National Geographic : 2000 Nov
smartly to attention. Green flags fluttered in the breeze, and the white-uniformed girls' military band struck up the national anthem: I with my beliefs and my weapons will sacrifice myself For my nation as the light of the truth shines in my hand.... Once the last strains had died away, academy commandant Col. Mohammed Amiel stepped up to the microphone. "My daughters, now you participate in serving our country. Our task is to maintain public se curity, and that can only come with revolutionary action. You have to be aware of the Leader's support in getting you here. We salute our Leader!" he shouted. A high-pitched chorus of revolutionary slogans arose from rows of the graduates' younger siblings in the bleachers beside the dais. By the time night fell the guns had disappeared, and the graduates combat boots exchanged for high heels or modish platform shoes were clustered happily around tables that now covered the parade ground. The party ended near midnight, but the streets were still crowded. Traffic hummed along the highways and overpasses (there is one vehicle for every seven Libyans) past the endless rows of apartment blocks in which most of the cityfolk are housed. In the center of town the open-air cafe on Green Square opposite the floodlit Red Castle, once the fortress of Tripoli's Turkish governors, was crowded with men talk ing, sipping coffee, playing cards. Sweet-smelling clouds of apple flavored tobacco drifted from their water pipes out across the sidewalks. The only woman in the establishment was the Moroccan waitress who brought me my coffee. Thousands of Moroccan women, from a poorer but more liberated society, arrived in the 1980s to become the waitress class of Libya. Many, however, turned to prostitution, a service previously in short supply. There is a widespread rumor that this trend was encouraged by the gov ernment in an effort to relieve the sexual frustrations of the male popu lation without jeopardizing the virtue of local women. "It backfired," said a friend, his voice sinking to an uncharacteristic whisper. "When times got hard, poor Libyan women realized how much these ladies were making and followed suit. It's something no one wants to talk about."