a very large display case. His bowling ball was also on display because he had accomplished several “perfect” games of 300.

Speaking of Western themed museums, Heidi and I went to the Autry Museum on Friday. It’s a great place to visit—right in the middle of Griffith Park and across the street from the LA Zoo. Western star and enterprising businessman, Gene Autry established the museum 25 years ago. Their continually changing exhibits are always very interesting–in LA the film industry mixes easily with history. Besides celebrating their years in business with new artwork, they had an exhibit called “Jews in the Los Angeles Mosaic.” Jews had great influence on Los Angeles: where would the movie business be without Louis B. Mayer, Billy Wilder, David O. Selznick, and Max Factor (the makeup king)?

Autry Museum

Autry Museum

The museum “bug” prompted a Saturday visit to LACMA for my daughter and I—we had joined LA’s venerable encyclopedic museum a few months ago. The museum campus is too large and comprehensive for one day, so we concentrated on the Pavilion for Japanese Art with all its very beautiful and delicate scrolls of nature and animals, some several centuries old. The building itself is gorgeous and reminds me of a ship. Inside is a circular ramp that invites you to walk up to all three floors—it couldn’t be more artistic.

We stayed until early evening and if we’d had the energy, we would have found a place in the park behind the museum where there was an enthusiastic crowd listening to Latin jazz.

Cars–blessing or curse? By Victoria Giraud

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.”

Morris 1000 and other British cars in the background. Notice the license plate in Arabic.

I welcome short contributions about life in Tripoli for this blog. Get in touch with me if anyone is so inclined.

US ARMY LIFE IN MY EBOOKS ON AMAZON By Victoria Giraud

Would you like to read an interesting and absorbing story about a military family? Dysfunctional, like most everybody’s family.

As a military brat, I didn’t have to look far for inspiration and source material for this story. Is it truth or fiction? That’s left up to the reader.  From my observations and reading, I know that soldiers, both officers and enlisted men, returned from World War II and Korea with emotional and mental wounds besides the physical ones. Families–the wives and children–suffered from the resulting abusive behavior of veterans returning from war. This story reveals how one daughter made the best peace she could, considering her own feelings and emotional wounds.

 

Check me out on Amazon. The price can’t be beat:

Victoria Giraud

Colonels Don’t Apologize can be found at:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B06SQB82E

Another good read is my memoir of life in Tripoli, Libya, in the 1950s. World War II was over and the world could breathe again for a while. Libya was ruled by King Idris, and the US Military held sway at strategic Wheelus Air Force Base. Attending high school amidst sand and palm trees, camels and donkeys, in a small cosmopolitan city along the Mediterranean was about as unique and full of contrasts as an American teen could get in the mild 1950s.

American teenagers sported jeans while Libyan women were covered from head to foot. Americans brought their cars; most Libyans rode bicycles. Despite the differences, East and West cohabited peacefully. It’s a new century but the American military remains in these exotic areas of the world. Last month, a new Libyan magazine, KALAM, published a section of the book below. I was honored to be published in Libya and in English.

It’s on Amazon at  http://www.amazon.com/dp/B006/R0RQRM

 

 

SEXUAL ATTRACTIONS IN 1950s TRIPOLI by Victoria Giraud

Sex makes the world go round and can make fools of us all.  Styles, preferences and scandals fill novels, newspapers, movies and TV, especially in this new century. We’re currently all agog at the General Petraeus scandal. When that dies down, there’ll be another one to speculate about.

In the 1950s, when I lived with my family in Tripoli, Americans were more prudish. Females wore longer skirts, showed a more modest amount of cleavage, and bathing suits were mostly one-piece affairs. Fuck was considered a filthy word—I was in fourth grade before I saw it written with chalk on a sidewalk. If it hadn’t lost its power with me, I never would have used it here for “effect.”

In the city of Tripoli, American teenage girls were advised not to wear jeans. We were given handouts filled with advice of what to do and not do in this ancient city where the lifestyle in some areas hadn’t gotten past the 12th century, or so it said. Libyan women were dressed, literally covered, in white wool barracans: an idea similar to burkas except one eye could be shown. Even though jeans weren’t revealing to us, it was an exciting idea to Libyan men who didn’t see many women in form-fitting outfits that hinted at sexuality.

The Egyptian Ambassador, across the street from me, was served by a few Libyan policemen who patrolled the walled perimeter of his compound. If my girlfriends and I walked the unpaved path outside the compound, and a policeman was nearby, he’d try to walk beside us and brush against us with his body. I don’t think the phrase “cop a feel” was invented yet, but we learned to avoid these uniformed watchdogs. Of course Libyan men were not different than men everywhere!

Me in Jeans. Egyptian compound and Libyan police in background.

One day, a girlfriend and I had an unpleasant encounter while walking to her house, a few blocks from mine. We were in jeans, of course, and since there was almost no traffic in this residential area, we sauntered along in the middle of the street. We weren’t paying attention to a young male bicyclist trailing us. Most male Libyans had bicycles; they were relatively cheap and reliable. We were prime bait, and he saw his opportunity as he swooped in front of us and made a grab for my crotch. He succeeded and then rode on a little ways. Before I could tell my friend to be wary, he came back and managed to do the same to her.  We were incensed and fruitlessly followed him a few blocks as he sped away. It was a good lesson to be more aware.

One of the most outrageous episodes, however, was an exhibitionist, also on a bicycle, who put on a brief show for my friend Gail and I. Looking back, I find it hilarious, but at that time it was mildly disgusting. We had been playing a game of tennis on the street and flirting with British servicemen who worked for the General who lived on the corner.

A Libyan working man in overalls splattered with paint had parked his bike about 10 feet away from us. He had a lascivious look on his face as he sat there and slowly pulled out his penis and started waving it. My knowledge of the penis at that time was limited to my baby brother, so this man’s organ looked huge.

The Brits, who were behind a gated wall, probably sensed something was going on, but they couldn’t see the man. The two of us, each of us about 14, struggled with our composure as we stepped closer to the gate and hung on without a comment. The crazed cyclist, having gotten his exhibitionist thrill, soon pedaled away, to our immense relief.  We never saw him again. I don’t recall if either of us shared this incident with our parents–probably not!

 

 

 

 

 

An Army Brat in Libya By Victoria Giraud

Note: for the first time in 2 years of writing my blog, I wasn’t able to post on my regular posting day (Wednesday). My server was doing maintenance–something to do with security, I believe. Modern times–modern experiences…maintenance was usually done in the old days by appointment when a human showed up at your door. Now, all these machinations are done unseen in cyberspace!

In the middle 1950s Tripoli was a bustling, cosmopolitan city inhabited by   Libyans, Italians, British, Americans and an assortment of other European and Middle Eastern nationalities. Both the British and the Americans had military bases, and international oil companies were drilling for the oil that would eventually make the country rich beginning in 1959. Libya, for the first half of the twentieth century under Italian rule, had only gained its independence in 1951, and that auspicious occasion had been marked by the renaming of a main thoroughfare, to be forever after known as 24 December Street.

Like many major events in the life of an Army brat, I wasn’t sure I wanted to uproot from the States and travel to such a strange land. I was shocked when my father received orders in 1955 to report to North Africa. We were stationed at Ft. Knox, Kentucky, at the time, and Africa couldn’t have been more distant from civilization as far as my twelve-year-old mind was concerned. Morocco was our first assigned destination, specifically the peculiarly named Nouasseur. Orders were changed when Morocco had violent political problems and a few Americans were killed. My dad was reassigned to Wheelus Air Force Base just outside Tripoli.

My Army Corps of Engineers father, a lieutenant colonel, would command a military group that had something to do with maintaining the strategic airfield, the closest large American location to Russia, an important fact in those Cold War years. He would also be traveling to mysterious places such as Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and Saudi Arabia.

 

 

To check on or download this Kindle book featured on my Amazon Author page, go to:   http://amazon.com/author/victoriagiraud

 

Our little family, which included Darby, my two-year-old brother and  Tupper, my six-year-old sister, boarded a military prop plane at Maguire Air Force Base in New Jersey the week before Thanksgiving, 1955. We left a snowy landscape and headed southeast over the Atlantic, our circuitous flight path leading us first to the tiny Azores Islands. Propeller-driven planes, not as efficient as jets, required refueling stops. We landed on the islands about 3 a.m. Azores time, were roused from sleep, and dependents and military personnel were herded off the plane onto waiting buses for a trip up a windy mountain road for breakfast in a non-commissioned officers club. A couple of hours later we were jammed back aboard, but mechanical difficulties kept us on the ground several more hours. When the plane was deemed airworthy, we were flown to Nouasseur Air Force Base in Morocco for another stop and finally on to Tripoli. Military planes, whether carrying troops or dependents, weren’t on fixed schedules. You landed when you landed.

What seemed like days but was more than likely some thirty hours later, we reached our new home. It was 9 p.m. in Tripoli, but after so many hours and so many time zones, who could tell? No snow on the ground here: the weather was temperate and probably no colder than 55 degrees. Only after a good night’s sleep would we regain our land legs and clarity of hearing – the noise and vibration of prop planes had a habit of disorienting the body, which included sight and hearing, for hours.

CRISIS, 1950s STYLE – THE SUEZ CANAL By Victoria Giraud

Crisis is an old word but it may never wear out its usefulness considering how often TV, the Internet, newspapers still around, radio, etc. use it. For a short word, it seems to get the appropriate emotion out there for a fearful reaction.

My first knowledge of the word probably came in Tripoli during the Suez Crisis of 1956. Although it affected Egypt more than Libya, it was a point of honor for a measure of self-rule for the Arab world.

Nasser, then President of Egypt, had taken control of the Suez Canal. Why should Britain and France control the canal that ran through Egypt, he reasoned? He wanted the tolls to help Egypt build the Aswan High Dam. It marked the spread of Arab nationalism, though Libya was late to that game, and Gadaffi didn’t seize power until 1969. According to some reports, the young Gadaffi took part in the riots in Libya. Good practice for his takeover later?

I’m going to share the comments from others who lived through the Crisis in Tripoli during those days. It was certainly nothing compared to Libya’s recent upheaval getting rid of Gadaffi’s government. Becky Rizek said: “I remember our house boy, Calipha, coming to work with bandages on his head and forehead. He said he was beaten because he was loyal to his American employers. He wanted to come to the States with us, which was impossible because he had at least one wife and three children. But for us, it was a day off from school. The kids on the base got to go to the Officers Club and wait on tables since the Arab waiters could not come in to work. I remember the MATS transports lined up on the runway at the base airport, ready to evacuate the American dependents should we have to go. I was all of thirteen and never forgot it.”

Elaine Frank recalled, “My dad’s car was stoned when he would come home from the base. We lived out on Homs Road and we lived in a duplex with a British family next door. They were shipped back (to the UK) and left in the middle of the night. We didn’t know what happened to them, but they eventually did return several months later. Like you said, this was just the way of life living in the military. We had to leave Morocco because of the French and Arab conflict in 1954/55, and we were in Japan during the Korean War. Kids just took it all with a grain of salt. People back in the States were scared for us but we were fine; it was just that the British and Americans looked alike, and that is why they would throw rocks at his car.”

“I recall the Suez Crisis, with machine guns on British and French embassies and King Idris’ guards beating heads with truncheons,” Mike Harris commented.

The Palace of King Idris long ago

 

Riots took place in front of the French and British embassies, and a couple of small bombs a day were set off in various areas of the city. It wasn’t a full-scale insurrection, but with the heat on, the British evacuated their women and children, flying them home to England.

Americans within Tripoli were put on a 6 p.m. nightly curfew and were told to have a bag with the barest necessities packed in case of evacuation. Gates and doors were to be locked and shades pulled down. We were all instructed not to venture into the old city. My mother got caught on the edges of a small demonstration near a friend’s house several blocks away. It scared her, but she was in our car and managed to leave without incident.

When you’re young, political situations don’t seem to matter. It was all just extra excitement and a chance to miss a couple of days of school. The curfew was moved to 9 p.m. within a week, and several weeks later, as things cooled off, life was back to normal. British families, however, did not return for several months.

 

 

 

 

COMMENTS FROM THE MIDDLE EAST by Victoria Giraud

One of the wonders of the Internet and a plus to the experience of writing a blog, is the pleasure of  readers’ responses.  Libyan-born Mosbah Kushad, a professor who now lives and works in Champaign, Illinois, wrote. He didn’t say specifically, but I am guessing he teaches at the University of Illinois. When we communicated months ago—after Ghadaffi was deposed—he was on his way to Tripoli for a visit for the first time in years.

Mosbah wrote: Victoria’s blog brings back pleasant memories of my days as a young boy growing up in Suk El Guma outside Wheelus Air Force Base in Tripoli, Libya. When I was in 8th grade, my uncle got me a job as a busboy at the Base for a handsome salary of $21 month. I was on top of the world with my personal pass to ride the bus to and from the Base. That same gate that everyone remembers very fondly.

I remember watching young American kids neatly dressed walking into the school and some riding the buses from the city. I used to daydream of someday being like one of them. Well, with luck I finished college in Libya, came to the US where I got my Ph.D., and I got a job as a professor in a major university, and thirty-six years later, my kids are living like those kids that I used to dream about. This is my life story as a Libyan American. Like everyone else, I cherish those days but I also cherish the time that I have lived in this great country and the many friends I have made here. The smell of fresh bread from those bakery shops in Suk El Guma is still with me…God bless you all.

Narrow Street in Old Town Tripoli

 

When I wrote about a few of the unpleasant habits of some Libyan men, I heard from an Egyptian man, Wael M. El Dessouki, who had lived in Tripoli. He wasn’t too happy with my disparaging remarks.

Dear Ms. Victoria,
 I am an Egyptian who lived in Tripoli for 12 years, from 1972 to 1984. I have read your blog about Tripoli and it’s obvious to me that you are deeply connected to that place. I can understand your feelings. Tripoli is a charming city, not only because of its places but more so because of its people.
 However, in your blog, you have included a 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 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 include similar remarks.

I answered this gentleman and explained I didn’t mean to imply that all Libyan men were rude or ill-mannered and he was happy.

Wael M. El Dessourki answered: Thanks, Victoria, for your positive response. Your writings about your experiences in Libya are wonderful and I sincerely enjoyed them. I am quite 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 it’s got some holes. 

I admit I am not perfect although I did not say that to this concerned Egyptian reader. Besides, don’t we all have holes? He wrote before the Egyptian and the Libyan uprising. I wonder what his thoughts were about these upheavals.

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