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 =>


programmer craig said...

Interesting post, Violet. I learned something from that!

I dated a Syrian girl when I was 14, here in the US... that was... hmmm... late 1970s I guess. I met her at the community swimming pool - she was in a bikini! she was hot!! I digress though...

We were about to go to a movie and she had to go get something at home. I forgot what. I waited at the door while she ran in. she left the door open, and her dad spotted me. He yelled something in Arabic and the whole house just "exploded" - kids screaming, Dad yelling, Grandma yelling. I seriously though Granma was going to come after me with a frying pan. I took off and headed for home, and I didn't see that girl outside of her house again for about 6 months.

All this time I thought they were racist against white guy Americans. After reading your post, I think something else may have been going on. Thanks for that :)

LouLou said...


"All this time I thought they were racist against white guy Americans."

No they were just outraged that you dared to show an awareness of their daughter without simultaneously declaring your honorable intentions & asking them for her hand in marriage.:)

And you poor man of course you were unaware of the platitudes Arab guys use to get out of such situations, like protesting that she was a like a sister to you & you were just following her to make sure no one bothers her, that you would never look at her the wrong way because you have sisters yourself etc....

Thanks for sharing the story though. It was funny.

Violet, another very interesting post. I think you're a great addition to the blogosphere. Keep it up.

Libyan Violet said...

Programmer_Craig I'm glad I was able to clarify something for you. At least now your memory of the past has been hopefully altered favourably . Yes Loulou is right you should have declared your honourable intention there and then ;) ..her dad would have welcomed you immmediately...Believe me Arab girls are not racist against white American guys , we like them as much as Arab guys - if I may say so...

Libyan Violet said...

Loulou :) Thank you for the nice words ..still have a few tricks up my sleeve ;)

Bint Alshamsa said...

Well, I guess the world is just a very small place. My parents are strict Christians and my experience growing up was just the same. Only three boys ever even came to my doorstep and even those never came by until I was seventeen. I had all of my "dates" right there on the sofa with my brothers and my parents in the same room.

When my current fiance came to my house the first time for a date, I wasn't even able to answer the door because my father got to the door first. He and my brothers and my mother all grilled him with questions before he was allowed in. When my mother saw that he was not intimidated by that and my brothers actually liked him, she declared that this was going to be the man I married. It's funny because I didn't believe her at first but, at least in my case, mother truly does know best. Now my fiance is a part of the family and gets to stand at the door and ask questions whenever someone comes to the door wanting to see one of my cousins.

Despite the differences, I guess Libya and Louisiana have that in common.

libyan violet said...

Bintalshamsa welcome to my blog , yes we are all the same basically :). I think sometimes really our parents know best ;)
I'm laughing at your hubby grilling your cousin's boyfriends I can just imagine that ..

Anonymous said...

hey thanks for everything you said but why are you making out that libyan parents are sooooo ununderstanding and they would kill a guy if he dared look at their daughter, its not like that in all the libyan homes.
your also making out as if its a mission to talk to a guy, and you have be james bond to get a libyan girl its not all like that, i get your point but you really need to look at it both sides.

thanks just thought id make a point, coz im a libyan girl