Saturday, February 25, 2006

Dating in Libya

Courting is usually followed by dating, if you liked the previous post ....then here is how dating has evolved in Libya as I see it:

...So you’ve lied to each other for months or weeks, been on your best behaviour or had some ‘lover’s’ quarrels in which the winner was the one to hold out and not call the other first. You’ve made your dad broke on phone bills, and your brothers or sisters snigger when you answer the phone in that voice reserved only for him.
He thinks you are the Goddess of Sex incarnate and you think he is perfect marriage material, those hormones are at a loss and you’re weak at knees when you hear his voice, what next?
Next you wait for him to ask you to meet; you do not ask to meet him. Eventually that day comes, and he asks to meet with you on a date. In the 70s -80s you will not be able to sit at a café together, the few that are available are men’s domain, and you would cause a scandal by meeting there. But you have a few choices depending on HOW MUCH you want to sacrifice and your courage:

(1) meet in a street outside your area and stay talking at a respectable distance from each other; but risk having someone you know bump into you.
(2) Arrange to meet at the University café – only place where there are men and women sitting in public without anyone frowning.
(3) Go in his car (or a borrowed ca)r and either park somewhere discreet or drive around. Risks : someone may see you , and you’re toast , grounded.
(4) Go with him to a friend’s empty flat, or shop, or office. So not to risk being seen by others and ruin your reputation.However, by this you actually taint your honour as this guy knows very well what he is doing and he was testing how far you would go. Accepting this solution, unless he loves you very much, means you have failed, and are cheap and fair game, because now he is not going to try and meet you to discuss your future as a couple, but he is going to try to get you into bed or as close as possible to that. Now if you are caught, you risk a prison sentence for adultery, let alone pregnancy if you have been foolish enough and the least is dishonour, but you won’t get killed by your family or tribe. Some smarter girls take a chaperone who acts as a lookout as well.

Points 1-4 are not all as cynical as I make them sound, some girls enjoyed these things immensely, they were occasions to dress up - and putting a fruity or minted lip-gloss was risqué , the summum of sexiness. You also had to find a foolproof excuse to be absent for a couple of hours from home on a legitimate errand. This usually involved a lot of machinations. This was the 80s. I will leave it to the imagination of the readers as to what happened at those dates. But I can assume that like all relationship there was a 50/50 chance at success and movement to next step : the engagement. Most girls though did nab their man.

Enter the 90s, during those years we begun to be drowned with latino telenovellas and satellite TV, now the girls had other ideas at their disposal, universities were full and courting improving a bit over the earlier version, the guys stopped being total idiots. No girl was going to sweep the front door to see her man. Couples were increasingly acceptable on campus and the unfolding relationships we witnessed were very entertaining. The goal was to get your guy prior to graduation day! i. e. you get your degree + a ring on your finger. That was equated with success. Dating meant you got, valentine cards, and flowers, letters , teddy bears which became fashionable - you know the white ones with a red bow where the toy is holding a heart shaped red cushion with ‘I love you’ printed on it … How I loathe these, I think the Arab world has been flooded with them. My Arab readers ? do you recall those ? what about my non –Arab readers, did you OD on white teddy bears ?
If a man gets me one of these made in Taiwan white teddies I swear I will commit a crime !!!! Putting make up on was very much tolerated now, so some used and abused.
Dating also meant you get to go to a restaurant together.

These are all courting, flirting, dating and affairs behind your parent’s back.

While a ‘legal’ official courting was when the man who saw you out for example liked you followed you home then asked about you and brought his family to ask for your hand, then you had an engagement party and you spent a good time with your fiancée meeting legally, either suitably chaperoned lest dear Lucifer gives you ideas, or arranging secret un-chaperoned meetings ( see 2-4 again) link here. Another version is that you met through common acquaintances and again he asks to marry you either after a few phone calls or directly.

In 1995 internet and mobile technology was introduced but to a select few, while in 1998 everyone could access it but at exorbitant prices. By 1999, internet cafes were springing up everywhere and by 2002 many people had cellphones, by 2005 mobile technology was and essential part of youths and other’s everyday life and quite affordable. So how did the dating go during that decade up to now 2006?

We shall see … hopefully the fun continues =>

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Memorable Valentine

Since this is a blog about human relationships, then Valentine’s Day is an important date to be celebrated…Yes we know that it has been awfully commercialized but it is the thought that counts, so ladies and gentlemen:

Do you wish to share your best/worst/funniest/most embarrassing Valentine moments with the rest of the blogosphere ? yes ? please I’m begging you … post them in the comment section ..NOW !

Meanwhile, I will share with you my first one :

In my job I am known for being extremely serious (bordering on the boring in my opinion) ‘tight ass bitch’ if I may say so, and knowing that I am the youngest in the management floor you can imagine what the rest of the staff in my department looks like – yes on their way to retirement. Well anyway hmm , the receptionist calls me “Violet, you have a visitor” . I can hear the disapproving tone in her voice , “what have I done to earn her wrath, oh God let it be good news” I pray to myself while proceeding to the waiting area. A strong perfume cologne which I will never forget is wafting true. Our receptionist who is as older than my mum looks at me very very curiously, I’m still puzzled, but I thank her anyway. Then I go to greet the guest.. .....

There sitting on the leather armchair is a gentleman in a smart grey Armani suit, polished shoes, crisp shirt and silk tie, hair combed back to within a millimeter, tanned skin glowing and he is smiling at me . Oh my God! it is my fiancé , I have never seen him dressed this way. He looked like the heros from those Harlequin and Mills and Boons romances, he was perfect and his eyes were glowing with love. But that was not all oh no ......he was carrying an immense basket with thirty red roses – it was my first Valentine ever and I was 30 years old. As much as I was pleased I was sooooooooo embarrassed, my boss and colleagues never saw me in any situation where I could be considered a female. I could imagine the gossip especially that 2 or 3 people were already walking by. I took him to my office and I had to use firmness not to allow him getting familiar and making a spectacle of me. I thought he was going to take me in his arms in the lobby – I would have been mortified and my reputation in shambles.
What do you do with a man who loves you so much he actually took the day off to get you roses personally delivered on Valentine. He was so clear and honest in his feelings, while I had totally forgotten about the day and was dressed in my black suit as usual looking like a feminist ad !
It was a beautiful Valentine’s Day followed by dinner at a famous fish restaurant in Tripoli . But oh I got teased so much at work. We dream of one rose a colleague said and you get a truckload of them. The roses lived for many weeks… I don’t know about the love.

Happy Valentine’s Day with love from Libya…..

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Courting in Libya

As mentioned in a previous post, neither traditions, nor culture or religion are going to stop men and women (or people of the same sex – not to offend our homosexual readers) to be attracted to each other. Whether this attraction stems from pure physical love or love of someone’s soul, many will attempt to seek to meet each other physically to assuage that desire (body and soul) and those raging hormones. The process starts at puberty ( some scientific research say it is even earlier) and Libyans are no exception.

Now the interesting part is how as a Libyan do you reconcile your desires , peer pressure, traditions , culture and religion . That’s a heavy load to carry and I’m sure many other Arab societies are embroiled in the same jam. I’m not going to talk above the Muslim societies of South east Asia who have different customs, nor those in America. My main point is the Arab and Arabicised societies., but really specifically Libya.

From poems, songs and folk tales we hear the stories of the girls meeting the boys at the well, or while shepherding or farming or running errands or at social gatherings and traditional festivities, when eyes would meet, fingers would briefly touch and other description which are part of our heritage now. Not wanting to soil the honour of our female populations, but I’m sure some of these have experienced a little beyond the surreptious touch or the coal burning glances ? The desert is vast, while the caves provide lots of nooks and crannies for the lovers wanting to drink each others breath or gaze more intimately and away from prying eyes into each others souls.
Arabs are great lovers and romantics too ( you would not believe it but yes they are), and the annals of history are full of their exploits in that area. I once read on a forum an Egyptian girl saying that she met Arabs and non-Arabs, and that she finally got married to an Arab, she said and I quote ‘ once you go Arabi you can never go back ;) !’… Foreign guys please watch out, you got stiff competition out there ;)

Anyway we have established that shenanigans and romance have been taking places since as long as we can remember. My post will be concentrating however on Libya in the 20th-21st Century.

Looking at old photos of our uncles and aunts and parents, and sitting to hear their stories is a minefield of information on human behaviour. Cousins and their friends and neighbours also are great storytellers, and I’m going to deploy all this harvest at your fingertips.

Just because we are a conservative society does not mean there are no opportunities to meet people from the opposite sex, and if there are not, we create them.

In Libya you cannot bring a girlfriend/boyfriend and introduce her to your parents, it is just not acceptable, honour and reputation are involved, mostly the girl’s but even the guy’s. It may be viewed as hypocritical to do these things in the dark but that’s how it is

I recall the first Libyan guy to make a pass at me, it was so funny I could not help giggling in his face, I must have offended the guy, I just thought it was so immature that a man would behave this way, just coming straight up to me would have been easier. The guy first walked up and down my street, then loomed near our ‘kanchello’ or front door , then at the first opportunity that I left the house he would say ‘pssst psst’ and wink , now what did he think I was a cat or that I would blindly follow him?. He kept this maneuver for a few days then when that did not work he tried to pass me a folded paper ‘take this and read it please’, then he became so insistent and a fixture in my street that he was going to bring me trouble and family wrath so to get rid of him I finally took his folded paper, read the first and last lines which were professing undying love - a totally illogical idea at that moment for a 14 year old . Well I looked straight at him tore the letter to bits and threw it. He finally got the message.

But this is basically how it worked, the boy usually initiates it , you do not under and any circumstance initiate contact because then you are labeled fast , racy and cheap. Those days were hilarious, you had guys trying to give scraps of paper with their phone number. If you were interested dating a guy by phone was quite a safe thing unless your parents or brothers catch you, then you are punished by not being allowed to use the phone. The girls would usually pretend to be talking to their girlfriend by using girl names and feminine adjectives and pronouns, it was so funny to listen to them. The bolder ones would sneak the phone late at night in their rooms, now I don’t know what kind of conversation they had but I’m sure it was not about the ozone layer or the state of the Israeli –Arab war. A girl with brains was a looser. I never could do the phone talk thingy because first of all I was used to talking to guys on equal footing and plus my voice is so loud I’ll wake up everyone plus I was a coward as I knew the phone bill would show the numbers dialed ;) .

You talked on the phone either from your house or better from your best friend’s house . Why ? because your mum cannot tell your friend to hang up, and her mum cannot tell you to hang up , so there would be daily phone parties/visits, with lots of giggling and gossip.

After a prolonged phone relationship you were ready to move to the next stage? Which was to allow the object of your desire to get a second glimpse of you , that’s when he would tell you ‘I’ll be near your front door in 10 minutes and I’m bringing chocolates or something can you come out for a second?’ . For this you need a good excuse , like throwing the rubbish , or cleaning the doorstep with a broom, suddenly you are a paragon of housewifely virtue – your mum is flabbergasted as she’s been trying to get you to wash the doorstep since last week. So you’re there broom in hand sweeping the doorsteps in your best T-shirt and he passes by in his car (if he’s over 18 – more desirable i.e. marriage potential) or on foot then he is still in high school but since your are 14 , 16 seems old and wise to you. Depending on the situation on the street you post a lookout, one of your girlfriends or your little sister or brother – whom you will have to bribe later. And so you either go to the guy and say hi briefly or he throws at you a love letter and present. So cute isn’t it ? I always was the lookout since I did not dare do anything else , plus I was so obnoxious thinking this was sooooooooo pathetic. Why risk your reputation for 1 minute of seeing a snotty pimply guy … ah my friends were in despair .

Next step after that is to arrange for a date…in Libya ?
Stay tuned --- to be continued =>