MOMENT by MOMENT

Hosted by: Cynthia Swanson & Andrew Swanson

Once Upon a Time in Libya, Part 2

Another vivid memory I have of the time in Libya is about school–not the building itself (although I recall individual rooms that opened out into a courtyard, but maybe that was at our next post).   What I remember is how much harder school was than in the states.  I was a bright kid.  School always came easy for me.  So I was shocked when I had to work hard to catch up and keep up with the rest of the class.  Looking back on it decades later, I believe I spent the most challenging time of my entire education in that school on Wheelus Air Force Base.

I was a shy kid, but like today, once people got to know me I opened up.  Certainly, I was the most imaginative of the bunch, coming up with elaborate stories for everyone to act out during recess.  The beginnings of the writer in me.

School was my life.  I loved it.

Living off base, I was able to see what the country was really like.  Every day, the bus to and from school was my window to how the locals lived.  They fascinated me.  Life was pretty good.  Even having to deal with two younger brothers, one of whom was a baby, didn’t dampen my spirits–unless I had a change someone’s diapers.

Then something happened that changed everything.  One day at school, as we were getting ready to leave, I was told that I was going home with another boy who lived on base.  Our parents were friends, so I didn’t think too much about it.  Sure enough, my mom and brothers were at their house.

But everything wasn’t all right.  We were there because the Libyans were throwing bombs over the base walls.  Everyone was recalled inside the base. All we had were the clothes on our backs, and as the days went by, we had to depend on the kindness of everyone around us.

At first, I think I didn’t understand the impact of everything that was going on.  Then my thoughts immediately went to our dog.  I believe I became inconsolable, maybe even a little hysterical.

In fact, although I remember so much of my time in Libya, the weeks following the confinement are vague at best.  I know that the women and children were evacuated from Libya.  That we spent several weeks in Spain, although I have no memory of it.  And that we ended up in Portland, Oregon, living with my mother’s parents until we could be with my dad again.

There is one memory, however, that is absolutely vivid.  Several days or a week after the fighting started, there was a cease fire and my dad and several other men got permission to return to their homes.  Many were destroyed, thoroughly trashed.  But our house, and in fact our quad, had no damage whatsoever.  It appeared that the town mayor my dad had befriended had put the word out that nothing was to happen to our house.  They even fed our dog.

Of course, I didn’t know any of that at the time.  What I did know is that my dad left to go to our house, and when he came back, he brought our dog with him, healthy and whole.

Shortly thereafter, we were airlifted out of Libya, and as I said above, we ended up in Portland, Oregon.  We were only there for several months before it was declared safe enough for families to return to Libya, but I do remember one thing: at school, it appeared I was far ahead of my classmates.  So much so, I was able to spot the teacher’s mistakes in math and spelling as she wrote on the board and, unfortunately, point them out to her during class.  I was quickly moved into a split grade class where I did the work of the next grade level, which helped me keep up with the curriculum I eventually came back to when we returned to Wheelus Air Force Base.

Of course, when we returned, everything was different.  But that’s another story.

Categories: Random Thoughts

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