Wheelus High School

MILITARY BRAT – WHEELUS AFB IN TRIPOLI, LIBYA

Wheelus Field Dependents School

As I get older and being a writer and editor, I think back to the adventurous days of being a military brat and living in exotic places like Tripoli, Libya. The Middle East seemed to be changing for the better in the 1950s. Libya was ruled by King Idris and there was great potential of finding oil in the desert.  Tripoli was a small but international city of various nationalities besides native Libyans. There were Italians, British and Americans from the Air Force, Army, State Department and oil companies. Memories of those unique times will always be with me.

I’ve been writing my blog: Words on My Mind for over five years but had to stop recently   because of spinal surgery. It was a challenging time but I’m healing nicely. My mind still needs some challenges and the blog has brought me new friends and reconnections to old friends from Tripoli. It was an alluring and unusual place to learn more about the world: Roman ruins, the gorgeous Mediterranean, the Sahara desert, camels, gazelles, Libyan women almost totally hidden by Barracans.

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. My 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 after picking me up in Garden City. 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 the smell.

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.

There are more adventures in Tripoli in many other blogs on this site.

 

 

WHEELUS HIGH, HERNANDO’S HIDEAWAY

I left Tripoli, Libya, the summer of 1958, the end of my sophomore year in high school. My dad received orders assigning him to duty at the Pentagon in Northern Virginia; he would work in the office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a prestigious position for him.

The last months at Wheelus High School were packed with activities and I went through the old Barracan newspapers to note a few highlights. Since we didn’t have a cafeteria at the high school, it was decided by the “powers that be” to make us eat at the Airmen’s Club in February. Apparently, one of the main reasons was to keep girls away from meeting airmen during lunchtime. Going out with GIs was a social “no-no” and Joe McDonald wrote an editorial about it in the paper. Too many girls, not enough boys, it seems.

By March the Airmen’s Club was closed for student lunches and we were all ordered to bring sack lunches – enforced nutrition by a school dietician! Apparently we were mostly disorderly at the Airmen’s Club and now had to eat in the school courtyard. To make sure our naughty behavior didn’t spill over to the elementary school, there would be a wall erected!

When students were asked what was the first thing they’d do when they got back to the States, Eddie Goldsworthy declared he’d find a patch of grass and look at it for an hour. Marla Bush was going to eat a hot corned beef sandwich, and Karen Gamel was going to eat a good banana.

A bunch of us were spotted at the Elvis Presley “Jailhouse Rock” movie on base. Steve Gaynor was seen with three girls—Karen, Kathy and Arnell. This according to Quidnunc, the gossip column.

Errol Cochrane’s Platter Chatter listed Perry Como’s “Catch a Falling Star” as the number one record, Danny and the Juniors had the number 10 hit – “At the Hop.” We heard these songs often at the Teen Club on base.

In the spring the sophomores sponsored a dance—Hernando’s Hideaway (inspired by the content and music from the Broadway play and subsequent movie “Pajama Game”) with entertainment. A few of us girls decided we’d do a chorus line dance to “Steam Heat,” a dance routine featured in the movie. My parents had the record and I remember practicing our routine in my Tripoli living room. Our very amateur group included: Betty Hubbard, Sherri Anderson, Karen Gamel, Wilnetta Edwards, and me. We started our dance in front of a fairly large audience at the evening activity. Moments into the dance the record skipped and we had to pull ourselves together and start again. I think the photo below of Wilnetta, me and Betty displays our self-confidence. We were probably too young to worry about it.

The boys did a can-can in drag after our dance and stole the show, but I don’t have the photo.

Dancing to Steam Heat - Wilnetta Edwards, Viki Williams, Betty Hubbard

Dancing to Steam Heat – Wilnetta Edwards, Viki Williams, Betty Hubbard

 

A WRITER/EDITOR’S HISTORY

My writing career has been an adventurous one: lots of fun, great experiences and for years very little money. As I tell my editing clients—you must create through love, not desire for quick fame and fortune. Like most creative endeavors, writing is rewarding for the heart and soul but it takes time for compensation to reach your wallet, much less the bank. Sometimes it never does.

Victoria Giraud

Victoria Giraud

Reporting stories began with the Barracan, the Wheelus Air Force Base High School newspaper in Tripoli, Libya. I was 14, it was the 1950s and our high school had less than 100 students. The school was surrounded by palm trees and the Mediterranean Sea was a short walk away.  Wheelus High was filled with typical American teenagers: jeans, loafers, saddle shoes, and crinolines to poof out our circle skirts were typical attire. We had proms, one radio station that played rock ‘n roll (an audio version of “American Bandstand”—unless you were new to Wheelus, you probably didn’t even know that TV program existed), and a teenage club that had its own student band, Stardust.

Although I wrote a few stories, I only recall one of them—the Junior-Senior prom with Ebb Tide as the theme—held at the Tripoli Beach Club. Ginny Stewart had a coketail party first at her family’s nearby villa. The entertainment as I remember it: a fully dressed Libyan woman in a very modest wrap-around indoor garment  doing a belly dance to a rhythmic drum. She pushed some of the shawl-like elements of her dress down to accentuate her hips. The woman was most likely a servant of the Stewarts and could be less modest within the house. Outside she would have worn barracan, an all-encompassing white wool garment that covered her head to toe, exposing only one eye and her feet.

In college—William & Mary in Virginia—I wrote for the Flat Hat college newspaper. Lots of stories I no longer remember, but I was pleasantly surprised at one class reunion when a displayed scrapbook had three of my stories!

When my kids were in grammar school and didn’t need my full attention, I wrote my first column: Hillrise Highlights, which covered local events and soon turned into a political campaign to get a nearby highway bridge widened in Agoura, California. As a concerned citizen, I participated in gathering signatures to get the County of Los Angeles or the State interested in funding the construction.

I graduated to covering news for the Acorn, a weekly newspaper for a rapidly growing suburb of LA, in the Conejo Valley, on the border of Ventura County. By the early 1980s I was the editor, responsible for a little bit of everything—writing and editing, headlines, photos, attendance at chamber of commerce meetings and mixers. City incorporation attempts, wildfires, water quality, and commercial/residential growth were some of the pressing issues in those days. There were also the unusual stories: my trip in a hot air balloon in a fur coat and attending a nightclub show of sexy male strippers, an early Chippendales-type show.

In the 1990s I got to mingle with a few celebrities on a couple of magazines I helped co-create, write and edit. One of them featured Bob Hope for our initial cover. Alas, Hope was recovering from prostate surgery and the closest I got to him for an interview was visiting his manager’s office in Burbank, a testament to Hope’s many movies with its giant blowups of movie stills going back to the 1930s.

Beverly Hills Country Club, a posh tennis club, decided they needed a magazine featuring their members. My boss was an enterprising Iranian who spoke English but was not fluent in writing English. For our first cover, I interviewed Barbara Eden in her home along Mulholland Drive. Delightful and personable, she wore a cropped top and low riding pants, showing off her still fabulous figure and revealing the belly button blocked out on “I Dream of Jeannie,” her famous TV series. Yes, the cover was “photo-shopped.”

Appropriately for a sports club magazine, I did stories on members, Rafer Johnson, the Olympics decathlon champion from the 1960s, and 1940s tennis champion Jack Kramer, who had remained active in the sports world promoting tennis and then golf. My first tennis racket was a Jack Kramer and I told him so. Both of these athletes were gentlemen and easy to chat with.

The 1990s included a few years of writing a weekly column, People and Places, and local play reviews for the Daily News, a major newspaper that still exists. I must have seen and reviewed about 200 plays, performed by a range of talent of all ages. I was a positive reviewer; it was essentially community theater and equity waiver. I recall a production of “Mr. Roberts,” starring Harry Belafonte’s son-in-law. Belafonte was there and I was thrilled to shake his hand as he told me he loved community theater. No, I did not hum any calypso songs!

One of my weekly columns focused on Jake Lloyd, a seven-year-old starring in his first movie, “Jingle All the Way” with Arnold Swarzenegger (before he became the Governator). Jake was charming; on the sound stage of 20th Century Fox, he led me up to a sort of catwalk on the upper levels of the living room set, where I could have an overview and see where the cameras and lights were positioned. They were filming the last scene of the movie that day. As filming is erratic, the last scene of filming would be the actual first scene of the movie. Jake went on to play Anakin Skywalker in a Star Wars movie, “The Phantom Menace.”

AN ARMY BRAT IN LIBYA

AnArmyBratLibya Cover#A1

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

Americans living in foreign countries, especially those in the military or other government service, tend to keep or renew their ties over the years. At least that’s been my experience with the “kids” I went to high school with at Wheelus Air Force Base just outside Tripoli, Libya, in the 1950s. And since I’ve included experiences of living in Libya in my blog, students from many classes, anywhere from the early 1950s to 1970 have gotten in touch to share their memories. We’ve all aged but the spirit of those long-ago days holds on and there have been many reunions of these students over the years. The most recent was  in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I am also enjoying the attention of many Libyans, those still in Libya and those who have moved away to other countries.

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. I still have the mink stole he bought my mother in Athens on one of his trips.

What seemed like days after leaving the Azores, 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? It was November, but there was 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.

We ended up living in the Garden City area of Tripoli, not far from the King’s Palace, from 1955 until 1958. I loved all the contrasts that life in an ancient Arab city brought–camels and sheep, British Morris Minor cars mixing with American Fords, sandstorms called Ghiblis, the museum in the old Barbary Pirate fort, the lovely beaches at Georgimpopuli and Piccolo Capri, the vegetable man shouting out his fresh food, and the braying of donkeys and camels growling at night.

For more stories about life in Libya, order my book on Amazon. While you’re on the site, check out my other books.

MOONLIGHT MADNESS ON THE MED

Art Arrowsmith was a fellow student who attended Wheelus Air Force Base High School in Tripoli, Libya. He was Class of 1957 and I was due to graduate in 1960; we knew each other but weren’t friends. I got to know Art just a few years ago when he began reading my blogs about our time in Libya. An adventurous creative fellow, Art has done some writing and he shared a true story of his, which goes along quite well with my recent theme of ocean escapades. The story is too long to present in full, so I will use my editing skills to cut it down while preserving the humor. I am also going to divide it in two parts for some extra excitement and suspense.

Art A

Art Arrowsmith

Art and good friend and classmate Eric Norby, also Class of ’57, had discovered a pontoon boat on the beach near Art’s house at Wheelus: It was constructed from a modified F-86 fuel drop tank. The top half of the tank had been cut away, leaving a boat that resembled a bathtub with pointy ends. Attached to the boat by several rope-lashed two by four’s were two 50-gallon drums that provided an outrigger arrangement to balance the catamaran-type craft. Our plan was to wait until dark, launch the boat and paddle it parallel to the shore all the way from Wheelus to Giorgimpopoli, a distance of some 15 miles.

Their respective parents had been told the teenagers would be spending Friday night together since Eric lived in Tripoli and Art lived on the base. The parents didn’t ask for specifics: Eric’s folks thought he’d be at Art’s home; Art’s parents thought he’d be at Eric’s.

Eric Norby

Eric Norby

February in Tripoli isn’t toasty. The Mediterranean water is no longer warm and the evening breezes can be very cold. Had we considered such things as wind and tides, water temperature and coastal currents, reefs and time of day, perhaps we…

Eric was wearing his ever-present light tan leather jacket, imported from Germany: his trademark in those days. I wore my dad’s flight jacket that he’d had for many years, the only warm jacket in our house. It goes without saying that we both wore jeans; that’s all we ever wore. We were wise enough to have a couple of bottles of water for the long voyage, a loaf of bread along with peanut butter and jelly: all stashed in the boat over the last couple of days.

Launching the boat proved to be an incredibly arduous task. We tugged and pulled and lifted and rearranged and sweated and struggled and stumbled our way to the edge of the water. The fuel-tank hull of the boat was smooth and slid easily along the sand and over the seaweed. The 50-gallon drums dug into the seaweed, even though it was like walking over wet noodles. Our feet slid over the slippery sea weed but the drums parted the wet strands and clawed their way into the underlying sand. Eric proved to be the heavyweight lifter as we inched our way to the roaring waves. He lifted the forward drum and side stepped toward the water, pivoting around the boat hull, as I pushed the hull forward from the opposite side, attempting to match his progress. After a couple of these maneuvers we would trade places and repeat the process. Eventually we reached the water. We rested about 15 minutes, caught our breath and discussed our next move. We looked at each other with doubt etched across our faces, but wouldn’t admit to the doubt. Neither wanted to be the one to call it off. It was then I found out Eric couldn’t swim!

Art and Eric brazened it out and pushed the homemade craft into the cold water, despite incoming tide and a strong wind. The moon was nearly full, which equates to high tide they discovered much later, but they weren’t trained seamen. They had to clear the offshore reef and then head west to their destination. The moon gave them light to see and there were lights along the shore. How difficult could it be?

Look for the ending of this sea adventure on Wednesday, August 27.

1959 Wheelus Beach

Wheelus Beach in summer

SAYING FAREWELL TO THE SHORES OF TRIPOLI

I wonder how much American high school traditions have changed over the years. The years zoom by, faster and faster, though it seems like only yesterday. Most of my generation have grandchildren, but our hearts remain young as we explore the old memories.

As I promised in my last blog, I’m posting a photo of the fellows who masqueraded as French Can-Can dancers for the Wheelus High School’s Hernando’s Hideaway dance in 1958. A lot of work went into their costumes and makeup. The skillful makeup shows up even in this old black and white photo. Billy Butcher and Willy Maguire are recognizable in the photo and I think the guy on the right is Jimmy Badley. It’s anybody’s guess who wrote “ME” on the top right of the photo; I can’t claim ownership but thanks to the photographer. The others who performed were: Doug McGinty, Buddy Thomas and Mike Davis. Needless to say, this motley bunch stole the show.

Can-Can Dancers

The Barracan school newspaper kept us current, and I was lucky enough to write stories for it. We were being so serious in those days but it is laughable and wonderfully silly now. In April Tom Henderson, who was student council president, explained the new demerit system. Since military brats tend to be naughty, demerits needed to be instituted. “All anyone has to do is act like an adult and a normal human being,” said the paper. It sounds imperious to me now. Austin Powers had it right years later in the movie when he proclaimed, “Oh, behave!”

Student Wendell Harrison added a bit of sarcasm about the new system, “Good for the goodies.”

Cindy Rammel, however, steered “clear of people who do not act their own age” and wasn’t afraid to express her opinion in the paper when she was interviewed for the April Spotlight feature. Her ambitions were to have fun and get rid of her freckles—she was a redhead.

Dave Maine was also interviewed. He liked “cars, sports, Barbara (his girlfriend) and a good steak.” His dislikes: insincere people, asparagus, and people who didn’t keep their shoes shined. I wonder what he thinks now.

In May 1958, the Barracan was six pages long. My high school journalism career was beginning to flourish. I wrote the main story on the front page with the headline, Ebb Tide is Theme of Junior-Senior Prom. I went to the dance with Tom Henderson, so I had first-hand experience. Tom and I danced a lively polka at one point and one of my sandal heels slipped off—or I kicked it off—to narrowly miss the school principal sitting at a table on the outside patio overlooking the Mediterranean.

Before the prom, Ginny Stewart gave a coke-tail party at her home in the Georgimpopoli area, which was very close to the Tripoli Beach Club, host venue for the prom. Ginny had some unique entertainment—a Libyan woman did a belly dance (fully-clothed, of course) while a man played a drum.

In May there was a Bermuda shorts day, although some students opted for pedal pushers and slacks. The fine for wearing other clothing was 15 cents, money that would go for special awards given at the end of the school year.

Life was changing at Wheelus High School; the 1958 graduating class had 25 graduates. In 1956 there were only 4 grads.

Senior George Park wrote a fitting poem for the graduates and it was published in the Barracan:

The Future’s Yours

The world is in your hands

So let the time not slip away

As deserts do with drifting sands

And do your best each livelong day

Toward attaining goals your hopes portray.

 

 

 

Cruisin’ the Med

With the current world in the turmoil of wars and violent earthquakes, I’m ready to write of pleasant memories, like the Mediterranean cruise on the U.S. Navy ship, General Maurice Rose, that my mother, sister and I took on our way home from Tripoli the summer of 1958.

 

There’s an interesting smell aboard a large ship—a pungent combination of the distinctive odor of oil and the saltwater smell of the ocean. I haven’t been on a big ship in recent years, so I don’t know if this smell is universal. I recall detecting it on the Queen Mary, now a floating museum/hotel in Long Beach, California, and that smell brought back great memories.

 

Not all the service dependents on board would travel all the way to New York. Many had come from New York and would depart at the various ports along the way: Athens, Istanbul, Izmir, Naples, Leghorn (Livorno), and Gibralter. There were also Explorer Scouts and Boy Scouts from Tripoli who were getting off at Leghorn.

 

Right away the teenagers found each other and were privileged to have their own space: the Aft Lounge, appropriately named since it was near the rear of the ship. There was a dance scheduled for the first night onboard and for many nights afterward. The ship had a supply of rock and roll music and other popular tunes to pipe into our private lounge.  I remember hearing the Everly Brothers and Johnny Mathis, for instance. I must have taken notes or had an excellent memory because I’ve got a list of the teenagers’ names, where they embarked and where they would disembark. I noted that I danced that first night with David Crabtree, who’d been a student at Wheelus High with me, and a fellow named Larry Rust, who would had gotten on the Rose in New York and would depart the ship in Istanbul. I was already learning how to be a reporter!

All of this important (to me!) information was carefully printed with white ink on black paper in a photograph album I put together when my family reunited and settled in Alexandria, Virginia. I had saved postcards, candy wrappers, an old menu, a Rose newsletter and part of  paper bag that held a precious pair of Italian wedge heel sandals.

Ruins of the Parthenon in Athens

 

 

First stop—Athens, the port of Piraeus, to be exact, only a day’s journey from Tripoli. I managed to find my “sea legs” quickly and never got seasick, even during one particularly daunting storm off the coast of Italy, later in our trip. We docked in Athens about 4 p.m. and wasted no time sitting on the ship. Anyone who wanted to explore Athens got a 3-hour tour, beginning at 5:30 p.m.  I still have the excellent postcards to testify to all the sights we saw on the Acropolis. Touring the city provided my first view of stoplights since I’d left the States in 1955! In Tripoli we had always joked that camels, sheep and donkeys wouldn’t know what to do if they saw a red light.

 

We “tourists” were taken through the bustling city of Athens on a large bus, sleek and  modern for 1958. After all the years of seeing loose Libyan clothing, I was delighted to see a Greek Army guard in a traditional white Greek skirt with 400 pleats. This fustanella was fairly short and stood out, slightly resembling American teenage girls with their crinoline underskirts that held up our circle skirts in the ‘50s.

When we left port the next day, the Rose headed for the Dardenelles and the exotic port of Istanbul.

 

 

 

Heartfelt Wishes for Freedom & Peace for Libya!

There are places in the world that touch our hearts for one reason or another. For me, Tripoli, Libya is one of those places. Libya is going through a tragic upheaval as the people give their lives to rid themselves of a despot.

When my family lived in Tripoli from 1955 to 1958, it was a beautiful ancient city along the shores of the Mediterranean. Tripoli’s history dated to the Phoenicians and the Romans. In that part of the world, layers of history remain, some standing and some buried. In the coming days and weeks, it will be fascinating to see what present-day Libyans will create as they shake off the old and create another new world.

The boulevard along Tripoli Harbor

Life seems to go in circles; that’s been my experience. When I started my blog last spring, I had no idea where it would lead me. I had lots to write about since I grew up an Army brat in various areas of the world, and I’ve had some interesting adventures as a journalist and author.

I was lucky enough to have written a high school term paper about my time in Tripoli and fortunate enough to have kept it all these years to remind me. It offered great material to share with readers. My Tripoli experience has been a gift for me, a gift that keeps on giving. I’m reconnected, thanks to the Internet, to nearly all my classmates from Wheelus Air Force Base high school, and also to many other former American students who lived in Libya who are both older and younger than me. I’ve also heard from airmen who were stationed at Wheelus and they’ve never forgotten their time there.

I hardly imagined I would actually meet a Libyan, but now I’m connected to a former Libyan resident, Mahmud Abudaber, who escaped from Tripoli to avoid Gaddafi’s military draft in 1980. Until recently, Mahmud, who has a huge family in the Tripoli area, had nearly given up on the possibility that Libya would ever push its heartless dictator out of power.

When North Africa erupted with freedom fever in Egypt, Mahmud started to hope that Libya might join in. He wrote a poem, which I am printing here, and established a web site to share the latest Libyan news: www.gaddafiduck.com

Now he’s getting even more serious; he’s going to sew a Libyan flag using the Libyan symbols from the Kingdom era. He’ll fly it over his Los Angeles home in the hills. Mahmud is making plans to fly to Tripoli as soon as Libya completes its transition, and Gaddafi is old news. What will he do there? Set up a film studio (He used to do music videos). Mahmud lives in the Hollywood Hills, of course.

Libya O’ Libya

Angry from losing our peaceful Kingdom

To a bloodthirsty thief of our freedom.

Gaddafi – that filthy name means turmoil.

We watched him steal our democracy and oil,

We said enough & our blood started to boil.

Brave Libyans are rioting, wave after wave,

Lined up, we can’t wait to piss on his grave.

He’ll be cornered & won’t get off our hook,

Burn him over the bonfire of his Green Book.

Libya O’ Libya, to hell with our Dick-tator,

Choke his sons like a dying carburetor,

Poison to him & to his daughter a vibrator.

Fighting evil, whatever will be will be,

Revenge time, we’ll avenge you, Lockerbie.

There are Americans still in Libya. My blog and Mahmud led me to Teri, a Florida native, who lives on a farm near Tripoli with her kids and Libyan husband. She’s been writing a blog for several years: www.khadijateri.blogspot.com

Teri keeps her readers informed about her experiences in Libya and what’s been happening lately in the midst of turmoil.

Romans Made Their Mark in Libya

Leptis Magna Marketplace

The Romans left some of their most magnificent ruins along the coast of the Mediterranean. Libya was home to two ancient cities: Sabratha and the larger Leptis Magna, the birthplace of Roman emperor Septimius Severus, whose arch still stands in Tripoli’s old city.

Tripoli was once Roman as well, but it probably started out as a Phoenician city and was known as Oea. And before the Romans took over in the second century BC, even the Greeks had a colony. I have a Libyan friend who says that studying Libyan history is painful: there are too many details, too much history.

Students at Wheelus were taken on frequent field trips to Leptis Magna and Sabratha. Visiting these ruins, which the Italians were excavating from desert sands beginning in the 1920s and 30s, was more impressive than my  later trip to Pompeii.

While I was there, the high school sponsored a field trip to Leptis Magna, a 120-mile drive on narrow coastal roads. We students enthusiastically climbed all over the well-preserved Roman theatre, forum and marketplace. One of our greatest pleasures was watching the excavating: little cars from the excavating train went back and forth carrying sand away from the ruins, and the friendly Libyan workers let a few of us hitch a ride. Before we left, most of us enjoyed rolling down one of the immense sand dunes nearby, carrying the fine sand home in our clothes as an uncomfortable memento.

Since my sojourn in Libya, there’s been a great deal more work done  in excavating the ruins. I read about the beautiful mosaics found near Leptis Magna in Smithsonian Magazine not long ago. Because of the sand covering them and the dry climate, this unique artwork has been marvelously preserved. Roman mosaics from North Africa were gathered for a very extensive exhibit at the Roman Villa Getty Museum here in LA a few years ago. One that I remember in particular was the face of Bacchus, the god of wine, a large circular mosaic. With his dark curly hair, large nose and sensual mouth, he could have been a character actor from “The Sopranos” TV series. I was amazed at the state of preservation; it was as if they’d been created a few years ago and not centuries past.

Leptis Magna now has its own museum to display some very impressive mosaics, gladiators and various animals, for instance, found since 2000. They date back to the 1st and 2nd century.

The Roman theater faces the Mediterranean

Wheelus High School Life

I started writing for newspapers when I was 14 and a freshman at Wheelus Air Force Base High School in Tripoli, Libya.  Lucky for me I saved several of those newspapers, delicate as they now are on newsprint over 50 years later.

Since there are many funny and interesting comments about high school life in this little newspaper, I’m going to bring a few tidbits to life again.

I arrived in Tripoli in November 1955. At that time there were only four high school seniors set to graduate in June of 1956. Each senior had an office—why leave anyone out! As the old saying goes, “All Chiefs, no Indians!” Russ Darling, the only male in the class, was president, Joan Du Dasko was Vice President, Diane Garza served as secretary, and Darleen Pannett was chaplain. None of them were slackers: they’d been busy during their school years with the yearbook, Chorus, Library Club, Dramatics Club, Student Council, and Russ was active in the Athletic Club.

There were twelve juniors to draw from for class officers, but Carol Kelley must have been more enthusiastic: she served as both secretary and treasurer. Mary Jo Cain (her father, Col. W.J. Cain, was the base commander) must have inherited her dad’s leadership abilities since she was class president.

Sophomores were more plentiful: there were twenty-one of them. The Freshman class was fairly large with thirty-two students. Junior High (I was an eighth grader then) had lots of students. The number of students from first grade to twelfth grade totaled the grand number of 1,090.

The school newspaper, THE BARRACAN, was edited by the very capable and congenial Myrna Gary. Like many of us who’d been service brats or had fathers involved with the State Department, she became a world traveler and is currently on duty once again about as far down under as you can get—McMurdo Station in Antarctica. I’ve enjoyed lots of penguin photos she has shared with former Wheelus students. The South Pole must hold an attraction for adventurers, Mark Davenport, who was once a Tripoli youngster, also works there for the National Science Foundation.

THE BARRACAN newspaper-- It Covers All!

A regular BARRACAN feature was the Ideal Boy or the Ideal Girl of a male or female student.  Jimmy Smith, who was a 10th grader in 1956, imagined such a girl would have long blond hair since he liked Sandy Rinear’s blond locks. She remains blond and lovely, as I’ve seen in photos. He preferred Ginny Stewart’s eyes and Sharon (Sherrie) Forsblade’s smile. I can attest to Sharon’s smile—she’s a friend of mine to this day and used to be a California neighbor of mine. Jimmy liked Linda Gray’s figure, and I can vouch for that as well because I enjoyed her company over the years when she visited Sharon. Unfortunately, Linda passed away last year.

Jimmy didn’t stop there: his ideal girl would be cute as June Ward, attractive as Diana Craft, as intelligent as Ann Shower and be as friendly as Mary Jo Cain. He didn’t want much!

There was a poll taken of students’ opinions of the 1956 U.S. election, even though no one was old enough to vote. Jimmy Smith told the paper that he wanted to vote for Adlai Stevenson because the Republican Party “has pretty well messed up the government.” Jimmy Smith went on to be elected to public office in Florida where he now lives. If anyone knows what office and if he still holds it, please get in touch. Janice Harkey, on the other hand, liked Eisenhower because she wanted the Republicans to stay in power. As the French say: “The more things change, the more they remain the same!”

Martyn Bacheler wrote a feature called “Platter Chatter” for the BARRACAN, and in December of 1956, Elvis’ song “Don’t Be Cruel” was first in popularity for the third month in a row. In seventh place was Hugo Winterhalter’s instrumental “Canadian Sunset,” and Bing Crosby’s song “True Love” from the movie “High Society” was eighth.

“Here Come the Teenagers” was a fifteen-minute chatter and records radio show broadcast from Wheelus on Saturday mornings. Miss Gobbi, my delightful French teacher, was its sponsor. I can remember requesting “A White Sport Coat and a Pink Carnation” at one point, or was it “A Rose and a Baby Ruth?”

Although winter weather in Libya was nonexistent in that comfortable Mediterranean climate, just as I enjoy here in California, Susie Wisdom was wishing for a 12-foot deep snow for Christmas. Johnny Carlson, always a reader and not worried about the weather, was recommending “A Fireside Book of Yuletide Tales” for Christmas reading.

Watch for more “old” news in coming months.

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