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.

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 were 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.

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 talking/flirting with British servicemen who worked for the General who lived on the corner.

A Libyan working man in overalls splattered with paint was sitting on his bike about 10 feet away. He was leering at us as he 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 struggled with our composure as we stepped closer to the gate and hung on without a comment. The crazed cyclist, having gotten his thrill, soon pedaled away.  We never saw him again.






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